The Story of Two Pieces of White Oak

When I first started selling moisture meters 28 years ago, many woodworkers asked:Why do I need a moisture meter?

The answer: Because all the hard work, money and time invested, cannot prevent wood from shrinking and expanding, if the moisture content is not right.

To demonstrate shrinkage, I obtained a board of semi-dried White Oak with a moisture content of 18%. Two pieces were cut from the board 4″ long, 1″ wide and about 1/4″ high. One piece was kept at the original 18% moisture content, the other piece was dried down to 6%.

The difference in length was surprising. The large amount of shrinking in the upper piece was attributed to the selected species – the large shrinkage factor of White Oak, and to the orientation of the grain. Notice how the grain runs almost parallel to the length of the board.

Every home has moisture sensitive areas such as entrance ways, kitchens, close to showers, etc. For those areas it is best to use wood with a small shrinkage factor and grain as close to quarter-sawn as possible to reduce shrinkage, in case the ambient conditions change.