Kiln drying of timber has become more important to wood pallet and packaging users and makers, since over the last 10 years chemicals which hitherto kept wood in clean condition have been used less and less. Food and drink shippers and customers who store paper on wood pallets need dry pallets and the most economical way is to use kiln drying.

Timber drying kiln

Drying kilns use high temperature, humidity and forced airflow to dry wood, all of which change throughout the drying cycle which for pallets may last 48 hours or more. Through carefully changing humidity and temperature, the quality of timber is not degraded and the sequence of changes is called a kiln-schedule. Operators use different kiln-schedules for different end-uses and the sizes and species of wood also affect these.

Drying cycle times vary because living trees (standing timber) contain a large amount of water which varies between species and the moisture content will also change from season to season in standing timber and also vary between different parts of the tree such as the sapwood and the heartwood. The water is held in the cellular structure of the wood, which is made up of cell cavities and cell walls. The water held in the cell cavities is called free water whereas the water in the cell walls is called bound water.

Pallets undergoing ISPM 15
heat treatment.

The free water is lost before the bound water. This reduces the weight of the wood but does not affect its dimensions. The point at which the free water has been removed and the bound water remains is called the fibre saturation point. The moisture content of the timber when the fibre saturation point has been reached, is between 25 % and 30 % so for convenience is taken as 28%. Timber that is dried to moisture contents below 28% will exhibit shrinkage as the cell walls lose moisture. The fibre saturation point of 28% should not to be confused with the decay safety limit of 20%. Below 20% in a non-enclosed store with air freely circulating is the level below which timber is unlikely to be attacked by wood decaying fungi or bluestain/sapstain.

Note that ISPM 15 insect treatment lasting a mandatory 30 mins does not normally dry timber, drying can only be done by a substantially longer period in a drying kiln 

Some reasons for drying pallet and packaging timber are:

  • To reduce susceptibility to moulds and fungal decay
  • To meet manufacturing specifications such as with Europallets which require a maximum of 22% moisture content
  • To reduce shrinkage after delivery to users
  • To cut out contact water damage for food and drink shippers or customers who store paper or cartons on timber pallets
  • To maximise strength, since mechanical properties of timber start to increase as it dries below 28% moisture content
  • To make empty pallets easier to move by hand, since kiln dried timber is lighter than green undried timber
  • To reduce corrosion of nails and metal fixings

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PDF74g Mould on empty stock glassware. (PDF 40kb)
PDF75e Wood Equilibrium Moisture Content Table (EMC). (PDF 61kb)
PDF75i Kiln drying can intensify the blue coloration associated with sapstain (PDF 26kb)
PDF81g Kiln dried timber - development of mould fungi after drying - pin moulds. (PDF 305kb)
PDF81h The causes of bluestain in packaging timber. (PDF 83kb)
PDF82d2 Dew point in storage areas (PDF 207kb)
PDF98c Life expectancy of wood pallets used at high temperatures. (PDF 46kb)
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