How to Store Lumber Safely - Expert Tips

Posted by Josh Kou on

How to Store Lumber Safely - Expert Tips

If you’ve ordered lumber for an important project, you’ll need to have somewhere to store it! Ideally, you should think through your storage plan before you order the boards, so they can stay flat while they acclimate to your space.

You’ll need to consider both where you want to store your lumber and how you’re going to store it. (Upright? On a rack? Stacked on stickers?)

Here’s the North Castle Hardwoods guide to storing lumber the right way.

Where Should You Store Lumber?

Lumber needs to be kept somewhere dry and with good ventilation. Lumber should be stored indoors whenever possible. Wood must not be exposed to rainwater or direct sunlight. 

If your workshop is in a pole barn, shed, or detached garage, see if you can install a horizontal or vertical lumber rack against one wall. If you have a little more room, you can stack the lumber on stickers. 

In a smaller workshop, you may be able to store lumber overhead, as long as the roof trusses are strong enough to take an additional load. 

Lumber and Moisture

Lumber is very sensitive to humidity. Moisture will not only cause boards to swell, twist and warp, but can also permanently mark the wood. Your number one concern when storing lumber must be to keep it in an area with low relative humidity.

Kiln-dried or well-seasoned lumber has a moisture content of between 6% and 9%. (Construction timber will be slightly higher). Green or fresh-cut lumber needs to be stored differently from well-seasoned boards.

Tip: Consider acclimatizing the lumber before use, i.e. storing a selection of lumber in similar conditions to where the finished project will be kept or used.

Can You Store Lumber on the Floor?

You should always raise lumber off the floor. You need to let air circulate between your lumber and a concrete floor, or moisture can be trapped between the boards and the concrete. 

The same is true for wood floors. If there is a difference in moisture content it will equalize between a plank of lumber and a floorboard. 

Can You Store Lumber Outdoors?

We do not recommend storing lumber outdoors. It could work if you live in a dry environment, but most of the US is too humid for this to be practical – especially for premium-quality wood. You might be able to get away with storing construction timber outdoors for a bit, but you’re taking a risk.

If you have to keep your lumber outdoors, keep it off the ground. Lay a sheet of plywood or OSB down over the ground. Raise the lumber up on concrete blocks, stack it with stickers for ventilation, and cover it with a tarp. Check it after a rainfall, and consider removing the tarp if there’s trapped water underneath.

If your treated construction lumber is laid flat on racking or pallets over well-drained concrete, then it may be fine. Construction timber is very resilient, but your carpenter may complain if you let it get too wet.

Handling and Preparing Lumber for Storage

As soon as your order of wood arrives, prepare it for storage. Leaving it on the pallet or in the box for too long could cause damage.

Inspect the lumber and make sure it will meet your needs. Check for moisture content and any defects like splitting or knots. Sort by length, species, and grade. If you uncover any issues, get in touch with the supplier right away.

Organizing Lumber

You can buy wall-mounted lumber racks or make your own. Storing lumber on racks vertically or horizontally can work equally well, as long as it’s done safely.

Horizontal racks should be installed at least 8-12” off the floor, so you have room to sweep under them to keep the area dust-free.

In my home workshop, I have a lumber rack on one wall that allows me to lay out lengths of lumber up to 12 feet long by 12 inches wide. It’s placed opposite the door for easy access when I take a delivery.

I sort by species and store my thicker pieces of lumber at the bottom of the rack. Heavy at the bottom, lighter at the top. 

At the back of the rack, I store lumber vertically. This is usually the thinner, small stuff I need for repairs or other handmade projects.

How to Stack Lumber the Right Way

When stacking lumber horizontally, separate boards with inch-thick “stickers.” These are thin sticks made from any timber. As long as they are the same size, they will ensure good air movement between the boards and prevent moisture build-up.

The stickers should be lined up vertically and spaced no greater than 16” apart to prevent sagging, twisting, or bending. This is especially important when storing larger boards.

Safety Measures

Keep these crucial safety tips in mind when setting up your lumber storage:

  1. Keep pathways clear. Make sure aisles are free of clutter and tripping hazards.
  2. Stack securely. Keep lumber stacks stable and balanced. Put heavier boards at the bottom of the stack. Make sure all the boards in one layer on a stack are the same thickness. Distribute the weight evenly.
  3. Avoid stacking too high. The height of the lumber stack should always balance the width to keep it stable.
  4. Store in a well-ventilated area. Ventilation is not just important for keeping the wood in good condition; it helps prevent the build-up of gasses from chemically treated lumber.
  5. Keep the area clean. Dust, shavings, and debris can damage your woodworking equipment and create a fire hazard.
  6. Wear protective gear when handling and stacking lumber. Wear gloves and goggles, and head protection if storing lumber up high.
  7. Be mindful of fire risk. Store lumber away from stoves, sparks, or electrical equipment. Keep up-to-date fire extinguishing equipment nearby. 
  8. Have a safety plan. Make sure everyone who uses your workshop knows where PPE, fire extinguishers, and exits are located.

Regular Maintenance and Inspection of Your Lumber

Put it on your calendar to regularly inspect your lumber storage. Go through a safety checklist to make sure your workshop is free of fall or fire hazards. Sort and label new additions as necessary and collect scrap. Make sure that none of your lumber is affected by moisture or pests. Problems are much less costly to remedy if caught early!

More Lumber Storage Ideas

  • A scrap wood pile can quickly become a mess, so set aside a pallet or packing case to keep it tidy.
  • In larger workshops, consider a lumber cart for moving boards around the shop.
  • Keep your lumber storage well away from paint and finishing product containers. Oils, glues, varnishes, and other wet products should be kept inside a cupboard and bunded to contain spills.
  • Take time to make labels for your lumber. If you regularly use oak, take an off-cut, and carve, or write on it and then fix it to the rack. You can use stencils, spray paint, or a scorch marker to personalize your storage.

How Do I Store My Fresh Cut Wood?

Fresh-cut lumber will have a higher moisture content than dried lumber from the merchant.

If you have planked the lumber from your own woodland it will need to be laid out flat in an open barn, with stickers, to allow it to dry out.

Most commercial wood producers will kiln-dry their lumber to speed up the moisture reduction process. The controlled environment of a kiln will reliably produce workable lumber of a consistent quality that is ready to use.

Drying wood naturally in a barn takes longer, perhaps a summer season or two. Remember to check air dried wood regularly for movement and water ingress.

How Should I Store My Hardwood Flooring?

The manufacturers of laminated hardwood flooring have their own recommendations for storing the packs their product comes in, but the basic principles are the same. Keep the stacked boards dry, and acclimatize it if you can to minimize movement after installation.

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