Does Wood Expand in Cold? All You Need to Know!

Ever noticed your wooden door jamming in winter? Is it the cold, or something else? Let’s unravel the intriguing dance between wood and cold weather!

Does wood expand in cold

Does cold affect wood? Yes, but how? That was one of the primary questions I grappled with as a beginner in woodworking.

Many of the furniture and other woodwork I crafted in my early days suffered damage due to the extreme cold weather in winter.

To find a solution, I sought advice from professional woodworkers in my local area.

Now, after all these years, I have developed the skills necessary to create furniture capable of withstanding extremely cold temperatures.

So, here’s what I know about, Does Wood Expand in Cold?

Wood does not expand due to cold temperatures alone. It is primarily the fluctuation in humidity levels, often associated with changing seasons, that influences wood expansion and contraction. Therefore, in a cold, humid climate, wood can absorb moisture and expand, while in cold, dry conditions, it may shrink.

But that’s just a quick snapshot of the question.

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    There is a lot more to know about how cold affects wood applications, the expansion of wood in winter, what happens to the wood when gets wet, and what are some common things that we could expect when the wood in cold.

    So, in this article, I’ll dig into all of them and try to find answers from my experiences.

    So, let’s keep going!

    Wood furniture and woodwork under cold weather
    Wood furniture and woodwork under cold weather

    How Does Cold Weather Affect Wood Furniture?

    Cold temperatures are not bad for your furniture only if they don’t face constant temperature fluctuations from hot to really cold.

    If you live in an area that doesn’t have rapid change from extreme cold to extreme hot weather conditions during the period of the year, you no need to much worry about wood furniture.

    But if your wood furniture faces constant temperature fluctuations, sorry to say Cold weather conditions are particularly bad for wood furniture if you are not careful.

    As with every other material wood also expand when heated and shrinks when cooled and the same theory applies to furniture made out of wood.

    Constant temperature fluctuations can damage wood furniture because of expansions and contractions.

    After several expansions and contractions, your furniture will start warping which can cause more trouble.

    My advice is never to leave wood furniture in a cold garage in storage.

    During the daytime, we feel that nothing bad will happen because of the sunny environment with a high-temperature level.

    Once the sun goes down the temperature will rise dramatically to a freezing level, especially in winter.

    I have experienced that wood will start to warp day by day because of these temperature fluctuations because wood expands in the daytime and contracts when cold during the nighttime.

    This can significantly reduce the lifetime of wood furniture. But well build furniture won’t get damaged easily because of the cold temperature level.

    If you have no plan to keep your furniture protected over years, this is not even a problem, because it can take more than decades to cause any damage depending on the type of wood your furniture is made of.

    This is the reason why some antique furniture will show cracking and warping over years of facing extreme hot and cold weather conditions after several warping and contractions with the temperature levels.

    Did you know fact about Wood expansions and Contractions in Cold
    Did you know fact about Wood expansions and Contractions in Cold

    Does Wood Shrink in Cold?

    Yes, wood tends to shrink in cold, primarily due to lower humidity levels rather than the temperature itself.

    However, with the right measures and regular maintenance, you can manage these changes and ensure the longevity and beauty of your wooden items.

    The relationship between wood and temperature is more complex than it appears.

    In fact, temperature alone doesn’t significantly influence the size of the wood. It’s the humidity levels that accompany the changes in temperature that truly matter.

    During winter, the air tends to be drier as colder air holds less moisture compared to warmer air.

    This drop in humidity causes wood to release moisture into the surrounding air, leading to contraction, or in simpler terms, shrinkage.

    Outdoor bench in cold weather
    Outdoor bench in cold weather

    Personal Encounters with Wood Shrinkage

    I’ve had my own experience with wood shrinkage in cold weather. My home, adorned with beautiful wooden furniture and flooring, witnessed these minor transformations every winter.

    For instance, the wooden doors in my home, which usually opened and closed perfectly, would become slightly loose, making closing the door a bit less satisfying than in summer.

    Another example would be the small gaps that would appear in our wooden flooring.

    In the summer, these spaces would be almost invisible, but come winter, the gaps would become more noticeable as the wood contracted due to the reduced humidity.

