Wood is both a strong and beautiful material. With its many species and uses, it offers both function and beauty. Whether it’s used as beams in the living room ceiling, pillars to support the patio’s insulated roofing, or any other structural member in a home, it has the power to offer both support and style.
Over time, however, wood can break down and change appearance. Most of the time, it’s caused by conditions no one has control over. These include humidity, moisture, sunlight, and temperature, among others.
What Is Checking?
Checking looks like splitting or cracking wood, something many homeowners have witnessed in some parts of their homes. Checking is drying-related damage wherein posts, beams, and others have visible cracks on the surface. Checks are likely to open and widen more as the moisture content of the wood changes over time. Due to internal stresses caused by uneven drying, the wood splits.
What Causes Wood To Check?
Heavy load, shrinkage, and rot are common causes of wood to check. However, this doesn’t necessarily raise serious structural concerns–right away at least. That’s why immediate action is recommended, but taking preventive measures is always best.
Shrinking and Swelling
When wood dries after being wet, it causes stress and tension on the wood. In nature, wood is hygroscopic which means it can absorb and release water. However, as water and moisture cause wood to shrink and swell, causes it to go through dimensional changes. Although it’s not obvious to the naked eye, its effects are as it forms cracks on the wood.
As moisture is absorbed, the wood swells. Whereas as moisture is let go, the wood shrinks. This push and pull depending on the moisture content in the wood’s immediate environment and its species which determines the direction of the dimensional changes. Because denser or heavier wood species store more moisture in their cell walls, the higher the density of the wood, the greater the shrinkage and swelling. It usually takes time for the wood to dry, but it depends on the environment’s moisture content.
Higher density also means greater strength in wood. The heavier the wood, the less likely it is to give in to a heavy load. However, its ability to withstand pressure is linked to the moisture content in its immediate environment. As moisture content decreases, wood’s strength properties increases.
Brown rot or also known as “dry rot” causes wood to darken in color, shrink and break it into cubical or oblong pieces that will readily crumble into powder between the fingers. To add, it brings a more rapid drop in most strength properties in wood. Other signs that can be observed include a damp or musty smell, visible gray strands on the surface, the appearance of mushroom-like bodies, and when it looks dried out.
Preventive Measures for Checking in Wood
Wood will shrink and expand throughout its lifespan. There is an allowable amount of checks to maintain its strength. It’s important to know that checking will be more difficult to keep in check outdoors where environmental changes are constant and sometimes extreme. Even then, applying some preventive measures is still recommended.
Acclimate the Wood to Its Surroundings
As mentioned, wood shrinks and expands naturally to adapt to its surroundings. For your future projects, place your wood materials on site. Lay the pieces in a way that air can flow around them. Be sure to pick a good day with a neutral and stable temperature.
Choose High-Quality Wood
For future projects, be picky about the wood you plan to use. Choose one that is resilient to withstand its surroundings, especially if it’s going to be installed outside of the house. Although these types of wood are likely to be on the pricey side, their durability and longevity will save you cost on repairs and upgrades in the future.
It’s a given to seal furniture or structural member made of wood with some sealant. There’s a variety on the market to choose from depending on the use of the wood and its level of exposure to natural elements. What many don’t know is that the most vulnerable part of the wood is its end grains. Water travels faster when it first touches the end grains, making wood vulnerable if these are left exposed. Should you apply a sealant, be sure not to miss these parts!
Even though no homeowner has the ability to control natural elements, there are preventative measures that can be done to address this. Always remember this guide to keep your structure in tiptop shape.