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Question about letting lumber acclimate to a new environment

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Question about letting lumber acclimate to a new environment
Posted by cats think well of me on Wednesday, July 28, 2021 10:42 PM

Hi all, 

I just bought pine 1x4s and 1x2s to build up a frame for a 2x8 compact shelf layout inspired by Pelle Soeborg's shelf layout from the October and November 2002 Model Railroader issues. The layout's base will be 3" styrofoam as I already have a 2' x 2' segment with a building on a hillside diorama to incorporate. It'll be in a finished room in my basement which is not super well insulated and gets a bit humid. I've heard lumber should have time to adjust to a new environment. How long do you all think I should let this lumber acclimate to the basement's climate? 

Thank You

Alvie

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Posted by selector on Thursday, July 29, 2021 12:04 AM

It’s mostly the humidity that can be problematic. Assuming the room is fairly stable, and the lumber either very dry or very damp, you’d want the pices to acclimate over perhaps three days, more if there’s a lot of material or it’s cross section is thick, nearer 4 “. You let the wood adjust before any measurements and cutting.

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Posted by Lastspikemike on Thursday, July 29, 2021 9:09 AM

Modern sawmill lumber of construction grade is just not dried enough at the mill. Period. It's also cut only to maximize produced volume without regard to the characteristics of the source logs or the end product. It's basically very cheap junk wood on most cases. Of course just st the moment "cheap" may not an seem accurate description.

To complete the drying process can take a long time in ambient conditions. If you intend to try and usefully dry this stuff out it will take weeks and months usually. Then you'll be culling a lot of warped lumber out if your supply before you can use it. Furniture grade lumber is expensive for these reasons. 

At least a few weeks storage in the intended location is a minimum if drying out is your objective. However, that lumber will not dry evenly because it's cut to be construction grade: intended to be cut and nailed into a squared framing system so it will not warp (much!) as it finishes drying.

Bear in mind that the benchwork framing you use should hold the lumber square enough as it dries anyway. I recommend you design your structure carefully to keep it rigid and square as it dries and then just build right away. Lumber screwed into rigid frames should dry square.

Just btw, that's why much wood is basically destroyed and remanufactured into sheets of laminate (plywood, multilam and blockboard) or particle board. Engineered wood allows cheap and nasty wood to be reworked into nice stable building material. Often ripping sheets of engineered wood works out easier than trying to build with softwood construction lumber.

That's why I shop for my lumber at self serve yards. I look at the ends of the cut lumber to gauge where in the log it was cut from.....it's AMAZING how small the trees can be from which "usable" 2x4 are cut. Trees our grandfathers wouldn't have cut down for firewood are now shoved through sawmills. 

Alyth Yard

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Posted by snjroy on Thursday, July 29, 2021 9:20 AM

Yes, that's what builders do in Eastern Canada for spruce. Nail it ASAP and it should dry pretty straight. Letting it dry may actually allow it to warp. At the very least put some weight on it. 

Simon

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Posted by dknelson on Thursday, July 29, 2021 9:37 AM

One slightly nice thing one can say about the big box stores that sell lumber is that, with some exceptions, one now shops for your lumber indoors, in a controlled (heated in winter, cooled in summer) environment probably not unlike your layout space in climate control.

Back when shopping for lumber meant trudging around outside in the open air, and the lumber not even always having a roof over it, although must were like the Atlas lumber yard kit, open air but a closed side or two and a roof -- that was when acclimating your wood purchases was really important.  It used to be winter was the worst time to buy lumber because you'd be buying it cold and wet and bringing it into a bone dry home.  Some warping was almost guaranteed.

Also many of those big box stores sell sheet lumber/plywood stacked on a floor rather than suspended at the ends on a rack.  So the stuff is often flat when you get it.  That makes a difference.

Because I got "a deal" on the dimensional lumber when I started my layout, I bought more than I initially needed.  So some of it was carefully stored for many months, even years, and now some pieces have been there for decades (!) before I got around to it.  Ideally I suppose a full rotation of the seasons would go by but would anyone actually do that for all the wood that is needed?

Dave Nelson

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Posted by cats think well of me on Thursday, July 29, 2021 9:45 AM

Thanks for the replies everyone. The basic structure will have the 1x4s as the framing ends with a 1x2 strip on the inside to hold the styrofoam up but with 1x2 strips running every 2'. Here's a crude drawing of what I'm going for. Pelle Soeborg's design did not have the perpendicular strips mine will have, but I'll have an inch less styrofoam on the base of my layout. His was a 4" base, mine is will be a 3" styrofoam base and I think the additional 1x2s will be enough support. Plus I need something to attach to the shelf brackets that I'll use to hold it to walls.  