    How to keep wood from shrinks due to weather
    How to keep wood from shrinking due to weather

    Managing and Minimizing Wood Shrinkage in Cold Weather

    While the natural behavior of wood can’t be completely avoided, there are ways to manage and minimize the effects of winter on your wooden belongings.

    1. Control Indoor Humidity:

    One of the most effective ways to combat wood shrinkage is by maintaining a consistent indoor humidity level.

    Using a humidifier during the colder months can help keep the moisture levels stable, preventing the wood from losing too much moisture and shrinking.

    2. Proper Installation:

    If we talk about wooden flooring, proper installation can make a difference.

    Leaving space for contraction and expansion when installing can help accommodate the wood’s natural movements throughout the year.

    3. Regular Maintenance:

    Regular cleaning, waxing, and oiling can help maintain the health and longevity of your wooden furniture and floors.

    It’s also recommended to promptly repair any cracks or splits that appear, as they can exacerbate shrinkage and other issues.

    4. Choose the Right Wood:

    All woods are not equal when it comes to handling temperature and humidity changes.

    Some wood species are more stable and less prone to significant expansion or contraction.

    Therefore, choose your wood wisely based on the climate of your region.

    How to keep wood expansions due to weather
    How to keep wood expansions due to weather

    Expansion of Wood in Winter

    As I mentioned earlier, the wood starts to shrink to its smallest dimension with the arrival of winter.

    Expansion of wood happens under high-temperature levels during summer. Wood shows completely opposite behavior during the winter season with contractions.  

    According to my personal experience, in the spring and fall, the wood and its applications will expand half of its maximum movement allowance and tend to contract the other half.

    The main reason for this type of expansion and contraction of wood with hot and cold temperature levels is because of humidity.

    During winter the humidity of the atmosphere (76%) is significantly higher than the humidity in summer which is 66%.

    This humidity change causes wood to shrink or expand. Constant shrinking and expansion of wood with the seasons cause the wood to crack.

    The good news is the expansion of wood with temperature fluctuation only applies to real wood.

    If you’re a person of interest using wood alternatives such as MDF, Plywood, or Chipboard you need to have zero concern about expansion or contraction during winter or summer with temperature fluctuations because they never affect this issue.

    Outdoor deck in cold weather
    Outdoor deck in cold weather

    How Long Does It Take Wood to Expand?

    Wood is hygroscopic matter and it absorbs moisture under several circumstances. According to the humidity of the air, wood tends to absorb moisture and expand.

    When the wood is denser it takes more time to absorb the moisture, because its stability is higher than less dense wood.

    Hardwoods that are high in density will take longer for moisture to penetrate through the surface.

    Softwoods that are low in density absorb moisture quickly because they are having a highly porous fiber structure.

    When the wood is less dense they absorb moisture and as a result that they expand much faster than wood with high density.

    The same goes for contraction. When the level of humidity goes down, less dense wood will release moisture much faster than hardwood.

    Because of this quick response to the environmental humidity with cold and hot temperature levels, softwood and furniture that are made out of softwood tend to crack more easily than hardwood furniture and their durability is also particularly low.

    However, there is a limit to wood expansion and a limit of moisture content that each wood can absorb. Moisture content will never increase to 50%.

    My advice is, if you are willing to keep the furniture over 50-60 years even under extreme weather conditions and temperature fluctuations, always use good quality hardwood because they have a great amount of resistance and strength.

    Outdoor furniture in cold weather
    Outdoor furniture in cold weather

    Wooden Doors Expand and Shrink in Winter

    I get a lot of questions why are wooden doors easily closed in the summer and not in the winter or rainy season?

    This can explain perfectly by using humidity as a factor. When it’s cold outside the humidity level of the atmosphere is low.

    When the humidity outside is low, the moisture that is trapped inside wood doors will penetrate outside to balance the humidity between the inside and outside of the wooden door.

    As a result of the penetration of moisture to the outside, the wood will start to shrink. This will happen under normal circumstances.

    But there are certain conditions that we see wooden doors expand in winter.

    Think if we hang our wet coat or jacket or any other wet surface near that door during winter, then moisture will start to penetrate outside from that coat or jacket because outside humidity is pretty much lower than the interior.

    As a result that the moisture content of the atmosphere near the wooden door will increase, which means the humidity will increase.

