Does Wood Need to Be Dried Before Turning, Staining, or Burning?

If you’re considering to take up timberwork as a hobby or just want to try it out, it’s important to understand that there is a lot more that goes on behind the picture. However, as long as you follow a few handy rules, you will be able to produce something amazing in no time.

One of these very important factors of woodwork is dryness. Can you turn fresh cut wood? Does wood need to be dried before turning, staining, or burning?

The short answer is yes, wood needs to be dried before staining, turning, or burning. But it is a lot more complicated than that. Let’s dive deep into it.

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Does Wood Need to Be Dried Before Turning, Staining, or Burning?

As I’ve said in the intro, you should dry the wood before turning, staining, and burning.

Is it an absolute must? The answer is a bit complicated.

Before we understand how all of this works, we need to be clear on the definitions of these processes and how these function.

Does Wood Need to Be Dried Before Turning, Staining, or Burning

Sticking through with us till the end may be tedious to some, but we guarantee that it will save you hours, if not days, when it comes to actually getting your hands dirty.

What Is Dry Wood?

This section might seem very counterintuitive as if you have ever touched a cut piece of wood, more often than not, it will feel “dry.” However, what you are really doing is only testing one surface of the large piece.

Wood is dense and thick. So we can not really tell the properties of the interior of a large piece of lumber just by observing the outside.

The key thing to understand when it comes to wood is that when we talk about a piece of wood that is not dry, it doesn’t mean they are soaking or dripping wet. It means they still retain a lot of moisture.

A look back at high school biology tells us that trees use water as the carrier of nutrition from their roots to trees and back. Accounting for that, it does make a lot of sense for the inside of the bark to be filled with water. How much exactly? A staggering 50% of fresh-cut wood is water or moisture by weight.

What Is Dry Wood

Scientifically put, to dry wood is to bring the moisture level from 50% all the down to around 12% or so. Usually, the drying process will change the shape, size, and weight of any piece of wood and with that, changes the difficulty or process of working with said wood.

Now that we have cleared out what dry wood means for our purpose, do keep in mind that the opposite of dry wood is fresh-cut wood or, more commonly, Green-Wood.

What Are Turning, Staining, and Burning?

Let’s learn about these processes here.

What Are Turning, Staining, and Burning


Even if you have never heard of this particular term, it is highly possible that you are aware of it or have seen it in some shape or form.

Recalling those social media videos we talked about, the wood is spun using a device in almost all of them, and the craftsman uses stationary tools to shape or carve the wood. This process is commonly known as Wood Turning, and it is most commonly used in making bowls, dishes, and furniture legs.


The tool that makes this possible is called the lathe. Originating in ancient Egypt, the lathe is a tool that basically spins any piece of wood on its own axis at a really high speed. This allows the craftsman to hold a chisel to shape a rectangular or square piece of wood to his heart’s content.

Woodturning has a reputation for being one of the most fun aspects of working with wood. Some have even exclaimed that it can be therapeutic. One thing is certain, though, with a really high skill ceiling, woodturning can keep you busy while having fun for years.


The simple meaning of wood stain is that it is a special type of paint used on wood. By that definition, staining wood means to paint wood.

Staining wood typically enhances the color and pattern of the wood. This process will make the color creep inside the wood deeply to make the grains more visibly pronounced or even paint the wood a whole different color.

Although some stains work in protecting the surface of the wood, generally, staining is used for achieving desired aesthetics through color. This change will mostly always be permanent, and for that very reason, it is encouraged to stain a small piece of the wood before going to town.


All types of commercially available stains use a “vehicle.” A “vehicle” is almost like a solvent, except that the color particles or pigments don’t dissolve in the liquid. The pigment particles just float around in it. This “vehicle” can either be water-based or oil-based. Hence, the two main types of stains available in the market now are water-based stains and oil-based stains.

You might also have heard the name “Varnish”. The main key difference between Stain and Varnish is that, while stain will penetrate deep into a piece of wood, giving it a dramatic and permanent shift in aesthetics, a varnish is made to sit on top of the wood surface, protecting it from damage.


The official name of this process is “Pyrography.” This method is one where free-handed burn marks are inflicted upon the piece of wood with the goal to engrave or decorate the timber with any type of design.

Typically an electric woodburning pen is used due to its availability and ease of use. That is, however, not set in stone as you can get incredibly creative with it.

Craftsmen from all over the world are seen to use a metric ton of different methods ranging from branding the wood with a heated piece of metal to even concentrating sunlight with the help of a magnifying glass.


Wood burning is mostly suited for softwood, including ash, aspen, birchwood, and pine, as they are easy to work with. A more advanced user might be able to practice pyrography on any type of wood.

As extreme high temperatures are at play, pyrography is probably the most dangerous method we have talked about yet. So it is advised to maintain caution.

Why Can’t I Just Use Freshly Cut Wood?

Like we touched on earlier, wood works like a sponge to retain moisture. While green wood has almost 50% of its weight in moisture, it can be very bulky, dense, and heavy. Intuitively, as the wood dries out, it loses the moisture content and shrinks in size, and loses weight as well.

