Are Cheap Moisture Meters Any Good?

Can you get away with using a cheap moisture meter? And does it really need to have the highest level of accuracy? You’re wondering if a cheap option would give you close enough estimates for the moisture content of your wood.

And we get it.

You’re trying to do a quality job and keep costs down. Whether you’re a flooring professional, cabinet builder, luthier, or woodworker in some other capacity, you care about both producing quality and investing your money where it matters to your bottom line and the success of your business.

Here’s the thing: a cheap moisture meter can sometimes give you an estimate. It might be close to the actual moisture content of the wood, but you take the risk that it won’t be. We see time and time again that massive problems are caused by trusting bad moisture content readings.

To cut to the chase, we don’t recommend taking that risk. And this page will explain why.

You can expect to learn:

You may be wondering whether you actually need a moisture meter at all. We’ll start there.

Is a Moisture Meter Even Necessary?

Cupping is one of the things that can happen when you don’t use a moisture meter or don’t use a quality one.

The short answer is yes. The moisture in wood is not usually perceptible by touch, so you have no way of truly knowing the condition of your wood unless you test it with a moisture meter.

Otherwise, your wood could be hiding moisture that won’t become a problem until it has remained in its final location for some time.

For example, say you install a hardwood floor with too high of a moisture content (MC) for its environment. In other words, the MC is quite a few percentage points higher than the equilibrium moisture content (or EMC) of the surrounding environment.

Here’s what’s going to happen:

That flooring will begin releasing moisture to reach the EMC. In the process, it might warp or show gaps.

On the other hand, flooring with too low of an MC for its environment may begin to cup or, worse, buckle.

Without a moisture meter, you have no way of truly knowing whether your wood is at the EMC or not. That presents a risk we don’t recommend you take. There’s another risk we don’t recommend, either…

Why Cheap Moisture Meters Won’t Cut It

Cheap moisture meters put your work at risk because they are often highly inaccurate. As a result, you may get a false sense of security that your wood is fine—only to find your project damaged later. Or you may put in extra time and money to dry your wood when it didn’t need to be dried more.

This is because cheap moisture meters may be anywhere from 5 to 20 points off when it comes to MC percentages.

Even a 5-percentage-point difference could already mean a significant risk of failure when working with expensive materials like flooring, instrument parts, or hardwood for fine furniture. If you’re shooting for 6–9%, and you get a reading of 9%, but the wood is actually 14%, you’re going to be in trouble.

We talk to customers over and over again who have had problems after taking readings with a cheap meter. When they finally tested the wood with our professional-grade, accurate meters, it was instantly clear that the actual MC was 20%—not the 10% they had thought.

What’s more, the cheap meter readings will sometimes be inconsistent.

Why risk saving money on a cheap moisture meter when it could cost you so much more in time, damaged materials, and unhappy customers? Those materials likely cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars, and you’re going to sell your work for some multiple of that.

We strongly recommend that professionals opt for a quality tool that won’t let them down.

A quality pinless wood moisture meter may cost a little more upfront, but consider it a way to avoid:

  • The uncertainty of whether you’re getting accurate moisture readings
  • Guessing when to begin your wood project
  • Wasting time and money having to repair damage
  • Displeased customers
  • A reputation as a careless worker

So, how exactly do you find a quality moisture meter that will help avoid these challenges? How do you know you can trust what you read online?

Finding a Quality Moisture Meter

Finding a quality moisture meter doesn’t have to be difficult, but there are some things we suggest you keep an eye out for:

  • Accuracy—You want a moisture meter that will give you as accurate of moisture percentages as possible.
  • Ease of use—The meter should have a good screen (preferably LCD), self-explanatory buttons, and simple features that allow you to quickly take moisture readings.
  • Calibration verification—The meter should come with an external reference to verify its calibration so you can be confident it’s still working properly. Our meters go a step further and let you actually recalibrate in the field in a few seconds.
  • Species settings—You should be able to adjust the meter depending on the species of wood you’re measuring.
  • Durability—The meter needs a solid build with quality materials that won’t immediately show wear and damage.
  • A good warranty—A solid warranty (typically more than a year) speaks to the company’s confidence in its product.

However, even with all these important qualities, you’ll find some differences among moisture meters.

Are all moisture meters the same?

No, wood moisture meters vary in price, level of technology, capabilities, and, of course, quality. They also vary by type. Wood moisture meters can be either pin-type or pinless.

The difference?

Pin-type moisture meters use pins to measure the MC of the wood. These pins, when pressed into the wood, have an electrical current that runs between them and measures any resistance caused (mostly) by moisture.

Pinless moisture meters, on the other hand, use an electromagnetic plate that only needs to be placed on the wood to get a moisture meter measurement, measuring the capacitance of the moisture in the wood.

Though both pin-type and pinless meters can be high quality and give you accurate readings, the pinless ones are superior for a couple reasons.

For one, pinless meters don’t require the time and effort to press pins into the wood. With them, you’ll be able to quickly and effortlessly scan large quantities of wood. This becomes especially important when working with hardwoods that are often very dense and difficult to press pins into, meaning you’ll only get surface readings. And you always want to take multiple readings on every batch of wood you use.

Second, the pins can leave little pinholes in the wood, which is not ideal for fine woodworking projects or flooring.

By opting for a quality pinless meter, you’ll save yourself this challenge, and a lot of time.

So, as you shop for a moisture meter, how can you know you’ll get a quality one? Next, we’ll cover some tips for finding reviews online.

How to find trustworthy moisture meter reviews

As you read reviews online, take time to evaluate the source of the review and the way in which the reviewer has used or tested the product. Look for reviews by individuals or organizations that have a broad understanding of the wood industry and have taken the time to thoroughly test the meter.

Here’s why you’ll want to do this:

Many people who write reviews assume that the manufacturer’s claims are correct, and they don’t take time for in-depth testing. They may even be linking to Amazon just to make a profit or leaving a review because they received a free product.

Evaluate the following:

  • Does the site specifically review tools related to woodworking (rather than reviewing many different products)?
  • Are the reviewers knowledgeable about the industry?
  • Have they tested the meter for themselves?

Answering yes to these questions is a good indicator that the reviews are trustworthy.

But steer away from review sites that:

  • Are only affiliate sites
  • Use the same product content and information as Amazon
  • Sound like many other review sites
  • Don’t seem to have experience in the industry

This way, you’re more likely to avoid reviews being done for money rather than offering any real value for readers.

Our Take on the Most Accurate Moisture Meter

Orion Moisture Meter 940We admit—we’re a little biased. Here at Wagner Meters, we feel the most accurate and high-quality moisture meters on the market are our Orion pinless moisture meters.

But don’t take it from us.

Well-known tool reviewer Bob Vila listed the Orion 940 as one of the most accurate moisture meters on the market. In fact, he considered it so accurate that he used it as his point of comparison for all the other moisture meters he reviewed.

That’s not all. The Orion 940 gives you high quality in every way:

  • Ease of use
  • Data storage
  • Bluetooth capabilities and reporting features
  • On-demand calibration
  • A 7-year warranty
  • Live customer support from our team

Ready to try one for your business and avoid the worries of a cheap moisture meter? Check out our whole family of moisture meters, including the Orion 940, which many consider the industry standard. You can be sure your investment will be worth every penny!

Last updated on March 6th, 2024

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