A moisture meter is an essential tool that any self-respecting woodworker should have in their inventory. While wood might feel dry to the touch but even experienced woodworkers can’t trust their touch and risk and important job – especially when cutting into expensive hardwood. Wood will shrink or expand depending on the moisture content which can cause major problems especially if you are doing a project with specific measurements
where even a small amount of shrinkage or expansion could cause gaps between boards or pressure on joints.
Moisture meters are also useful to home DIYers that are doing simple jobs such as laying hardwood flooring.
It is a tool vital to making sure that your lumber stays in top condition before starting a job. While its importance cannot be understated, finding the best moisture meter for your specific needs might be easier said than done due to the numerous factors you need to consider.
You can find a wide variety of moisture meter on the market today. All with varying features, size, and prices. Our goal here is to help you find the best possible moisture meter that suits all your needs as well as taking the budget into account. Check out this in-depth guide on moisture meters to help you narrow down the best option for your woodworking needs.
Three Different Types of Moisture Meters
There are three types of moisture meters available on the market. While they are all designed for a specific task, not all are made equal. For example, some moisture meters are designed to be used on asphalt while there are others designed specifically for woodworking. Understanding which one is which is key to figuring out what type you need to buy.
Pin-Type Moisture Meter
The pin-type utilizes two pins to puncture the surface of an object and determine the moisture of levels. This type of moisture meter is effective with surfaces that the pins can properly puncture. As you would expect, woodworkers don’t rely too much on this type of moisture meter as it will damage the integrity of the lumber. That being said, pin-type moisture meter’s pinpricks are so tiny that you would be hard-pressed to locate them if you weren’t told to look for them specifically.
That being said, pin-types are usually the most precise in terms of reading the moisture level of lumbers. If you can look at the fact that it punctures wood surface, albeit barely, a pin-type moisture meter is a good choice for woodworkers that need a precise reading.
Pinless Moisture Meter
The name of this moisture meter is pretty self-explanatory. This is a moisture meter that does not utilize pins and is non-invasive in terms of determining the moisture levels of specific objects. Obviously, the biggest advantage here is that you won’t be puncturing the surface of wood which means it will remain pristine. The downside to this type of moisture meter is that it does not read as accurate as pin-types. You also won’t be able to localize the moisture on lumber. There is also the issue of it only reading the moisture level of the surface and not the inside.
All-in-One Moisture Meter
As the name implies, this type of moisture meter gives you the option to use both pins and pinless types. In terms of flexibility, this option offers the best of all three as you get all the advantages of the previous two moisture meter types while bypassing the downsides. As you would expect, this one might set you back a couple of bucks. But it is a great investment for woodworkers and will definitely earn its keep in the long run.
Moisture Meter and its Uses
As stated earlier, there are various moisture meters that are designed to be used on specific materials. The most common ones are designed to measure the moisture levels in wood. However, there are also devices that are designed to determine the moisture within asphalt, drywall, brick, concrete, etc.
Choosing the right one falls on what materials you will need to measure moisture levels. Start from there and the list will quickly narrow down to a handful of choices. If you will be checking various types of the material then you might need to buy more than one type of moisture meter.
Factors to Consider when Choosing a Moisture Meter
Now that we have discussed the types of moisture meters and their advantages it’s time to dig deeper and enumerate the important factors to look for when buying this tool.
- Pin Length – There is a general rule when it comes to checking the moisture level of lumber and that is you can get an exact reading at a ¼ thickness of the lumber. With this in mind, a moisture meter with a 5/16 inch to ½ inch pin will most likely do the job. Keep in mind that this rule only affects lumber whose surface is drier than the core.
- Moisture Content-Range – In this category, you should look for moisture meters that have a moisture content range of at least 7% to 20%. You can increase the range up to 30% and above for a price but keep in mind that an accurate reading above the 30% range is not likely. This is due to the fact that there would be too much water inside the lumber the closer you get to the core. However, carvers who dry and work using green wood will benefit from a higher moisture content range.
- Minimum Sample Size – This applies if you are opting for a pinless moisture meter. The minimum sample size of pin-less devices will be based on the sensor plate’s size. Remember that the whole sensor plate must touch the wood completely during readings. If you have lumber that is 1 ½ inch wide, a meter that has a 2 x 2-inch sensor will not be ideal.
Displays – There are 4 types of meter displays to choose from:
- Digital LED
- Digital LCD
If you prefer something convenient then the digital LED or LCD can be a good choice. Analog displays can be a little difficult to use and might take some time for beginners to read properly and quickly. You should also opt for a moisture meter that has a hold feature which can make using the device at awkward angles that much easier.
- Built-in Species and Temperature Correction – This feature is vital for those who are in the woodworking business and will be reading moisture levels from a large number of lumbers in one go. For personal uses, this feature can be skipped over.
Here’s a useful video that goes more in-depth on reasons why to use moisture meters and some practical examples of how wood shrinks and expands.
There are several factors to consider before purchasing a moisture meter. Fortunately, they are not that complicated to figure out once you have the basics down. Once you have figured out which type and feature you want in a moisture market, you can easily narrow down your choices online. Finally, make sure to check the product’s feedback as well to get hands-on comments from fellow customers.