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Researching wood moisture meters and wondering whether it’s time to take the plunge and get one?

If you’re a professional who works with wood, a moisture meter is an indispensable tool for your kit. After all, wood starts with a large amount of moisture that slowly dries off over time as it adjusts to the moisture level of its environment (the equilibrium moisture content or EMC). This means that wood can both release moisture and gain it back, resulting in shrinking and expansion of the wood.

And potential damage.

A moisture meter is a simple way to keep track of your wood’s moisture content so you can prevent that damage. With a pinless moisture meter, all you have to do is scan the wood, check that it’s at the EMC, and you’re set to go.

And that applies across numerous fields: woodworking, floor installation, lutherie, cabinet making, wood products manufacturing, and construction.

So, without further ado, here are 15 reasons to use a quality moisture meter:

  1. Make informed decisions when buying lumber
  2. Track the wood-drying process
  3. Verify acclimation
  4. Prevent damage to your woodworking project
  5. Maintain structural integrity in construction
  6. Protect a wood floor from damage
  7. Decrease the risk of mold and mildew
  8. Get accurate moisture readings for different wood species
  9. Catch potential water damage
  10. Keep quality high during wood production
  11. Extend the lifespan of wood furniture and structures
  12. Boost your professional reputation
  13. Save money
  14. Avoid time wasted dealing with moisture damage
  15. Keep data securely stored

1. Make informed decisions when buying lumber

You could buy your wood green—or at a very high moisture content (MC). But if you weren’t planning to dry the wood yourself, your work will be cut out for you.

Instead, bring your moisture meter to the lumber yard or store, and check the wood’s MC. This will allow you to know upfront what it will take to get the wood to the EMC, and you can decide whether you’re up to kiln or air drying the wood.

Another consideration is the honesty of your seller. It’s natural to want to trust sellers when they say wood is at 9% MC. But rather than taking the risk, why not bring a moisture meter along so you can know for sure?

You’ll save yourself the hassle of bringing home wood that doesn’t have the moisture levels you thought it had.

2. Track the wood-drying process

If your business involves drying wood yourself, a moisture meter will be your friend. It will allow you to keep track of the drying process, making sure that the MC numbers match the drying schedule. This way, you can avoid drying the wood too quickly—and the checking or splitting that can happen as a result.

A moisture meter will also help you estimate how much longer your wood needs to dry, and it’ll confirm when your wood is ready for use.

3. Verify acclimation

Acclimation is the process of allowing wood to adjust to its final environment before working with it. This is a particularly important step before woodworking or installing a floor, for example.

Let’s say you purchased wood with a 10% MC. Your final environment, however, has an EMC of 8%. Acclimating the wood means stacking it in that final environment and allowing it to reach the EMC before you begin using it.

Your moisture meter will help you know whether any acclimation is necessary and when it has finished.

And acclimation is an important part of damage prevention, as we’ll see next.

4. Prevent damage to your woodworking project

Due to how wood interacts with moisture, it will shrink or expand until it reaches its EMC. That poses a serious concern if you decide to build with wood before it has reached that number.

Let’s say you build a cabinet with wood that is too dry for its environment.

Not long after the project is finished, you might notice that the cabinet doors don’t fit quite as well as they did in the beginning. The reason? The wood has gained moisture and swelled to match the EMC.

Other types of damage include warping, shrinking, or cracking—all of which can be avoided if you use a moisture meter to verify that the wood has reached the EMC.

5. Maintain structural integrity in construction

Checking construction materials with a wood moisture meter can prevent the issues posed by too high of an MC. Though some construction workers prefer to work with wet wood while building the initial structure, they still have to ensure the wood is appropriately dry before drywall or OSB sheathing goes up. Otherwise, moisture could get trapped in the structure.

Excess moisture could cause the wood to warp, affecting the strength of joints or fastenings. What’s more, this structural damage could lead to safety issues—and the risk of litigations.

6. Protect a wood floor from damage

Wood floors that are installed without the proper MC can end up ruined and having to be replaced.

One of the most common types of wood floor damage is cupping, when the edges of a floorboard turn upward. This problem often occurs due to a subfloor with excess moisture or wood boards that didn’t have the right MC at installation.

That’s why it’s key to check both the floorboards and the wooden subfloor with a moisture meter. The flooring should be near or at the EMC, while the subfloor should be within 2–4% of the floorboards per the National Wood Flooring Association.

7. Decrease the risk of mold and mildew

Mold and mildew grow at high moisture levels, typically above 19% MC—the type of levels you might find after a major leak or flood.

