The majority of people have seen the use of oak beams as antique oak flooring in residential and commercial buildings. While this twisted, split and warped design is appropriate for walls or flooring, it is not the most suitable for wooden worktops. A worktop needs to remain flat, stable, and void from cracks or splits to be effective. Of course, time will adapt to its environment, and any changes in the environment need to be taken into account. The correct treatment installation and maintenance of an oak worktop will reduce the changes to the point where they will go unnoticeable; however, effective installation still requires correct initial drying. This article will provide information on how to dry oak beams for use in oak worktops.
When an oak tree is felled, it needs to be planked and placed “on sticks”. When laid out, the planks are placed on a flat surface with little wooden bearers between the layers. The bearers are approximately 12 inches and are known as the “sticks” allowing air to flow around the oak beams. The free flowing air will aid the drying procedure, but this needs to be regulated to avoid any uneven drying speed. If the drying occurs to quickly problems will be introduced, and these problems need to be avoided.
A method that can assist with regulation of dry the oak beam and avoiding the beam drying to quickly is painting the ends of the plank with a wax-based paint. Where the plank is cut, the wood will expose capillaries carrying water and nutrients; therefore, there is a clear potential for moisture loss in this area. By painting the cut grain with wax, you will minimize the moisture loss and force the moisture to flow out through the sides of the wood at an even pace.
The second step for drying a wooden beam is to cover the top of the stack of oak, which is typically provided by a fixed roof in a shed. This covering is a method of keeping the sun and rain off the beams and providing a mesh-like covering allowing air flow but avoiding inclement weather from reaching the wood. Contrary to belief, wind is an enemy to drying oak because it removes the water from the wood too quickly. This can lead to splitting and cracking of the beams.
Finally, it is recommended that you place several sheets of thick play on the top of the oak planks to weigh the wood down. This will hold it in place and flatten the beam. The ply should be left in place for approximately six to twelve months. The longer it sits on the beams, the lower the moisture content will be once the limber is dried in the kiln.