Handling wet wood is always a tricky situation. When we call wood “wet” it doesn’t mean that only the surface of the wood is wet. In this post, we refer to wet wood as wood that has not had a chance to fully dry after harvesting the timber from the tree.
Whether the intended purpose is for firewood or timber, we need to handle wet wood in a particular way. Here, we consider the issue of dealing with wood and a few best practices while doing so. We deal in more detail with how to dry wet wood quickly and effectively in another post. Let’s first discuss the definition of wet wood.
What is Wet Wood?
A freshly harvested tree normally has a moisture content of 50% to 80% which varies from species to species. From the moment we cut a tree the wood begins to dry. The natural drying process is long and takes many months or even years to dry sufficiently.
There are ways of drying wood faster, for example, using a kiln. We discuss how to dry wood fast in more detail in another or of our posts.
We usually consider wood as dry when it reaches a moisture level of 20%. To be able to work comfortably on wood for woodworking we usually consider moisture levels between 9% and 14% for exterior wood and 6% to 8% for interior wood.
Wet wood can seriously jam your cutting blade and cause it to jump, increasing the risk of damage or injury to yourself. Wood that is too dry on the other hand tends to be brittle and will splinter or crack easily. Such wood is also difficult to carve without splitting.
It is always a good idea to check the moisture level of wood especially if you have freshly procured it. There is a variety of moisture meters to check the moisture content of wood. We provide guidance on the different moisture meters in another of our posts.
Can you cut wet wood with a miter saw?
While handling wet wood, you need to exercise extreme caution. The wood will pose a certain level of risk. Also, it can be more difficult to work with than regular, well-dried wood.
A miter saw is one of the most popular and convenient machines within and outside woodworking circles. It’s easy to use and makes any repetitive cutting tasks much faster than if you were manually cutting the material.
But is it advisable to cut wet wood with a miter saw?
Some feel that it is outright dangerous to cut wet wood with a miter saw. You would probably find it a bit awkward to cut wet wood with a miter saw. But that being said, with a few precautions you should be able to get your work done.
Safe Practices While Using a Miter Saw
Not only while cutting wet wood, but in general, you would do well to follow these safety precautions:
- Use safety goggles or a face shield.
- Check your adjustments before making the first cut.
- If the dust level is high, set up a dust extraction system.
- Do not make adjustments to the machine while it is running.
- Keep your hands away from the blade’s path.
- Remove all adjustment tools like wrenches and keys before starting the machine.
- Cut only one item at a time.
- Wait until the blade stops moving before you remove the piece.
- Practice good housekeeping in your work area.
- Make sure that the machine is in an “off” position before inserting the power plug.
- Always keep your eyes on the job while cutting.
- Before each cutting session, check for damage and repair it before commencing the job.
- Ensure that your workpiece has adequate support with clamps and perhaps a table extension for larger jobs.
- Use only suitable accessories meant for use with a circular saw.
- Avoid setting your blade too deep as the more the blade is exposed, the more risk of “binding” the blade or kickback occurring.
- Always maintain your blade by keeping it clean and sharp for the most efficient cutting.
- Keep all power cords if any free from the cutting path.
- Make sure to place your job at a convenient height, preferably (your) waist height.
- If you are left-handed, you need to take particular care of where the chips and sawdust will get ejected, because most miter saws are designed for right-handed people. Similarly, familiarize yourself with the controls that normally favor right-handed people.
Best Practices for Using a Miter Saw
If you follow these simple tips, you’ll not only be safe but your miter saw will give you the best efficiency:
- Do not activate the machine while on the ground.
- Avoid cutting wood that contains flaws, knots, or foreign objects like nails or screws.
- Keep your hand on the handle until the blade has traversed through the material.
- Maintain your balance and don’t overreach while cutting
- Do not leave the machine unattended until the blade has stopped.
- Use suitable blades for the thickness and type of material you are cutting.
- Do not use excessive force while pressing down the blade.
Alternatives for Cutting Wet Wood
A miter saw is perhaps not the ideal machine to cut wet wood. If you would like to explore other options, you can choose at least one of the two alternatives given below:
Another safe and efficient option for cutting wet wood is a bandsaw. You will get a clean cut but there is a tendency for the wet sawdust to form gunk inside the machine. It is a common issue with all machines. A good practice could be to use separate blades of your bandsaw for cutting wet wood.
Woodworkers also consider a chainsaw a suitable alternative for the job. The main advantage is that the blade already contains chain oil which helps in lubricating the cut. Also, the relatively coarser blade is less prone to sticking. This may seem like an unusual recommendation and while it’s not the most common, it can be a viable solution for rough cut wood or projects where precision cuts are not a major concern – especially since the chain saws are used for rough carving but not known for detailed or precise cuts!
When we consider the question, “can you cut wet wood with a miter saw?” The answer is “yes” but like many of the questions people ask regarding woodworking, terms and conditions apply. You have to follow certain best practices.
As we mentioned above, it is a good practice to measure the moisture level of freshly procured lumber. If you discover that it is wet, then you need to take the extra precautions that we have mentioned here. If you are careful, you can handle wet wood safely and efficiently.