5 Things to Look for in a Quality Moisture Meter
If you’re a professional woodworker, a professional wood flooring installer, or merely a hobbyist who loves to build things out of wood, consider this: many industry experts, such as Dr. Gene Wengert, Professor Emeritus in Wood Processing, Department of Forestry, at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), say that at least 75% of all problems with wood are moisture related.
Of course, you can avoid these problems with a quality moisture meter. Learn more.
Here are five critical things to look for in a top moisture meter . . .
For firewood, plus or minus several percent moisture content (MC) won’t kill you. But for woodworking or wood flooring, you’d better know your MC within 1% to 2% if you want to make sure you aren’t going to have problems.
That’s why you should avoid cheap, inaccurate meters. They often have a much larger margin of error than the well-built ones, especially in the low moisture range. Many of these meters cannot even read in the low moisture range.
We’re proud that our brand is synonymous with accuracy. Unbiased, third-party tests support this. When comparing Wagner meters with other leading brands, including pin meters, third-party tests clearly demonstrate the Wagner meters provide more accurate readings.
2. Measurement Range
On the top end, no meter can accurately read above fiber saturation (around 30%), so that’s an okay upper limit.
On the low end, though, your application determines how low you need to go. For woodworking and flooring, you’ll want to be able to measure to around 5-6 %. This verifies the wood hasn’t been over-dried, which can cause as many problems as the wood being too wet.
According to custom home builder and remodeling contractor Matt Risinger, for general construction (measuring studs, beams, etc.), lumber should be no higher than 19%, otherwise it will mold and rot. Kiln-dried lumber can range from 12% to 14%, while pressure-treated or non-kiln dried lumber can range from 15% to 19%.
3. Depth of Reading
When considering a meter’s depth of reading, keep this in mind – surface readings are useful for waterborne finishes, but other than that application, you probably want your meter to read deep.
Also, be aware that wood dries from the outside in, while the core is generally wetter than the surface. So you want to make sure you get a reading deep within the wood.
In general, pinless moisture meters read deeper than pin meters – either ¼” below the wood surface or ¾” below the surface. And they do this without leaving holes in the wood. These depths meet the requirements for most woodworking projects, e.g., cabinetry, fine furniture, or wood flooring.
Now if you want a deep reading with a pin meter you need an expensive, bulky hammer probe with insulated pins. And “insulated” is key. Otherwise, you have no idea what depth you’re measuring.
An “uninsulated” pin measures the path of least resistance – which could be at the surface, in the middle, or the bottom of the wood. And don’t overlook these facts – you’re only measuring a tiny space between the two pins . . . the MC reading may not be accurate if inserted improperly . . . and your wood is left scarred with unsightly holes.
Were they built to last, or designed to fail? Some meter manufacturers make more money selling pins over time than they do the actual meter, and you have to regularly replace the pins as they get bent. I’ve seen pin meters with cracked cases after regular use, as well.
Are pin meter manufacturers confident in their meters’ durability? Look at their warranties. The cheaper ones come with 60 to 90-day warranties, while the better ones typically come with only a 1 or 2-year warranty.
Wagner’s products, in contrast, have an industry-leading 7-year warranty – a compelling testament to the company’s complete confidence in the durability and workmanship of its meters.
5. Ease of Use – For starters, a Wagner meter offers one-button control (on/off and species settings). This makes the unit faster and easier to operate.
How fast and easy?
This is another area where our pinless meters have a huge advantage. Let’s say you’re taking a sampling of 20 readings across multiple boards. How difficult is it to get those readings? Or, how long does it take?
At Wagner Meters, we like to say we’re 3 times faster than pin meters at getting readings. That’s because our meters can scan large bundles of wood in seconds.
But people have stopped us at tradeshows and dispute that. When we ask them what they disagree with, they’ll tell us we’re 10 or 20 times faster than the pin meters they used to use – and not only that, they measure a much larger area with their Wagner moisture meter.
A Closing Thought
It’s a proven fact. Improper MC levels in wood can have an extreme impact on the overall quality and durability of a product – all the more reason to have a quality moisture meter on hand.
We believe it will be a great investment for you – one that can save you money and prevent many headaches in the long run…and ensure the durability and quality of your finished piece for years to come.