Why Use a Moisture Meter?
Wood, concrete, paper, and various other materials contain a certain amount of moisture in them. This is perfectly normal. However, serious problems can develop when they contain too much moisture.
Common problems with excess moisture in wood include cabinet drawers that stick and wood floors that cup, crown, or buckle. Too much moisture in a concrete subfloor can cause the adhesives in flooring glue to degrade, while excess amounts of moisture in certain types of inventory can lead to product losses. In other words, excess moisture can cost you a lot of money. It can even cost you your reputation.
Moisture meters enable you to measure a material’s moisture content to make sure it’s at the proper level for your project, whatever that might be.
But how much should you spend on a moisture meter? If you look online, you’ll find moisture meters for $25 and moisture meters for $500. Is there a difference between these wood moisture meters? If so, what is it?
The short answer is yes, there’s a difference between a $25 meter and a $500 meter. A big difference, and that’s what we’re going to talk about in this article.
Quality Moisture Meters are Generally More Expensive
As soon as you start searching for a wood moisture meter, you’ll see that there is a wide range of moisture meter prices out there. However, here’s what you should know: The more you spend on a wood moisture meter (pin meter or pinless meter), the better the quality. For the most part.
From $25 to over $500. What’s the difference?
An inexpensive $25-50 pin type meter is good for measuring firewood.
If you’re willing to accept a moisture reading with +/- 5% accuracy, you can probably get away with buying a cheap meter in the $25-50 range.
Plus or minus 5% accuracy is a situation where the meter reads a moisture content of 15% while the actual moisture content might be anywhere from 10-20%. Applications for this might include firewood when you just want to make sure that it isn’t green.
Pin moisture meters are good for firewood because you don’t have a nice, smooth surface for a pinless moisture meter to scan. So, a cheap $25-50 pin type moisture meter is good for firewood. Since the pins are going to bend, wear out, and break (often much faster than you’d expect), either buy a meter with replaceable pins and keep some spares on hand or be aware the whole pin meter is disposable.
Hobbyist woodworkers should plan on spending more.
When it comes to hobbyist woodworkers, the situation is more complex. They need to know for sure that the wood they’re planning on using isn’t going to cause problems because it’s not at its proper moisture content.
Can they use an inexpensive meter to measure the moisture content? Well, it’s probably not the best solution. However, we realize inexpensive moisture meters might be all a hobbyist woodworker can afford.
And when we say ‘inexpensive’ we’re not talking about moisture meters in the $25-50 range. Those are just for applications like firewood. For hobbyist woodworkers, an inexpensive meter is one in the $200 range.
If that seems like a lot, consider the fact that woodworking experts say that 80% of the problems with wood projects stem from moisture. Given that, it doesn’t make sense to skimp and buy a cheap $25 digital moisture meter. It makes sense to buy the highest quality meter you can afford. Maybe it even makes sense to make the moisture meter your most expensive woodworking tool even though it’s just a tiny box compared to a huge table saw.
On the other hand, hobbyists might think their projects aren’t valuable enough to warrant an expensive meter. They might be content just to let the wood sit in their shop for a year or two, knowing that if the wood isn’t too thick, this will be enough to dry it down to the proper moisture content. There isn’t anything wrong with this approach. Of course, it does often mean buying your wood a year or two in advance.
OK, we just got through telling you that cheap $25-50 meters are really only useful for firewood, and that’s true. However, you might be thinking that this is all you have to spend. So, would you get any benefit at all from buying a meter this cheap?
Probably not, and it has to do with accuracy.
If a cheap moisture meter says the moisture content is 10% and you need the wood to be 7% moisture content, that’s a 3% difference. You might be thinking that sounds like something you can live with. But, what if when the meter reads 10% it’s 5% off? In other words, your wood really has a moisture content of 15%. That means there’s actually an 8% difference between the wood’s moisture content and the desired 7% moisture content.
That’s significant. Unless your project is very small, you’re going to have big problems because wood expands and shrinks across the grain as it gains and loses moisture. If you build a wood table with wood that’s 15% moisture content when it really should be 7%, your finished table will physically deform as the wood starts to dry and shrink.
This is why we strongly recommend that even hobbyist woodworkers buy a quality moisture meter.
Professional woodworkers benefit from top-of-the-line moisture meters.
This brings us to professional woodworkers. We’re talking now about those who design and build fine furniture that sells for thousands of dollars. These are people who earn a living building items from wood.
For these people, reputation matters. A lot. They can’t afford to have their projects ruined because the wood wasn’t at its proper moisture content. Therefore, they view spending $300+ on a highly accurate pin or pinless moisture meter as a type of insurance. It’s worth it for them if it protects their reputation as a professional woodworker who constructs quality pieces.
That alone would make high-end moisture meters worth it, but those meters typically come with other features that professionals benefit from, like multi-depth moisture measurement, data storage or reporting, better warranties, and better customer support.
Unless you’re measuring the moisture content of firewood, don’t buy a cheap moisture meter.
While inexpensive moisture meters may advertise various features that sound impressive, accuracy is what really matters, and accuracy is a completely invisible feature, so those Amazon reviews aren’t going to reflect it. Read through the Moisture Meter Experts reviews and find moisture meters that are a good fit for you.
If you need accurate moisture readings, the best moisture meter is going to be a quality device. Yes, it will cost you a few hundred dollars. However, in the long run, its accuracy and durability make it a sound investment for anyone who works with wood.