How To Store Your Materials & Tools Correctly In Winter

wood in winter

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Most construction materials and tools are significantly compromised when exposed to cold weather, rendering them practically useless. Therefore, proper storage of said materials and tools is vital to maintain their quality and integrity.

In regards to materials, the golden rule seems to be that you should store your materials where the final work will be taking place. This is especially the case with timber, as the wood will naturally expand and retract as it absorbs moisture, and the moisture content in the air is highly dependent on temperature. This can cause a number of issues both in construction and in the finished product.

If construction commences with the effected timber, the finish product will have a much weaker structure and can cause multiple practical and aesthetic issues, including joints separating, drawers and doors binding and panels cracking.  It is suggested that if you are bringing timber from outside to inside, you should let the wood acclimatise for weeks or even months, to prevent any damage.

The way to store your wood depends on the type of wood, the condition it is in and where you plan to store it. It seems that a common practice across most timber storage is a process known as stickering. Stickering involves taking thin strips of wood and placing them between the timber, usually every 12 inches along the length of the wood and between every fourth or possibly fifth layer of stacked wood. This is suggested for large supplies of timber and any timber that may have become wet. If the latter is the case, it is advised to use a box fan to dry the wood gradually, 30 minutes a day is recommended.

Additionally, checking the initial moisture content of the wood is important, if the moisture content is above 15%, it is recommended to seal both ends of the board with wax to prevent cracks opening up along the grain of the wood. In the case of engineered wood such as Plywood, these sheets should be placed vertically against a wall, unless there is a significantly large quantity, in which case they should be stacked flat and at an acceptable distance from the floor.

If you are storing your wood in either an unheated indoor or outdoor space, a similar process applies. A lot of unheated indoor spaces such as garages, have moisture-permeable concrete floors and as we now know, moisture is the enemy of wood. Applying the same stickering process to this wood will prevent the issue, and ensuring that the stack is an acceptable distance from the floor, just like the Plywood. It must be noted that these stickers can cause discolouration in the wood if left in storage for a good length of time, but this can be easily fixed through a simple planing and sanding process.

MDF or scrap pieces of lumber will make perfect stickers in these circumstances. Consistency in the sizes of these stickers is important to prevent bowing and bending of the wood and if you are planning for the stock to last a significant period of time, make sure to rotate the stock semi-regularly.

In the case that you have no choice but to store your timber outside, there are ways to protect it from direct exposure to environmental stressors. The same stickering process still applies here, but is even more crucial in these circumstances. The difference here is that the wood will need to be covered with plastic or tarp to protect the it from rain and snow, and the stack should be checked regularly in case any insects or any animals decide to nest there.

Proper protection is vitally important as exposure to certain conditions and temperatures can not only affect the integrity of the wood, but its appearance as well. Pine for example will turn grey when weathered after extended exposure, so if you start to see signs of this occurring, bring the wood inside as soon as possible.

Another slightly more time-consuming and costly solution is to build a ventilated shed for your exterior lumber storage, this will free up space on your work site and ensure optimum protection.

Heavily engineered power tools and hand tools can suffer from the cold just as much as natural wood, and in some cases require even more care and maintenance during the winter months than timber.

The method of storage you use will depend on the type of tool you’re storing. In the case of power tools, they are affected by a rapid change in temperature. When first starting up any power tool, the motor inside will heat up, and the result of the change from very cold to very hot temperatures can cause malfunction or even complete breakdown, especially if this is occurring frequently. This occurs due to the fact that the oils and grease inside the motor needed to be warmed up properly before use.

Therefore, if you store the tools inside for at least 2 hours before use, these lubricant materials are more effective and will not cause damage to the tool. This process still applies even if you are using your tools for exterior work. If you are working with cordless power tools, a similar process applies. The tools and their chargers must be kept inside during cold weather, as freezing temperatures can cause battery discharge to the tool and can render the chargers useless.

When dealing with power tools powered by a gas engine, the steps you need to take are very specific, a process known as winterising. If these steps are not followed, a multitude of damages can occur, including gummed up gasoline left in the tank damaging the carburettor, damage caused by corrosion and moisture interfering with ignition systems. A standard winterising procedure is as follows:

  1. Drain the gasoline from the engine, a gasoline stabiliser can be used if you can’t or don’t want to drain the engine.
  2. Change the oil in 4-stroke engines to prevent dirt from sticking to the engine.
  3. Seal the fuel cap with tin foil to avoid fuel evaporation.
  4. Disconnect all spark plugs and batteries, remove batteries and store them indoors if possible.

Hand tools will not suffer excessive amounts of damage in cold weather, but freezing temperatures are where the problems will arise. When materials used in hand tools are exposed to freezing weather, they can become brittle and susceptible to breakage. Freezing temperatures can also accelerate the rusting process of metal, due to the changes in humidity than occur from cold to freezing environments. The process of correct storage is similar to that of power tools, it is best to store them indoors, but if this is not possible, bring them inside to acclimatise for at least 1 hour and apply a rust protector to any metal surfaces to prevent rust.

Garden tools similarly need to be considered in terms of winter storage. It is recommended to rinse and dry the tools and clean off any rust you may see. After this, rub a light oil or WD-40 over the metal parts of your garden tools to prevent rusting. The wooden handles of garden tools need to be cared for in cold and freezing weather, as they will be prone to cracking, splitting and splintering when exposed to such extreme temperatures and low moisture levels. It is advised to sand the handles until smooth and apply linseed oil to fully protect them from any damage. Any garden tool that can be hung up should be, specifically above ground.

Those are our tips for how to keep your tools and materials from being damaged in the cold winter months, so you have everything you need fully functioning for your projects all year round.

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