Microwave That 2 By 4

Hardwoods like maple, oak, and walnut are usually dried thoroughly before entering the market. Excess water just adds weight, driving up transportation costs. And homeowners won't be happy with wet wood, which swells with humidity, leading to doors and cabinets that stick. Industry isn't crazy about the drying process, though, because it takes up to two months. But Oak Ridge National Laboratory expects to trim the process to 10 days.

First, wet wood is bombarded with microwaves. The radiation breaks down tiny cellular structures in the lumber, which enables water to ooze out quickly. The wood must still be dried before shipping, but for a fraction of the time. ORNL researchers worried that the "cooking" might affect the wood's strength and durability. Initial tests by the Tennessee Forest Products Center, however, suggest it doesn't.

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