Let’s say, for example, that your wood floor ends up flooded. Once visible water has been cleaned up, chances are that the floorboards will still be wet. A moisture meter will help you identify areas that still need drying.

8. Get accurate moisture readings for different wood species

A high-quality moisture meter will provide you with settings to adjust for the type of wood you’re measuring.

Why does this matter?

Different wood species have different chemical compositions and specific gravities that can impact your moisture measurements—regardless of whether you’re using a pin or pinless meter.

Adjusting for the wood species will ensure you get an accurate picture of the wood’s moisture condition.

9. Catch potential water damage

Wood moisture meters are an important tool for many home inspectors. Though moisture meters can’t diagnose water damage issues, they can indicate areas of drywall or flooring that have higher levels of moisture.

This way, inspectors can find areas of concern and note potential problems that might not be noticeable to the touch or the eye.

10. Keep quality high during wood production

In wood products manufacturing, wood parts often need a specific MC to prevent them from becoming damaged and warped. A moisture meter, then, is an important part of this quality control.

11. Extend the lifespan of wood furniture and structures

Wood is a classic material that can last for years—but only when cared for properly. When you’re building wood furniture or other structures, getting the wood to the right MC for the final environment can ensure that family heirlooms remain undamaged and usable for years to come.

12. Boost your professional reputation

Regardless of your wood-related profession, quality is a key part of having a good reputation. If your customers receive products that show damage within months, they will be highly disappointed. Not only will you have to spend the time and money to fix the problems, but you’ll also face the risk that they won’t return to you for work again—or refer you to others.

13. Save money

Damaged floors, furniture, or other wood products all cost you money. For one, the money you spent on the original materials is wasted. And now, you may have to repair the problems for your customer—with all the expenses falling on you.

There’s another consideration earlier in the process, too. As we mentioned, buying wood that’s at a high MC can cost you money in kiln drying—money you could save if you had checked the wood to make sure it was at the EMC first.

14. Avoid wasting time

When working with wood is your business, time is money, too. Using a moisture meter can help you avoid:

  • Time waiting for the wood to dry
  • Time wasted on a failed project
  • Time wasted providing repairs for a customer

15. Keep data securely stored

Some high-quality moisture meters have the feature of storing readings for you and providing you with a way to access them later, typically through a smartphone app. Then, you can see drying trends, download reports, and send those reports to your clients.

Those reports can be a protection for you, helping your customers see that you did your work well.

Here’s one scenario:

A customer calls you about a cupped floor a couple of months after installation. You have records to show that the MC of the floorboards was at the EMC when you installed them. What has likely happened, then, is not an error on your part but an issue with climate control in the home.

Having the records available will keep you from getting blamed for something you didn’t cause.

More Than Just an Investment in a Tool

Whether you’re a woodworker, floor professional, wood products manufacturer, or construction contractor, buying a wood moisture meter is more than investing in a tool. You’re investing in all its benefits, saving you the risks of moisture damage, wasted time, extra expenses, poor reputation, and more.

So how do you know which meter will be best for you?

See the frequently asked questions below for some more answers. Also, check out our moisture meter buying guide to learn about our top picks for 2023.

Frequently Asked Questions

Looking for information we didn’t cover in this article? See if the following answers will help:

What are the differences between pin and pinless moisture meters?

Pin meters involve two small probes or pins that are pressed into the wood. An electrical current runs between the two pins, and since water conducts electricity, the resistance indicates how much moisture is in the piece of wood.

Pinless meters, on the other hand, use an electromagnetic sensor plate to measure the moisture content. Rather than pushing pins into the wood, all you have to do is press the scanner plate on the wood to get a reading.

In this way, a pinless meter doesn’t leave behind ugly pinholes. It’s also much quicker and easier for scanning harder, denser wood and large quantities of wood.

On the other hand, if you’re measuring within an inch or two of metal, you’ll likely be better off using a pin meter.

How do I choose the best wood moisture meter?

We recommend evaluating numerous factors to find the best moisture meter for you. You’ll want a moisture meter that has:

  • Consistent and repeatable readings
  • Easy-to-use buttons and features
  • Species settings
  • Durability
  • A good range of measurement (typically from 6% to 32%)
  • The depth of reading you need for your work
  • A pinless design (preferably)
  • A quality LCD display
  • A way to verify calibration

Data collection and Bluetooth capabilities are also useful for storing data and connecting data to a smartphone app.

See our article on these wood moisture meter features.

Can wood moisture meters be used on other materials?

Yes, wood moisture meters can be used on other materials, such as drywall. However, they will provide relative readings rather than exact moisture content readings. This means that they will indicate areas with higher moisture and lower moisture.