The American public at large is familiar with the phrase and the practice of salting a mine. This method of deception practiced upon the “tenderfoot” was and still is a favourite one with a promotor who wishes to get good money for a worthless mine.
The reader will not have to entirely revise his conception of salting mines to understand the term “salting” as applied to oak. When common oak three inches or more in thickness is piled with strips a rapid shrinkage is liable to take place which will form deep cracks along the silver or medullary rays. Rains and other conditions introduce dust and dirt into these cracks, thus seriously injuring the stock. The lumberman soon finds that he has a worthless pile of lumber on hand. The cracks from the opposite side will often pass each other so that if the material is resawed the boards will literally fall to pieces.
To get the lumber in condition so that someone will buy it the unscrupulous lumber dealer sometimes resorts to salting. This is accomplished by taking down the lumber pile, removing the strips and sprinkling fine salt over the surfaces of the stock. The lumber is then replied without strips. The salt being slightly deliquescent, draws sufficient moisture to cause surface swelling which closes the cracks on the outside of the lumber, making it appear firm. The presence of the salt prevents the fungi growth which causes dry-rot, and thus makes it possible to leave the stock piled solid for some time.
Even an expert dealer in lumber may be completely deceived by the surface appearance of lumber which has been treated in this way. The only way to detect it is the rule employed for detecting a bad egg, that is, look to the inside, which necessitates the sawing of some of the pieces in two in the middle and planing or smoothing of the exposed surface. Simply sawing with the handsaw may not be enough. The rough surface exposed may not show the conditions plainly enough to be detected.
We know of one case in which from 15.000 feet of 3-inch oak which had been salted only 1000 feet could be used. The rest was good for absolutely nothing but firewood. That is what it was used for; though the buyer paid for the material, which was claimed to have been air-seasoned for five years.