The observant readers among you might have already guessed the result of working on Greenwood. To elaborate, when you are working on a fresh-cut piece of wood, the wood might unpredictably change shape and warp throughout the process. Obviously, that is an outcome we don’t want.

Use Freshly Cut Wood

That is not all, as after you have made your desired wood product when it’s resting on the shelf, the shape of the product, in the long run. Over time as it loses more moisture, it may bend, warp, or even crack in a lot of places.

How Necessary Is Dry Wood for Turning?

It is, albeit not that uncommon for seasoned woodworkers to use Greenwood for turning. But that comes with a lot of risks.

When you use your fresh-cut piece of wood in a lathe, after getting off the top layer, the wood would be noticeably wet. For this reason, as you are chipping more and more pieces off of it using your chisel, clogging becomes an issue. You need to be a lot more patient and careful because it will very obviously slow the process of turning down.

Another minor reason to dry your wood before turning is that your tools would require a lot more effort to clean and keep in shape. While the added risk of your finished product warping or changing shape is always there.

Dry Wood for Turning

Then again, any veteran would tell you that Greenwood is perfectly fine in turning given that you have the experience to understand what you are doing. We would like to add that gaining said experience requires long-term patience.

Verdict: Not entirely necessary depending on the use case but highly suggested for beginners.

How Necessary is Dry Wood for Staining?

Unlike the other sections where the answer was more complicated, this one is a simple and astounding yes.

As we discussed multiple times, greenwood is like a sponge for moisture. If you are using an oil-based stain, that’s even more true as water and oil aren’t exactly best friends. Regardless, stain works through getting into the empty spaces inside the wood, and with wet wood, your stain just won’t penetrate properly no matter how hard you try.

Dry Wood for Staining

To get the desired result with staining, dry wood is mandatory. With dry wood, the stain would be more substantial, last a lot longer, and look as advertised from the stain container.

Verdict: An Absolute Yes.

How Necessary Is Dry Wood for Burning?

Drying wood out for the purposes of pyrography is not as important as other factors like the type of wood. In fact, a little bit of moisture in the wood is necessary for the process of burning.

You can start with dried wood for all the aforementioned reasons like warping or cracking. If you want to stain the piece later, then it is important to dry the wood out too.

Dry Wood for Burning

After selecting the piece to work on, you can use a wet cloth, napkin, or sponge on the surface. Remember that for pyrography, the wood needs to be damp but not dripping wet. Dry the wood out in an open space for around 3 hours after you have used the sponge on it. 

Verdict: Not necessary but if you want, you can dry the wood.

How to Know if Wood Is Green or Dry?

Now that we understand the basics distinguishing between green or dry wood becomes more important than ever.

How to Know if Wood Is Green or Dry

Typically if you are buying wood from your local hardware store, the shop will provide you with enough knowledge about the age and dryness of the wood. But if you are even more of a DIY person, there are two ways:

Buying a Meter

A moisture meter is a tool that is easily available at a reasonable price from local and online retailers. There are primarily two types of tools in the market — Pin-type and Pinless meters. Each has its own pros and cons.

Pin-type metes have protruding prongs that can go inside the wood and read the moisture contents from the inside. This is handy as you can tell if the inside of the wood is dry enough.

Buying a Meter

However, the drawback of this type of meter is that it can only give readings from the area the pin is. Thus if you stick it inside a particularly dry spot of the wood, you won’t get accurate measurements.

A pinless meter will work on a flat surface, and you have to press the scanner into the surface. The main pro of this type of meter is that it can scan a larger surface area relatively quickly. But it only works for a fixed thickness of wood corresponding to the meters “scanning depth.”

Calculating Yourself

Similar to any other DIY thing, this method will require more hands-on time but can also be more satisfying and fun. Take a sample piece from your large piece of wood, and weigh it. Note down the weight as the “initial weight.” After that, stick the sample into an oven set to 103° C or 217° F for 4 hours.

Buying a Meter for wood

After 4 hours, take the wood out and weigh it again. Repeat the process as necessary, and unless you measure the same weight multiple times, your wood is not dry.

How to Dry Wood?

The general rule of thumb is that a piece of wood needs one year of drying time per inch of thickness. This number is for air drying. Kiln drying is another very popular method. The techniques regarding these two methods are as follows:

How to Dry Wood

Air Drying

This is a simple, financially reasonable method that is exactly what it sounds like. Just find a clean and dry place with not too high or low temperature (shade is also recommended) and make a platform of some sort to put the wood on.

Rest the long pieces of wood on the platform while using spacers so that they are not touching each other. You can also coat the wood with mineral oil.

Air Drying

After this, just calculate the time you need according to the one year of drying time per inch of thickness rule and wait around.

Kiln Drying

Kiln drying method trades in the affordability and availability for shorter wait times. As the name suggests, pieces of wood are stuck inside a kiln, exposing the wood to heat that brings out moisture. It needs significantly less time than air drying.

Kiln Drying


If you have made it this far, you now know the answer to this question: does wood need to be dried before turning, staining, or burning?

We assume you will put it to good use on your next (or first) woodworking venture.

Be a champion for this hobby that has been mixed with human civilization and culture for eons ago and who knows maybe one day you will be among one of the finest craftsmen this world has right now.

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