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How we did it

I am setting my New Year’s resolution in wood {rather than stone} hahaha early, as it is my intention to finally complete all the interior woodwork for this retirement home … Custer’s last stand … I said that 25 years ago when I built the Brighton home too, hahaha … by calendar year end, 2016.


Wood is essentially a hygroscopic material. In layman’s parlance, wood behaves like a sponge, both absorbing and releasing moisture as the relative humidity {RH} changes within and without its surroundings. This is regardless of being outside, beneath a shelter like a carport or in a warm heated house.

In order to be able to properly work wood, as that’s what woodworkers do, wood must be sufficiently dry for the location it will be subjected to service in. Carpentry framing, even though it’s in a house has a different standard. Ever seen the nomenclature S-DRY? This means that it has not been sent through a kiln but is only Stick DRY. Some framing members are kiln dried, but not down to the lower 6.5% of water for what we refer to as EMC {Equilibrium Moisture Content}.

Recently, I purchased some 2″ {8/4} poplar lumber to make the 22 interior doors for this retirement house, which I’ve been working on since 2009. In total, this lumber, with the addition of a little 4/4 poplar, made up nearly 1,000 bd. ft.  Now it’s not a good idea to dry wood of different species in the same batch, let alone wood of differing thickness. However, I knew that the 1″ was already down to 7%, so I was OK with that.  The 4/4 will be used for panelling the closet doors, as they don’t need to be full thickness.  All other interior room entry doors will be built to 1-3/4″ thickness *including* panels, raised both sides plus sport an admixture of gloss, semigloss and other embellishments included. Hold your breath as a mad, mad cultural creative is at work here, hear? hahaha Upon receipt, I found the EMC too high for interior woodwork @ 11%. During my professional ‘daze’, the industry standard for interior cabinetry and millwork across NA was and remains, 6.5% EMC.


But let’s back up more than 30 years first. In 1983, I had a professional dry kiln that was capable of drying 3,000 bd. ft. of lumber up to 16´ in length. This was in the Brighton, ON workshop {archived}.  This room was completely separated from the other functions of that bldg. In the image, notice the two 16″ 220V green circulation fans near the ceiling mounted on the baffle. This ceiling hung baffle acts as the upper limit for how tall the lumber stack can be built.

If you look closely, you can also see the 6 mil black plastic that became the auxiliary baffle when loads went in that were not filling the dry kiln. I just unrolled it and stapled it to the upper edge of the donor board. The machine on tires was an EBAC, a British designed and made, expensive dehumidifier extractor, with its own 3kW coil as a heat source. The EBAC was a good unit, but, so like the cars that England had a monopoly to send to Canada.  Remember those Austins, Morrises and MG’s? {I had a 1966 MGB powder blue [my 1st ride]} Recall they could not withstand our low winter temperatures nor the distance we traveled and that was through the 1950’s -’60’s, before Japan took over from the recalcitrant methods of British manufacture and design. The compressor constantly needed attention. I drained the water from the machine in a plastic hose drilled through the concrete floor into the gravel support under the bldg. Necessity is the mother of invention…or something like that.

Brighton KILN

The room was painted with a special silver coating made by of all people Shell Canada. It was expressly designed for kilns with an interior of exterior grade fir plywood. The idea was to act as a moisture barrier, so as to not degrade the wall covering inside the room.  BTW, these were Waveform loudspeakers I used to manufacture circa 1987.  I was curing the black automotive polyurethane high-gloss enamel.  That was tough work, with tons of solvent shrinkage.  Yikes!  More on the story of Waveform later in the winter…maybe. 🙂

At the far end you can see a homemade fresh air inlet device controlled by a master dehumidistat outside the room on the wall. This was long before digital controllers with smart, programmable chipsets. What is not seen is the exhaust fan located high up to push excess moisture out of the room when the EBAC could not handle the quantity of moisture created in the room. Both of these worked simultaneously, controlled by the dehumidistat.

I’ve been blessed with a knack for easily learning what interests me. I studied all the Canada Wood Council printed literature that the Inter-Library loan system could get for me on kilns for operators, as this was for my burgeoning cabinetmaking bus. + I also provided a service for a fee to those other woodworkers and builders in my environs. The CWC is an invaluable service, which our tax dollars have created!  I trust The Harpoon with his disrespect for science, did not ‘yank’ the guts outta that too.

Meanwhile, back here in Nova Scotia, this mountainside dweller with his coastline hugger lady friend, had some lifting to do and 3 pieces of equipment to organize in this room.


Notice the floor drain in the above image.  It’s where I funnelled the effluent from the Sears unit with a garden hose.  Neat, as I saved drilling a floor hole.  🙂 Also note as I did in the step-by-step, this mechanical room is set the width of a 2 x 4 lower than the surrounding finish floor to accommodate any future flooding, should Mr. Murphy poke his head in uninvited.

We stacked and stickered the heavy planks in my mechanical room, as it is centrally located. It’s also the warmest and most isolated room in the house. Throughout the house, both ceiling and walls, there have been two layers of 1/2″ drywall installed as thermal mass. It also acts as a barrier to sound transmission from one room to another. Gypsum is a native stone here in NS.

