Woodworkers need a wood moisture meter to avoid building with wood that later warps or shrinks. Here are some of the best.
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What To Know About Moisture Meters for Wood
Every accomplished woodworker learns quickly that working with wet wood is a big mistake. Wood swells when it’s wet, then contracts, shrinks and even warps as it dries out.
If you see your new laminated hardwood tabletop curling at the edges or separating, or you notice gaps in your recently installed hardwood floor, it’s from moisture. That’s why it’s wise to check your materials with a wood moisture meter before starting a project.
If you do general building and home maintenance, you’ll find a moisture meter handy for materials besides wood. A moisture meter can determine if a concrete subfloor is dry enough to start a job, or help track down a leak in drywall. Not all wood moisture meters can perform these tasks, so determine if you’ll be using the meter exclusively for wood before buying.
A wood moisture meter for the hobbyist isn’t expensive. It costs around $30, similar to top-quality stud finder or multimeter. Here are some things to consider when shopping for a wood moisture meter:
- Accuracy: This is the No. 1 feature to note. Some expensive meters boast 0.1 percent accuracy. A woodworker usually doesn’t need that and can get by with a cheaper, less accurate meter. The highest error range that ensures meaningful results is ±5 percent.
- Relative moisture range: Wood moisture meters typically measure between five percent, which means the wood is dry, and 30 or 40 percent, which indicates saturation. Meters that measure relative moisture in other materials have different ranges, from 0 to 100 percent. It may be useful to have a meter with a wider range if you plan to use it for materials other than wood. But accuracy suffers when the range is larger than you need it to be.
- Pin vs. pinless: Some meters have short antenna-like pins that penetrate the wood and measure moisture by creating an electric signal between them. Others have an electrically sensitive plate that can take a reading without penetrating the wood. Pinless meters are easier to use and don’t damage the wood, but aren’t as accurate. The best wood moisture meter can function with or without pins.
- Readability: Choose a meter with an uncomplicated, easy-to-read display.
- Functionality: Some wood moisture meters can measure other relevant parameters, such as temperature and ambient humidity, as well as distinguishing between relative and absolute moisture in the wood. (Relative moisture is the ratio of moisture to material, which depends on material density. Absolute moisture measures moisture content, useful for detecting leaks.)
- Durability: Pins must be strong enough to resist breaking or bending when you force them into the wood. The casing must be strong enough to resist cracking if you drop the tool. Damage to the meter compromises the results. Durable meters come with longer warranty periods.
- Cost: Most prices range from $25 to $50, but some high-accuracy multi-function tools can cost as much as $600.
Best Pinned Wood Moisture Meter
The Tavool Wood Moisture Meter has two measurement modes, one for wood and another for other building materials. In the wood mode, there are eight selections for different classes of wood.
As a wood moisture meter, it operates in a range from six to 60 percent with an accuracy of ±2 percent. It comes with a big, easy-to-read display, and it’s easy to switch between measuring modes.
Best Pinless Wood Moisture Meter
Avoid filling your work surface with pinholes. The Klein Tools ET140 Pinless Moisture Meter is an inexpensive tool that also measures moisture in hard materials like concrete.
It detects moisture at a maximum depth of 3/4-inch below the surface of hardwoods, softwoods, masonry and drywall, and shows the result on an LED display. Below the display, a series of LEDs tell you at a glance whether the material is wet or dry.
Best Pin/Pinless Wood Moisture Meter
Another inexpensive option, the Dr. Meter Pin/Pinless Moisture Tester can measure moisture in wood and most other building materials. It can also be used as a leak detector.
In the pin mode, it measures from five to 50 percent for wood and 1.5 to 33 percent for other building materials, with an accuracy of ±2 percent. In the pinless mode, it measures up to 35 percent with an accuracy of ±4 percent.
Best Wood Moisture Meter for Beginning Woodworkers
The pinned Rdinscos MT-18 Wood Moisture Meter costs less than $20. It’s a reliable choice for woodworking and general maintenance and construction.
It offers separate settings for wood and other building materials. Within the wood setting, you can choose from four groups. It measures wood moisture from four to 75 percent. It’s a handy tool for checking cabinets, beams, firewood and flooring, as well as drywall and even cardboard cartons.
Best Wood Moisture Meter for Cabinetmakers
When you do custom cabinetry, you need the accuracy of a pinned meter without marring your raw materials with pinholes. If your budget can handle it, the Wagner Orion 910 is the meter you need.
It measures from four to 32 percent with an accuracy of ±0.1 percent. That’s really accurate. It detects moisture to a depth of 3/4-inch. It’s great for lumber, flooring and non-wood building materials.
Best Wood Moisture Meter Splurge
One picture is worth a thousand pinholes, and the Teledyne FLIR MR176 gives you that picture. The built-in camera projects a thermal image onto the screen so you can pinpoint regions of high moisture. Once found, the pinless sensor or pin probe attachment give accurate readings.
This pricey meter can display relative moisture, dew point, vapor pressure, ambient air temperature and relative humidity, all on the same screen. Use it to test floors, walls and other large surfaces. It runs on a rechargeable battery.
Best Wood Moisture Meter Value
The Proster Digital Wood Moisture Meter measures relative moisture up to 99.9 percent. Four easily accessible settings measure different classes of wood, which together include more than 50 wood species.
It takes one 9V-volt battery, and an auto shutoff preserves battery power. Made of durable plastic, perhaps the best feature of this moisture meter is its low, low price ($18.50). It’s the least expensive meter on this list.
Best All-Around Wood Moisture Meter
The General Tools Four-in-One Digital Moisture Meter is pricey (about $100), but can do it all. Amazon reviewers love it for its functionality, accuracy, ergonomic design and ease of use.
Use the non-intrusive scanner to find areas of high moisture. Then remove the cap and insert the pins to get a reading. It ranges from 1.5 to 33 percent with an accuracy of ±3 percent. The sturdy design includes a built-in humidity sensor, mold tester and water leak detector.