    Once the humidity level near the wooden door surpasses the internal humidity level, the moisture will tend to penetrate to the inside of the wooden door even under cold temperatures in the winter or rainy season.

    As a result of this penetration, the wooden door will expand. This same incident can happen when the snow has set right in front of it due to the unbalance of humidity.

    This is how wooden doors expand even in the winter seasons.

    By closely looking at the above two examples we can see that Does Wood Expand in Cold? Mostly not but could be under special circumstances. Even though its cold or hot wooden door behaves differently according to the level of humidity inside and outside.

    Front door in cold weather
    Front door in cold weather

    Wooden Floors Expand and Shrink in Winter

    As winter sets in, many regions experience a drop in temperature and humidity.

    Indoor heating systems commonly used during winter reduce the moisture level in the air, leading to drier conditions.

    This can cause wooden floors to lose moisture and contract, resulting in noticeable gaps between the floorboards.

    This shrinkage isn’t an indicator of faulty flooring or installation. Rather, it’s a natural response to the environmental conditions.

    My Own Winter Wood Floor Story

    To bring this concept to life, let me share a personal anecdote. One winter, I noticed gaps appearing between the planks of my beautiful oak floor.

    At first, I was alarmed, thinking there was a problem with the installation.

    But as winter turned into spring, the gaps slowly disappeared, and the floor returned to its initial seamless appearance.

    It was my firsthand encounter with the seasonal dance of wood.

    Snowing outside house in cold weather
    Snowing outside house in cold weather

    Managing Seasonal Changes: Prevention and Treatment

    Understanding why wooden floors expand and shrink in winter is half the battle.

    The other half involves knowing how to manage these changes and mitigate their effects.

    1. Control Indoor Humidity:

    Consider investing in a humidifier for your home during winter.

    This can help maintain a more consistent moisture level in the air, which can prevent or minimize shrinkage in your wooden floors.

    2. Choose Stable Wood Species:

    If you’re installing new wooden floors, consider choosing a stable wood species that’s less prone to seasonal movement, such as engineered wood.

    While no wood is entirely immune to humidity changes, some types resist swelling and shrinking better than others.

    3. Proper Installation and Sealing:

    Proper installation and sealing can help buffer your wooden floors against the changes in humidity and temperature.

    Always ensure that the installation is carried out according to manufacturer guidelines, and apply the appropriate sealants to protect the wood.

    4. Patience is Key:

    As the seasons change, so too will the condition of your wooden floors. Don’t be too quick to carry out any drastic repairs during the colder months.

    Wait for spring’s arrival and see if the gaps close up naturally as the humidity increases.

    Outdoor wooden fence in cold weather
    Outdoor wooden fence in cold weather

    How to Deal with Wood Expansion?

    Expansion of wood in cold or hot weather conditions is a natural uncontrollable process.

    But there are some steps we can take to fix this problem to protect our woodwork and furniture.

    1. Sealing the Wood Air-tight

    Sealing wood can prevent wood expansions.

    use polyurethane resin, and epoxy resin as the sealer and after applying several coats your wood will airtight and it won’t absorb moisture from outside which causes expansion.

    By following this method, you’ll be able to stop the expansion but not the movements.

    I highly advise you not to stop wood movements, because wood is a hygroscopic material, and it needs to balance its humidity level according to the outside environment.

    2. Constant temperature fluctuations

    Temperature fluctuations can happen during the transition period from season to season (Winter to Summer).

    We can disassemble our important furniture during this transition period to prevent them from cracking or warping.

    3. Don’t Expose Your Furniture to the Outside for Too Long

    You should pay special attention to the wood storage boxes in your garage because they are easily in contact with the outside environment.

    4. Always Use quality hardwood to make furniture

    Quality hardwoods have high stability and very good resistance to environmental changes.

    Well build furniture can keep even outside for a long period with zero protection.

    From all the above methods, you’ll be able to stop or slow down the expansion of wood in cold and hot temperature levels.

    But the most practical method that I recommend is to seal the wood airtight by applying polyurethane, and epoxy resin sealer 2-3 times above the wooden surface.

    By doing this you’ll be able to increase the lifetime of furniture pretty much you want.

