The first thing to know about preparing wood is when to cut it. Before going into the bush to harvest material, I always check on the phase of the moon.
The moon affects the location of the sap in the tree; raising up the trunk when the moon is growing and sinking into the roots when it is falling. This was explained to me by my grandfather, who showed me his neighbour's pile of fence posts.
I looked on in disbelief, scanning the beginning of the pile, white in color, and was cut in the dying moon. Further down the pile, the color of the wood grew increasingly black with mould, as it was cut during the growing moon.
The best time to harvest your wood is during the last quarter of a dying moon since there is less moisture in the trunk and limbs. The only exception to this rule is if you are harvesting wood to be steamed and bent.
By cutting wood on the growing moon, you are ensuring that the moisture content is high since the sap is being drawn up into the trunk of the tree, which makes it easier to steam and bend.
Once steamed, the wood can be bent. It is important to force dry it as soon as possible to keep the wood from getting mouldy.
If the wood is to be used round, like in rustic furniture, it is important to peel the bark off of the wood right away. It is much easier to peel the wood when it is freshly cut since the sap is stil in the bark.
If you want to leave the bark on, I would suggest using a hardwood, such as birch or maple, since their bark tends to be a cleaner product. To remove the bark, I use a drawing knife. However, if the tree is freshly cut, an axe or regular knife will do the job.
When making a finished product, the wood will need to be milled. When building furniture, it is important to quarter saw your wood to ensure that is it stable.
Most people milling prefer to slab saw since there is less waste. If you can find someone to quater saw it for you, they will most likely charge you about four times the price as a slab sawed piece of wood. For this reason, I started to mill my own wood with an Alaskan chainsaw mill.
To quarter saw wood, you must leave the center of the log and cut the sides off into wide planks. The larger timber must then be arranged so that when the lumber is cut from these, the grains of the wood run parallel to the width of the board. If the grains are parallel across the length, then it is slab sawed.
Once the wood has been harvested, peeled or milled, it must be dried. To use the wood for rustic furniture it should be dried to at least 12% moisture, although I prefer to have it at least 8%.
If it is used for finished furniture, such as table tops, it should be dried to 6-7% moisture. Air drying is more economical, but it will take a complete summer season to dry.
The wood is best placed inside a dry drafty building where rain water will be kept off of it and air is allowed to circulate around the wood. The wood should be stacked with plenty of space between the individual pieces.
The problem with air drying is that the wood will only dry to the percentage of moisture in the air. During a damp season, the wood will actually increase in moisture to match that of the air.
Kelm drying is the best way to dry your wood. This is a process where wood is heated and the moisture is removed from the air around the wood.
There are several businesses which specialize in this type of work, but generally they must dry large volumes of wood at one time. This is a bit impractical for most people who are building small amounts of furniture.
The easiest way to overcome this problem is to simply build your own kelm drier. All you need is a 4x4x10 insulated box to get you started.
Simply place an electric heater at one end and a dehumidifier at the other end with a piece of garden hose attached to the dehumidifier. The garden hose runs to the outside of the box and acts as a drain.
The wood can then be stacked inside the box, the same as when it is air dried. Once the heater and dehumidifier is turned on, check the wood with the moisture meter once a day, until it is dried to the percentage you want. If the box isn't overloaded, it should take 4-5 days to dry.
Once the wood is dried, it should be stored inside at room temperature until it is used. If you want to add color to the wood, simply leave it outside in the weather for a year before it is peeled. This will increase the color, but is much harder to peel and dry.