are beetles active or old damage?

I have recently been given some old lumber that was part of the framing structure of a barn. I have various sizes of lumber ranging from 2″x6″ to 6″x6″ and others which I plan to use for furniture and cabinets and such. The wood is filled with beetle holes and I am not sure if the infestation is active. I don’t want to store the wood with what I already have which I know is not infested due to being kiln dried. I would like to know if it is possible to determine if the wood I have is actively infested with beetles or is it just old damage? I would like to assume the wood is dry enough that beetles are not active but I don’t want to take any chances.

First, it sounds like you might have a misunderstanding about what kiln drying does for wood. True it will reduce the moisture level and in theory this is good for many reaons. However, this should not be confused with doing some kind of “pest control” to the wood. Many insects, including powderpost beetles, can withstand the kiln drying process. More importantly, it’s the heat that does the killing here and not the reduction of moisture. In fact powderpost beetles can exist in wood with single digit moisture contents. There are many species which thrive in wood measuring just 8-10% moisture which is far below the 20% guideline most kiln drying processes attempt to reach. And though 15-20% is good for keeping away most insects, it won’t thwart powderpost beetles. With this being stated, it’s safe to say within a day or two of leaving the kiln, most any wood is immediately vulnerable to wood living organism’s with one of the most popular found worldwide being the powderpost beetle.

Second, once this wood is out in the open, it’s extra vulnerable to attack. So if you’ve been storing wood for any length of time out in the open it’s safe to say this wood is a prime target when compared to other wood around it. Remember, most wood in the home is covered by sheet rock, paint, stain and other protective coverings. Attics and crawl spaces are the two most commonly infested areas as are wood floors but the vast majority of these problems are thought to have been active during when the wood used was first installed. In other words, the problem was there from the start and didn’t arrive later. And of course log homes are common targets for powderpost beetles when left untreated but based on their size and proximity to where beetles live, it’s no surprise.

But in the more traditional home, beetle problems only seem to happen when a few conditions exist. And since most beetles enter homes through door ways and windows, the targets out in the open are what they first find. So that means furniture and other exposed wood might be attacked but if it has a finish on it, chances are this wood doesn’t appeal to powderpost beetles and in general it won’t be luring any beetles into the home. But anything unfinished is a prime target and no doubt foraging beetles will smell it from far away. Once inside the home, they’ll zero in on any stash and from there it’s just a matter of whether or not the wood species is one they can process.

Which leads me to the current situation. From the information provided above, it’s clear the wood from the barn you’ve been given has had some insect activity. And in a perfect world, it would be nice to know if any of the pieces still has current activity or if the holes you see are evidence of problems from the past. Unfortunately there is no practical way to tell if the wood is currently still active or not. No doubt if you were to witness a beetle drilling it’s way out of a piece that would mean it’s still active. And if you were to wrap the pieces in some clear poly nice and tight and monitored the inventory over time you might find some evidence of current activity in the form of new sawdust, powder or actual beetles moving under the tarp. But outside of these two methods of seeing evidence, there is no good way to tell unless you were to cut through the wood over and over scouring the wood grain for anything alive. And this is where we cross the line of being practical. For obvious reasons this is not a viable option.

So what can you do? Well, here are some suggestions. You could opt to store it alongside your current inventory and roll the dice. This would be the most risky. You could opt to store it there but whilst doing so you kept it wrapped up in clear poly so nothing could easily escape. And if anything did emerge from the wood, you’d stand a good chance of seeing the evidence inside the poly and know for sure it’s got a problem. Another option is to wrap up the new wood and your old wood so both piles can be monitored. Remember, this wouldn’t have to be done forever. If you wrap wood which is releasing adult beetles you’ll usually see some evidence right away so it’s not a permanent situation. Another option is to simply treat the new lumber with some BORACARE and be done with it. This would no doubt take care of anything inside the wood both insect and mold wise and in the end is the only “sure” way to know the wood is beetle free.

But in the end, it’s really a matter of what makes you feel “okay” that should be done. Over the years of being in the pest control industry the one thing I’ve learned is there is no way I can tell what will give people peace of mind. And this is one of those cases where it’s really up to the individual. No doubt this new lumber represents a threat to your current wood inventory and the surrounding area. And like any other risk or threat we all deal with day in and day out throughout life, the decision on what course of action to take is a personal matter. Hopefully I’ve outlined some viable options that will enable you to make a sound decision.

More on Powderpost Beetle Control:


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Comments on are beetles active or old damage?

November 22, 2011

diana @ 11:33 pm #

I have two problems to ask about. I have had two exterminators come and one said I have drywood termite in an antique piece of furniture I have owned for 14 years. Another said it was powderpost beetle, and a third said it was both. I have seen holes and changes in this and in an old candle stick and wood carved statues on other tables. I am told by the first two that I need to fumigate or get rid of and by the third that he feels the damage is inactive and do nothing ~ I wonder if inactive as many more holes it seems and damage to one wood drawer. I was going to ask how one can be sure and I think in reading your blog one cannot? ~ not sure what to do here and if they can then infest other furniture of which I have other antiques and an unfinished piece. also, I don’t this reappearing and going on ~ The best news was to do nothing but I am not so confident about how confident this exterminator is and he is the one who has the ability to fumigate if I needed to at the best cost and transport.

Secondly, I have carpet beetle ~ the apt. was hot and moist when air conditioning turned off and I experienced this and indian head and/or clothes moth ~ all at once and now this beetle too ~ the carpet beetle has been pervasive throughout my apt. and belongings and the months trying to deal with have been awful and disgusting ~ I am not getting much help and it is a process that remains ongoing and I do not want to use toxic chemicals either for myself as I have medical problems or for my cat ~ but I do want to completely rid myself of this problem which I have never experience. The entire apt. including the closets are carpeted and making it very hard to put clean items in a clean place. I am a neat and clean person so this floors me but I understand it is elsewhere in the building ~

November 23, 2011
November 22, 2011

diana @ 11:36 pm #

PS, I would like to also ask if the cat litter I switched to is at all problematic ~ it is called feline pine and is pine wood pellets ~ I am told no, but want to ask you as I again, am not so sure.

November 23, 2011