Below, we used a furniture blanky to cover the room door.  Later I bundled this up with a sheet of 6 mil clear plastic + a layer of cardboard as insulation and for limited moisture control as I live here.  Jambs are all full width poplar, with no added glueing up to obtain width.  I am usually a stickler for this as it’s been part of my MO.  This doesn’t mean that I never glue up boards to obtain a sufficient width.  The door frames are now fully installed throughout the pad.


The first reading sets the EMC at far too high for interior woodwork. Even after the mandated first week of equalizing, the stack contents with zero moisture withdrawal, was sweating the room and windows in the house. The idea behind equalizing without moisture removal, is best so that all the boards get down to the requisite MC with homogeneity in all the planks, throughout the stack. A high reading like 11% with attendant drying later through cold low RH winter days, will cause distortion through twisting as the wood continues to dry.

I must say, that the most beautiful wood I ever worked was some red oak that was air dried in a shed for 2 years, then kiln dried back in 1976 by a neighbour’s service.  I took the balance of that red oak to NZ, when my family and I emigrated.  When we decided to return to Canada, having experienced not greener on the other side of the hill,  just a different shade of green, I sold the oak to an undertaker in Nelson for 5 X what I had in it.  Then I cried for days.  I did. 😦 hahaha  This oak machined splendidly as woodworkers like their wood to be obedient to the cutters.


Wood contains two areas where moisture resides:
1. In the cells, referred to as free water and
2. In the cell walls, referred to as bound water.

The easiest to remove is from the cells themselves. To get wood to release its MC in the cell walls, requires higher heat and slow drying. To dry wood without degrade such as, bending, twisting, case hardening, cracking, splitting, etc, is both a science and an art.


We baffled the empty space above the pile with cardboard to direct the 20” box fan’s airflow through the pile, so as not to short circuit the layers, as that would be wasted energy and more greenhouse gases. I set up a Sears home dehumidifier and a 1500W oil space heater for heat. Those 3 inexpensive devices were sufficient. During all of November, even during the cold weather overnight, the entire house received the heat leakage from this rudimentary kiln, remaining at or above 73° F without any other auxiliary heat. A home dehumidifier can output prodigious BTU’s.


After 5 weeks and several oven-dry analyses, it was determined that I had reached near 7% EMC. As they say here in NS: “That’s good enough!” 🙂 Actually, a very funny thing happened as if The Universe was speaking to me. The temperature in the ‘kiln’ went to 121° F @ 20% RH. The breakers in the electrical panel became so hot, that when I went to use some of the 220V equipment in the shop, the breakers would trip. hahaha

The reason why we woodworkers want 6.5% EMC is easy. During Feb. as in the winter we had in 2015, the RH {Relative Humidity} of your house can dip into the 30’s, as mine did. *That’s* when you want 6.5% EMC in your interior woodwork. Ever notice how with solid raised panel doors, that the panel pulls away, sometimes right out of the groove in the frame? Notice also how floorboards can pull away from each other as well during Jan., but especially Feb., when the outside thermometer is constantly in freeze mode as it was in 2015 here in NS. Wide boards shrink across their width yet imperceptibly down their length.


Here’s how to do a proper foolproof and easy oven-dry analysis of wood moisture content. It saves buying an expensive two-pin moisture metre, which has no temperature or species adjustment scale. These latter two points are crucial to a true reading.


1. It’s easy to do an oven-dry analysis of wood EMC.
2. Cut a sample from the middle of the board.


3. Take it to the bandsaw and strip off all the outside layers that may give a 2-pin moisture metre a false reading. ***The outside layers may not have any bound water but the interior wood will most certainly have more than we want. This is key to thorough drying through to the *core* of the heavy 8/4 lumber. {lumber is still marketed in the former Imperial system of measurement using 1/4’s of an inch.  Therefore, 16/4 = 4″ and 5/4 = 1-1/4″.  Got it?}


4. Weigh it on a kitchen gram scale and record the #. Better to have an Ohaus 0.10-gram scale but the kitchen one works …’good enough’.


5. Set a toaster oven just above the boiling point of H20. Use a candy thermometer set in the centre to get the correct temperature. If you go too high in temperature, the wood may char, destroying some of the fibre and you will not get a true reading. You may have to run the oven for at least 24 hrs. straight.

6. Keep taking the sample from the oven and weigh it.

7. When there is no further weight loss due to the evaporation of water, it is bone dry.
8. Then use this formula:
Wet weight minus dry weight divided by the dry weight X 100% = EMC or what % of moisture was in the wood prior to setting it in the toaster oven.


A word or two about eastern white poplar, what some local old timers refer to as pople. It is not considered a fine cabinet wood. It’s common, fuzzy grained making it at times difficult to machine and finish. It’s not even commercially available. If you look and ask, it is about though. In 2015, it usually sold for $3/bd. ft. air dry.

