Shopping for a wood moisture meter and wondering which one is best for you?
Then you probably already know that making sure your wood is at the proper moisture content is essential to a successful woodworking project.
But if the meter you buy is missing key features, it’ll be more difficult to use, making your work more complicated than it needs to be.
And why buy something that won’t do what you need it to do?
The following list will help you avoid that mistake. Here are the 10 top wood moisture meter features and characteristics you’ll want to consider:
- Higher degree of accuracy
- Ease of use
- Species setting
- Range of measurement
- Depth of readings
- Pinless capabilities (preferably)
- A quality display
- Calibration verification
- Data collection or Bluetooth capabilities
Here’s a little more on each one.
1. Higher degree of accuracy
All moisture meters have some level of accuracy, but high-quality moisture meters will have better electrical components and circuits for higher accuracy and reproducibility in results. Otherwise, you may be getting readings that don’t reflect the actual moisture content (MC) of your wood.
Cheap meters will often exhibit poor accuracy, especially when measuring at lower MC percentages. The problem is—accuracy matters most at those lower numbers below 10% since indoor projects usually require wood to be between 6% and 10%.
But you’re probably wondering, How do I know I’ve found an accurate meter?
The only way to really know is to see what studies or tests have shown about a meter. These tests compare moisture meter readings to the scientific oven-dry method of moisture testing. Some moisture meters do have such studies. We’d highly recommend checking our meter accuracy testing results before buying a meter.
Furthermore, it’s important for a meter’s readings to be consistent and repeatable. You should be able to measure in one spot multiple times and get the same reading every time.
If you don’t yet have the meter in hand, try reading wood moisture meter reviews and seeing what others have experienced. Did they find the readings to be consistent and repeatable?
2. Ease of use
Moisture meters should have intuitive buttons and features. You shouldn’t have to read a long manual or spend hours on the phone with customer support to learn how to use one.
Instead, it should be as simple as taking the moisture meter out of its box and following a few instructions to get the reading you need.
And any additional features should make the process more efficient.
For example, the meter might have a “Hold” function that saves the reading on the screen so that you have time to record it. Many meters, including the Lignomat Scanner S/D, offer this feature.
Or, you might want to be notified whenever the moisture content goes above a certain number. Meters, like the Delmhorst BD-2100 or the Orion meters, allow you to set an alarm that goes off when the moisture reading is too high.
On the flip side, if you get a moisture meter that boasts too many special features, you may be setting yourself up for confusion and complications.
So, stick with the ones that keep it simple.
3. Species settings
Your moisture meter should provide you with settings for most, if not all, of the wood species and subspecies available.
Different species of wood affect the readings of the moisture meter—both pin and pinless. Thus, a good moisture meter will allow you to input a number for the species of wood that you’re measuring.
A good moisture meter can handle a little rough treatment. After all, tools get dropped, tossed around, or rattled in a toolbox. (Though we recommend being cautious to extend the life of your meter as much as possible.)
To avoid getting a moisture meter that’s fragile and breaks after only a few uses, look for ones that have a durable build—and perhaps even a rubber encasing. Many will come with a protective case too.
If you choose to purchase a pin meter, look for one with strong pins that won’t break easily. Otherwise, you may end up wasting time and money replacing broken pins.
Another excellent indication of durability is the warranty. If a company offers a good warranty, it means that it believes in its quality and will stand behind that product.
Look for products that have at least a solid 2-year warranty. Stay away from companies that don’t believe enough in their product to offer a warranty.
5. Range of measurement
Range of measurement in a moisture meter goes from the minimum MC it can read to the maximum. The range can be as low as 4% and as high as 60%, though too large of a range may mean the meter is less accurate. Few meters can measure accurately above the fiber saturation point of wood, which is about 32%.
For woodworkers, the lower end of the range is what matters most.
But how low of a number you’ll need to measure depends on the project you’re working on. For flooring, furniture, and other indoor projects, you’ll want readings that get down to at least 6% since 6–8% is the typical desired MC for indoor environments.
Delmhorst’s BD-2100 has a standard range of 6–40%. The Orion® line at Wagner Meters reaches down to 4%. Being able to measure down to that percentage can be useful in knowing whether the wood has overdried.
6. Depth of readings
If you use varying thicknesses of wood, look for a meter capable of measuring at two different depths: shallow and deep (¼ inch and ¾ inch, respectively).
Many pinless meters only measure one or the other, but we recommend finding one that allows you to switch between the two depths. The Lignomat Scanner S/D pinless meter is one such option. So are Wagner’s Orion 930, 940, and 950.
In the case of pin meters, you’ll be able to measure at whatever depths the pins can reach. Just be sure that the pins you use are insulated so that the reading is coming from the tips of the pins in the wood rather than from any part of the pins.
7. Pinless capabilities
Though both pinless and pin meters can be high quality, we recommend a pinless wood moisture meter for two reasons.
For one, pinless meters won’t damage your wood since you won’t have to stick any pins into it. Keeping wood pristine and free of pinholes will be especially important when installing hardwood flooring, building custom furniture, or designing a musical instrument.
Second, pinless meters save a lot of time. You can slide the pinless meter along and measure many boards without stopping between measurements to hammer pins into the wood.
8. A quality display
To help you quickly and easily see your moisture meter readings, look for a digital moisture meter that has a bright LCD screen. Save the time and frustration of trying to figure out moisture content numbers on a small, dim screen.
9. Calibration verification
Verifying the calibration of your meter is essential to be sure you’re getting accurate readings. If a moisture meter isn’t calibrated, you may get an incorrect picture of the moisture content of your wood.
Good-quality moisture meters should have a block for verifying calibration.
Others have a built-in calibration check. However, it’s hard to know how accurate this check is, so we don’t recommend trusting it without also using an external reference (often available from the same companies).
So what if the calibration verification reference shows that your meter is out of calibration?
In most cases, you’ll have to send it back to the manufacturer. Some meters allow you to re-calibrate the meter in the field. You could save a lot of time and money in that case.
10. Data collection or Bluetooth® capabilities
Quality meters will offer you features for collecting and storing data. Some even have ways to transfer that data to a mobile app via Bluetooth.
Of course, this is an advanced feature and isn’t necessary for a good-quality meter.
But wait—if you’re measuring large loads of wood or big areas of hardwood flooring, you may find it very necessary. You’ll need a way to take many readings and record all that data. This kind of feature will save you the time it takes to stop and write down lots of numbers.
Choose a moisture meter that allows you to work with confidence
Without a quality moisture meter, you may risk a damaged project.
Yes, a cheap meter may seem like an initial savings, but if it’s inaccurate or missing features mentioned in this article, you could be looking at a much greater financial loss in the long run.
So, as you shop for a moisture meter, spend time reviewing this list of features and deciding which ones matter to you.
The time you invest in choosing the right meter with the features you want can help ensure that you get accurate moisture readings simply and efficiently.
And an accurate moisture reading can set you up for a successful project.