Updated: Feb 14, 2019
As with most good things, getting good lumber requires some time. Time to allow that dearly departed tree to reach the appropriate level of moisture to be used effectively for your project. And if you have that time, this part of the project is absolutely free!
But how much time?
Well, that's the question isn't it? And the answer, which you may not like is, it depends. Fresh sawn lumber is a bit like a lasagne noodle. Imagine trying to sand a wet noodle. Or run a wet noodle through a planer. Alternatively, try to put a nail through a dry noodle.
This question is really about moisture content of the lumber. Framing lumber is generally 19% moisture content or less. Fine furniture moisture content should be in single digits to be stable enough to use. Moisture meters are easily purchased online these days and are inexpensive and simple to use.
The rule of thumb says that one inch of board thickness will air dry in one year. If you'll be using that wood for an indoor application, bring that wood inside for a few weeks before you start the project to finish the drying.
Rough sawn lumber can be used immediately in a structure if it is fastened securely and allowed to dry in place before enclosing it in something like drywall.
When air drying lumber, make sure to elevate the stack at least six inches off the ground and keep the area around it clear. Air needs to circulate throughout your lumber stack. Most people use stickers between boards to do that. We use stickers cut from the same tree we're stacking. The size and spacing varies from person to person but we get good results with stickers 1/2- 3/4 inch thick and placed evenly at 16 inches apart. It's also a good idea to weigh or strap the stack down to keep wet boards on top from twisting or cupping as they dry. A tarp on the top or some roofing will keep the stack dry and clear of any debris and will significantly improve your drying results.
What's up with the purple ends?
One key strategy to help the wood air dry properly is to let it dry slowly and evenly. The structure of wood is similar to a handful of drinking straws. Water readily comes out of the end grain of wood and not so much from the sides. As wood loses water content, it shrinks. If the ends dry faster than the rest of the wood, checking (splitting at the ends) inevitably occurs. The same day the tree above came down we painted the ends to prevent the log from drying out too fast. As for the purple...well that's just some leftover paint from another project. #gettingthemostoutoffunkypaintcolors
In the end, a little patience with your milled lumber is going to go a long way towards saving you money and frustration. So kick your feet up, grab some sweet tea and allow that wood to dry up.