Yet, when one allows the wood to be itSelf, without coercion bending to one’s ego, miracles occur. Poplar becomes hard, can have curly figure, although quite subtle, not at all flamboyant like flame yellow birch. Poplar develops a creamy colour when exposed over time to UV rays, not unlike hard maple. Poplar is dimensionally stable and can be dyed {not stained} by using water-based pre-conditioners, readily available. Use a universal sanding sealer under your water-based topcoats like Zinsers  This does not raise the grain. I spray most all this interior woodwork out of doors.  I still ‘carry’ some plantar fasciitis for proof, which is why I’ve done little hiking since early July, hiking being my favourite pastime out of doors.


BTW, all my top coating is waterborne. Much technological development has gone on with these new waterborne paints and varnishes in the last few years, driven by atmospheric contamination from the pollutants that gas off. Little improvement if any has happened over the last 50 years or more with solvent based paints and varnishes.  I have found these new water-based topcoats to be harder, tougher and more water resistant than the ole stuff.  Is this where we say: “Good riddance to bad rubbish?” 🙂 There were near worldwide conventions through international agreements in Western countries, to reduce the VOC’s {Volatile Organic Compounds} such as exist in regular oil-based varnishes and lacquers. VOC’s can make one dizzy if using them in an unventilated workspace without a charcoal filter mask.  VOC’s are highly toxic over time and will damage the brain with repeat exposure.  VOC’s are also highly carcinogenic.

I had to use bronze coloured, star drive screws designed in Germany, made in Taiwan which are 3-1/8″ long.  To get to the underlying framing around the doors with 2 layers of gyproc + a row of sound channel for acoustic room isolation, I needed a minimum of 3″, i.e. with a 3/4″ penetration into the framing.

The GRK’s come with a gimlet or pre-sharpened point for drilling.  I didn’t wish to take the chance of splitting the thin edge {3.5 mm} of the casing where it attaches to the door jamb, I pre-drilled ’em.  The threads are razor sharp, cut at an angle that makes using the star drive a breeze; even more positive than Canada’s own square drive, P.L. Robertson screws.  As the Kiwis are wont to state: “The only thing that gets done in a hurry is a balls up!” 🙂


No finish nailer goes above 2-1/2″, so I chose a much more expensive method.  To use a 3″ finishing nail was simply not on even with pre-drilling {which I did anyway for these GRK Fasteners}.  The head OD for a 3″ finishing nail is only slightly less than these GRK’s, so it became a no-brainer as to what to employ. ‘Sides, think of all that finish nail puttying necessary.


Imagine all the cracking of the drywall with that heavy pounding, the missed nail set ding in the wood prematurely antiquing the new millwork?  Nah, no thanks.  How ’bout a re-application of tennis elbow I had earlier in my career? Non merci encore une fois! Then there was all that nail head filling with colour change…

I left the GRK’s slightly proud of the surface rather than risk burring the soft poplar by countersinking them.  It’s finish carpentry after all; we’re not making fine furniture. That’s a post for 2016.  Remember, if you peer at a painting too closely, all you’ll witness are the brush strokes. Good craft is a harmonious blend of science + art, with more than a liberal dash of heart thrown in for good measure.

I’m currently working on pre-drilling the carved door stops which carry forth the duo-tone Maritime theme I have kept with for the embellishment of this retirement home; remember, it’s all on one level with no stairs.  How long will your knees last?  I am halfway through applying some 1/16″ thick black felt to the inside door edge of the stops.


While this adds a tick of redeeming decorative aspect to the design, it’s main function is to create a whomp instead of a wham upon closing the door. Just another fine touch from jayöh, adding some elegance to this work.  In the audio business at the NRC in Ottawa, we referred to this as “gilding the lily”… as I mentioned above, more on Waveform later in the winter.  Writing and composing for another snowy wintry day that I adore. Blessings to All That There IS!

The full ball bearing hinges below, I carried back from my visit to China in 2012 as part of my checked baggage as well as carry on.  The bloody carry on weighed nearly 100 lbs as I had hinges up the yin/yang and drawer slides in both bags.  I also checked a spare army surplus back-pack, chocker with slides, hinges, door stops etc, being brought into Canada. These are stainless steel, antique bronze coated and I picked them up for $3.50/pr CDN!  Good deal eh?


Both medallions and plinth blocks were carved from leftover spruce framing material I saved from the woodstove. I even carved the outside and inside edges of the casings.


In total, the entire winter period between Feb.10th 2015 -April 10th 2015 was spent on the bench, chisel in hand.  It was quite a meditation in motion, trying to prevent tearing when the grain decided to change direction in the middle of a cut. 🙂 Much of this has been manufactured in poplar, by that little ole cabinetmaker me … aka Geppetto. They are now prepped for the doors.

Below is an oblique image of how the finished door frames appear, complete with carved heart-shaped medallions and tree trunk plinths … all simulated of course.


I’ll let Paul Simon sing a refrain that speaks reams to the core of this partnership between All That There IS and Geppetto:

“…I’m not the kind of man
Who tends to socialize
I seem to lean on
Old familiar ways…
I’ll never worry
Why should I?
I know it’s all gonna fade…
But I would not be convicted
By a jury of my peers
Still crazy after all these years
Oh, still crazy
Still crazy
***Still crazy after all these years.”***

I AM John Ötvös, aka jayöh