Alvie

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Thursday, July 29, 2021 9:50 AM

cats think well of me
Thanks for the replies everyone. The basic structure will have the 1x4s as the framing ends with a 1x2 strip on the inside to hold the styrofoam up but with 1x2 strips running every 2'.

snjroy
That's what builders do in Eastern Canada for spruce. Nail it ASAP and it should dry pretty straight. Letting it dry may actually allow it to warp.

Simon's suggestion is the right idea. Since your benchwork construction will be a grid, and very self-supporting, assemble the basic grid quickly. This will resist the wood warping as it dries as other wood will try to keep it aligned.

Here is what I do... this is my real-world experience from building several layouts, not something I read, then copied and pasted trying to sound like an expert...

Build as much of the grid or support as quickliy as possible using the lumber as soon as you buy it as Simon wrote. Inspect the lumber as best you can at the big box store. Down here the stores go through dimensional lumber very quickly, so it is almost all straight and fresh at the store.

After the basic support it complete, let it acclimate to the room as an assembly. I usually wait several weeks while I work on a locomotive project.

Now check all the benchwork again with your straight edges and levels, I usually find lots of 1/4" deflections all over the place.

If deflection and warpage is minor, just continue on building the layout. It will all be hidden undeneath scenery and behind the fascia. It just needs to be sturdy.

If anything is bady warped, cut it out and rebuild it.

I construct my subroadbed using premium poplar risers and 3/4 inch marine grade plywood. Use levels and straightedges for all of this work. Do not measure your risers from the benchwork as any warpage will translate to your subroadbed. Trust your levels. Never force a riser into the position you want it. Let the lumber be in a relaxed state or you will have problems later.

I use some wood glue at this point of construction in opposition to Lin Wescott's suggestions for benchwork. Others might not use glue.

Any unsupported lumber, like for backdrop support, should be made from premium poplar.

I am now making my fascias from PVC so these will not be warping.

I hope this helps. Please feel free to ask any follow-ups if you have them.

-Kevin

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by cats think well of me on Thursday, July 29, 2021 10:02 AM

I'll get on it in the next few days. Thanks guys! I'm so excited to start building something. I had wanted to do a layout in the basement, but I think I'm just going to do a diorama of some kind for now, as it'd allow me to learn and do a lot of things. Scenery, track laying, building scenes, photographing models and not just on a test track, and so on. I'll post more pics in time. 

Alvie

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Thursday, July 29, 2021 10:08 AM

cats think well of me
I think I'm just going to do a diorama of some kind for now, as it'd allow me to learn and do a lot of things.

This is my best approach also.

When I decided to use a new technique for building benchwork for my final layout, I built a Layout Test Segment to make sure it would work as I intended.

Have fun... and please share pictures!

-Kevin

 

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by rrebell on Thursday, July 29, 2021 11:23 AM

Why insert the foam, just glue it on top. Start right away as greener lumber will take screws without spliting. Once squared up caulk the foam down, once dry it is very rigid.

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Posted by riogrande5761 on Friday, July 30, 2021 7:42 AM

Alvie,

If you don't have one, get a dehumidfier and that will help control the humidity and keep it down; always a good idea in basement where humidty can affect things seasonally.  Where I live, the humidity tends to be low from around October to the following April or so, but throughout the summer the dehumidifier runs  to keep humidity from rising above 50%.

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Posted by Lastspikemike on Friday, July 30, 2021 9:01 AM

rrebell

Why insert the foam, just glue it on top. Start right away as greener lumber will take screws without spliting. Once squared up caulk the foam down, once dry it is very rigid.

 

While more difficult to do inserting squared pieces of foam inside the top of the frames will substantially increase the rigidity of the framing. Foam glued on top will have less squaring effect. If you rely on foam glued on top you might benefit from gluing a sheet of thin plywood or hardboard (1/4" is more than sufficient and even 1/8" would add a lot of strength) on top first and gluing down the foam on top of that.

Foam is quite strong in compression rather than in sheer at the glued surfaces. If you laminate foam between quite thin sheets of material you can create very strong and light structures (an example is composite sandwich construction) . The area of adhesive holding down the foam is important for adding squaring strength to the framing. If you insert the foam down into the frames it doesn't rely on the adhesive to deliver squaring forces. 