    That’s it. Hope you learned everything you wanted to know about, Does wood expand in cold?

    Tip about wood expansions in cold
    Tip about wood expansions in cold

    Let’s answer some related questions.

    What Time Of Year Does Wood Expand?

    Wood tends to expand under hot weather. During the spring and fall seasons, wood will expand half of its total movement allowance and contract the other half.

    June, July, and August are the months that wood tends to expand due to hot weather.

    What Time Of Year Does Wood Shrink?

    Wood tends to expand under cold weather. During the Winter season, wood will shrink half of its total movement allowance and contract the other half.

    Does Wood Expand At Night?

    Yes, wood expands slightly at night.

    During the daytime, the moisture inside the wood evaporates from the wood to the air since the humidity inside the wood is higher than the humidity outside.

    But at night humidity in the outside air is higher than the humidity inside the wood.

    Therefore, moisture ten penetrates the wood through pores at night.

    When moisture enters the wood, the fiber cells will swell and expand. Because of this expansion of cells wood expands at night time.

    Outdoor furniture in cold weather
    Outdoor furniture in cold weather

    Does Wood Expand In Monsoon?

    Yes, wood expands in monsoons.

    During monsoons, the atmospheric moisture level is higher than the moisture level of the wood inside.

    in order to balance the humidity difference between the outside and inside of the wood, the water molecules will penetrate the wood through its pores.

    When moisture enters the wood, the fiber cells will swell and expand. Because of this expansion of cells wood expands in monsoon.

    Does Sealing Wood Prevent Expansion?

    Yes, sealing wood prevents expansion since the sealer coat work as a barrier between the wood and outside air.

    The moisture in the air blocks from penetrating wood due to the sealer. Therefore, water particles won’t enter the wood and prevent wood expansion due to sealing.

    that’s why sealing is important, especially before placing the wood furniture outside.

    Moisture inside the wood won’t evaporate and outside moisture won’t penetrate the wood due to the selling coat.

    The sealer protects wood from water damage and rotting.

    Tip wood expansions in cold
    Tip wood expansions in cold

    So, let’s answer some frequently asked questions.


    Will my wooden furniture warp in winter?

    While cold, dry winter air may cause some contraction in your wooden furniture, extreme warping is usually a result of dramatic changes in humidity levels rather than cold temperatures alone.

    Why are there gaps in my hardwood floor during winter?

    As winter brings drier air, your hardwood floor might lose some of its moisture, causing it to shrink and create gaps. This is a natural response to environmental conditions and usually resolves as humidity increases.

    Can I prevent my wood floors from shrinking in winter?

    Yes, you can minimize shrinkage by maintaining a consistent indoor humidity level. Using a humidifier in your home during winter can help achieve this.

    Does the type of wood affect how much it expands or shrinks?

    Yes, different species of wood have varying levels of stability, with some types resisting swelling and shrinking more effectively than others.

    Is it normal for doors to stick in winter?

    Yes, in areas with high winter humidity, wooden doors can absorb excess moisture and expand, causing them to stick. It typically resolves as humidity decreases.

    Can temperature changes alone cause wood to expand or contract?

    Temperature changes can affect the moisture content of wood indirectly, but it’s primarily the change in humidity levels, rather than temperature alone, that causes wood to expand or contract.

    Did I cover All You Wanted to Know About Does Wood Expand in Cold?

    I’ve shared just more than the expansion of wood in cold in today’s article.

    I’ve talked deeply about Does wood expands in cold? Expansion of wood in winter, How long it take to the expansion of wood, Expansion of wood in a cold environment with special cases, and How to stop wood from expanding with real-life examples.

    I have included everything I know about the expansion of wood to make this article rich.

    Wood doesn’t expand in cold weather due to temperature alone. Instead, its expansion or contraction is primarily influenced by changes in moisture content. In climates with high humidity during cold seasons, wood may absorb more moisture and expand accordingly.

    Remember, always select quality food and the most suitable wood type according to the application you’re going to use.

    Take the necessary steps today to avoid your furniture getting damaged due to the extreme weather.

    Walter Parker is a woodworking enthusiast. He is passionate about woodworking projects & plays with woodworking tools having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Woodworking Planet. He wants to make people love woodworking! Read More About Him! Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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