Alyth Yard

Canada

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Friday, July 30, 2021 9:18 AM

riogrande5761
If you don't have one, get a dehumidfier and that will help control the humidity and keep it down

I had a whole-house dehumidifier for about ten years, it was amazing. The house was so comfortable.

When we had the air conditioner replaced for the second time, we could not get a dehumidifier for the system. I have regretted that for a long time.

The next HVAC system will have one again.

-Kevin

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by BATMAN on Friday, July 30, 2021 11:08 AM

When I built my layout I went to the usual place, an independent lumber store. 10' fir 1" x 4"s were $1.40ea so I threw about a 100 in the truck along with some other stuff. I always like to keep a supply of lumber on hand as it is cheaper than making the trip to the store.

I made sure that I loaded/unloaded it as it was on the pile and came off the green chain with the grain all running the same way. This enabled me to flip one board over and around and put them together so as they dried they worked against each other and stayed true. Worked like a charm. I then ran them through the saw ten at a time and put the whole works together with lap joints which also really helped to keep things in check. To this day there is no sign of any twisting or pulling apart.

 

When we got a new high-efficiency natural gas furnace the company told us some people need to install a humidifier as they find the air gets too dry in the winter from the furnace. It did not bother us at all even though the air was definitely drier. I did get two very minor speed bumps on my roadbed a few weeks after we got the new furnace and it had a chance to dry things out even more. I could see no sign of where the shrinkage took place and the speed bumps were corrected and I have not had an issue since.

I have two mills within a half-hour drive that I can load lumber from within minutes of it being milled. I will bring the lumber home and put ratchet straps around it while it dries on the rack in the garage. It is dry and straight after a couple of weeks in there. We run one, sometimes two dehumidifier(s) in the garage as wet cars and wet dogs dry much faster.

 

Brent

It's not the age honey, it's the mileage.

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Posted by snjroy on Friday, July 30, 2021 12:06 PM

Apart from plywood, we don't get a lot of BC fir here in Eastern Canada. I think it's closer to pine in terms of softness, and probably warps/cracks less than spruce, right?

I agree that humidity is a major factor. Even if you buy wood dry, it may warp with humidity swings. We had that problem for years at our local club - affected both the benchwork and the track. Installing a dehumidifier made a big difference.

Simon

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Posted by cats think well of me on Friday, July 30, 2021 12:33 PM

A dehumidifier is on my shopping list, it's a 12x14 room so I'll not need a big one. 

Alvie

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Posted by Lastspikemike on Friday, July 30, 2021 2:58 PM

An air conditioner is a dehumidifier. It may not feel like one because the cooled air holds less water vapour (which is why AC dehumifies in the first place) so the relative humidity stays the same (which it has to). All AC systems need a water drain because they are very effective dehumidifiers. 

Dehumidifiers tend to be a bit like using a bucket to lower the water level in a lake.... Unless you can somehow stop air movement the size of the room the dehumidifier is in makes little difference to the size of dehumidifier you need. Water vapour moves very quickly throughout any closed air space and relative humidity inside such a space will be pretty uniform. If there is a significant temperature gradient within the space then the relative humidity in the colder zone will be higher which is why basements tend to be damp feeling even in an otherwise dry home. 

Properly dried wood just needs the ambient humidity to stay roughly the same. It has to get very dry or very damp to affect properly "seasoned" wood. Stable temperature and humidity are important. The exact levels are not.

Alyth Yard

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Friday, July 30, 2021 3:01 PM

snjroy
Apart from plywood, we don't get a lot of BC fir here in Eastern Canada. I think it's closer to pine in terms of softness, and probably warps/cracks less than spruce, right?

We have not had fir in stores down here in over 10 years.

-Kevin

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by JDawg on Friday, July 30, 2021 7:03 PM

My suggestion to the OP is this. Build your bench work as soon as possible. I say this because wood loves, and I mean LOVES to warp. I work as a general contractor (licensed in MN). Once I was assembling stairs and had cut all of the treads to the perfect fit. I came back a week or so later, and I started to install the treads. They were so bent and twisted I had to recut all of the treads with new lumber. I then installed them immediately and they are still straight to this day. When I assemble benchwork, I use GRK type screws for maximum hold. I've never had a problem with any of the layouts I've built, or helped build. So, build it now while the lumber is straight, don't wait. Hey, that rhymes!

JJF


Prototypically modeling the Great Northern in Minnesota with just a hint of freelancing. Smile, Wink & Grin

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Posted by BATMAN on Friday, July 30, 2021 7:36 PM

snjroy

Apart from plywood, we don't get a lot of BC fir here in Eastern Canada. I think it's closer to pine in terms of softness, and probably warps/cracks less than spruce, right?

I agree that humidity is a major factor. Even if you buy wood dry, it may warp with humidity swings. We had that problem for years at our local club - affected both the benchwork and the track. Installing a dehumidifier made a big difference.

Simon

 

Spruce is much more susceptible to warping and splitting, in fact, it is a bad choice for a layout because it really reacts to humidity changes.

Pine is a little bit better but not very resilient and is a bit of a crapshoot. Old-growth pine (larger tree) is much better but is harder to find these days.

Douglas Fir is plentiful and cheap out here on the West Coast and is very stable. The Douglas Fir tends to be a huge tree with very straight/tight grain which means it does not warp very easily. It is also very strong which is very important if you want to run a big boy.Laugh

I have a 180' Douglas Fir in my back yard, it is a good six feet in diameter at its base.

Brent

It's not the age honey, it's the mileage.

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Saturday, July 31, 2021 12:05 AM

JDawg
So, build it now while the lumber is straight, don't wait.

We need to emblazon this motto onto a banner!

-Kevin

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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Posted by cats think well of me on Saturday, July 31, 2021 6:57 AM

The benchwork will be my weekend project. It will not take long. I already have much of it cut, just need to do the glue and screws. As I already have the 1"x4"x8' and 1"x2"x8' pieces together, I used both glue and screws, I elected not to break it up into 2'x4' segments. I'll post pics soon!

Alvie

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Posted by JDawg on Saturday, July 31, 2021 8:06 AM

SeeYou190

 

 
JDawg
So, build it now while the lumber is straight, don't wait.

 

We need to emblazon this motto onto a banner!

-Kevin

 

 

Big Smile

JJF


Prototypically modeling the Great Northern in Minnesota with just a hint of freelancing. Smile, Wink & Grin

Yesterday is History.

Tomorrow is a Mystery.

But today is a Gift, that is why it is called the Present. 

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Posted by John-NYBW on Saturday, July 31, 2021 2:01 PM

dknelson

One slightly nice thing one can say about the big box stores that sell lumber is that, with some exceptions, one now shops for your lumber indoors, in a controlled (heated in winter, cooled in summer) environment probably not unlike your layout space in climate control.

Back when shopping for lumber meant trudging around outside in the open air, and the lumber not even always having a roof over it, although must were like the Atlas lumber yard kit, open air but a closed side or two and a roof -- that was when acclimating your wood purchases was really important.  It used to be winter was the worst time to buy lumber because you'd be buying it cold and wet and bringing it into a bone dry home.  Some warping was almost guaranteed.

Also many of those big box stores sell sheet lumber/plywood stacked on a floor rather than suspended at the ends on a rack.  So the stuff is often flat when you get it.  That makes a difference.

Because I got "a deal" on the dimensional lumber when I started my layout, I bought more than I initially needed.  So some of it was carefully stored for many months, even years, and now some pieces have been there for decades (!) before I got around to it.  Ideally I suppose a full rotation of the seasons would go by but would anyone actually do that for all the wood that is needed?

Dave Nelson

 

I think I read in The V&O Story that Allen McClelland allowed his lumber to aclimate for a year before begining his benchwork. Sounded like a good idea but I just didn't have the patience for that. I wanted to start building right away. The book is packed away somewhere or I would double check that but that's what I remember.

I used a plywood base for my yards and towns and if anyone plans to do the same, I would put a slight gap between sheets to allow for expansion. I failed to do that and in a couple places, the plywood bowed upward. Fortunately this happened before anything but the track was down so all I had to do was take up the track, make a curf cut between the problem sheets, and then tape over the gap to allow the application of ground cover and ballast. I would also recommend a very small gap between sections of track. In a few places in my yard, I failed to do that and the track buckled and had to be replaced. 

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Posted by richhotrain on Tuesday, August 3, 2021 6:28 AM

I used cabinet grade plywood to build my current layout. The plywood was stored indoors at the local lumber yard. No warping whatsoever. No need to acclimate.

Rich

Alton Junction

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Posted by SeeYou190 on Tuesday, August 3, 2021 10:19 AM

richhotrain
I used cabinet grade plywood to build my current layout.

I have always used marine grade plywood, which is easy to get down here.

Same experiences as yours. No warping and no need to acclimate.

-Kevin

Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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