Wood Moisture Meters Buying Guide: Pinless vs Pin-type
Wood moisture levels matter whether you’re constructing a building, laying down a floor, or crafting furniture. If you want your wood creations to enjoy a long life, you need to treat the wood right.
In this guide, we will cover a lot of topics so if you wanna jump ahead to some important topics feel free to:
- Are Moisture Meters Accurate?
- What Does a Wood Moisture Meter Do?
- Which is Better: Pin or Pinless Moisture Meters?
- What Are Acceptable Moisture Readings?
- Can a Moisture Meter Be Wrong?
Neglecting the moisture content of wood means ruined projects:
- Warped cabinets
- Crowning or cupping of hardwood flooring
- Damaged instruments
- Unsightly dining tables
How horrible to have your name attached to a project that went wrong!
That’s where moisture meters come in.
And your work will only be as good as your least accurate meter. So, what’s in your toolbox? A pin-type? A non-damaging pinless?
Maybe it’s time for a new meter—but which one?
Are Moisture Meters Accurate?
Yes, a high-quality wood moisture meter can be accurate within 0.1% of the wood’s moisture content. It also scores high on repeatability, which gives the user confidence that the moisture content readings are spot-on. But it greatly depends on the quality and brand of a wood moisture meter.
The accuracy of the less expensive digital moisture meter can vary from 5 to 20%. These meters are hard to trust.
As a hygroscopic material, the longevity of the wood’s physical integrity and aesthetic quality depends on your understanding of its moisture condition when you want to start working with it.
Lower-grade moisture meters are very inaccurate as numbers are misleading and changing.
The real question is: What qualifies as an “accurate” moisture meter for a wood moisture measurement?
The accuracy of a hand-held meter is determined by comparing the hand-held meter’s moisture reading against the over-dry test results. The closer its reading is to the oven-dry test, the more accurate the hand-held meter is considered.
Before constructing its projects, all woodworking professionals and hobbyists must use an accurate moisture meter to ensure the wood has reached its EMC. Inaccurate readings are not helpful and can even harm your projects.
Yes, wood moisture meters can be accurate within 0.1% of the wood’s moisture content. Most digital moisture meters will only show readings with one decimal place. Lower-grade meters are very inaccurate.
What Does a Wood Moisture Meter Do?
Moisture meters indirectly measure the moisture content in a piece of wood by measuring certain electrical properties within the wood.
Fortunately, there are wood moisture meters that work with great precision. A quality moisture meter provides an accurate reading for you to make smart decisions about when and how to use the wood.
But how does a moisture meter take its measurements? There are two main technologies used: Pinless and Pin-Type.
What is a Pinless Moisture Meter?
Pinless moisture meters work by using a sensor pad that works in contact with the wood surface but does not physically break or damage the surface to take a reading.
Pinless moisture meters typically provide the capability to measure moisture content from the surface down to .25″ or deep depth measurements to .75″.
How Does a Pinless Moisture Meter Work?
Pinless wood moisture meters work with electromagnetic wave technology by using sensor pads that lay flat on the wood.
Pinless moisture meters send out electrical waves at a certain electromagnetic frequency, which creates an electromagnetic field in the area under the sensor pad. The waves sent out by the sensor through the electromagnetic field trigger return waves the sensor detects.
These changes in wave movement data correlate to a moisture content percentage and provide accurate readings. Meters using this type of technology are called “pinless meters” because they don’t insert pins into the wood.
They’re also referred to as “non-damaging meters” because there is no need to penetrate the wood. No damage is necessary for an accurate reading.
While density variations in the wood may impact pinless meters’ ability to read waves, they can test a broader expanse of the wood and provide a complete picture of its moisture condition.
What Is a Pin-Type Moisture Meter?
Pin-type moisture meters usually have two metal pins that must penetrate the wood’s surface for a moisture reading.
How Does a Pin-Type Moisture Meter Work?
Pin-type moisture meters use resistance technologies.
Two probes, or “pins,” are inserted into the wood, and an electric current flows between the two pins. The amount of resistance detected in the current as it moves between the pins indicates the moisture condition of the wood.
Because moisture conducts electricity well, the “wetter” the wood, the less resistance to the current flow. The drier the wood, the greater the electrical resistance is.
But pin meters’ accuracy can be affected by variations in the natural chemical composition of different wood species. A wood’s density doesn’t impact the current flow, but it can interfere with properly inserting the pins.
Wood moisture meters measure the moisture content in wood by using two main technologies: Pinless and Pin-Type. Pinless moisture meters work with electromagnetic wave technology and don’t physically damage the surface. Pin-type moisture meters use resistance technologies and require two pins to penetrate the wood’s surface. Pin meters can be affected by variations in the natural chemical composition of different wood species, while density variations in the wood can impact pinless meters.
This Wood Moisture Meter Buying Guide will help you decide.
Which is better: Pin or Pinless Moisture Meters?
Pinless Wood Moisture Meters
One of the benefits of a pinless meter is that it’s easier and faster to use than a pin meter. This allows users to have time to take enough readings to get a complete picture of the wood’s moisture level.
A pinless meter measures a wide swath of wood with each test, meaning fewer tests than a pin meter.
The features of pinless meters also allow you to switch measurement depth faster. Higher quality pinless meters come with dual depth measurement options, typically at a quarter and three-quarter-inch depths.
The other main advantage pinless meters have over pin meters is that they don’t cause damage to the wood. Every measurement taken with a pin meter drives two holes into the wood. A pinless wood meter never breaches the surface.
Pin Moisture Meters
One of the benefits of using a pin meter is that you can test at a wide variety of depths within the wood. Pins come in different lengths, so you can always swap out pins to measure at different depths.
Measuring moisture at multiple depths creates a broader picture of the overall MC of the wood.
The challenge with pin meters is that accurate measurement depends on properly driven pins into the wood.
It can take a fair amount of pressure to get the pins inserted properly, especially the longer the probe. The denser the wood species, the more pressure is required to properly insert the pins.
The wood’s temperature can also impact the accuracy of the pin meter.
If pin meters are substantially hotter or colder than approximately 70 degrees F, their readings must be compensated up or down depending on the exact temperature.
Another drawback: Pin meters only measure the moisture content of the small area between the two probes, which means multiple tests must be conducted at different spots. And even more, tests if you want to switch out pins to measure at multiple depths.
Pinless and Pin moisture meters both have their benefits. Pinless meters are easier and faster to use, measure a wide swath of wood, and don’t cause damage to the wood. Pin meters can test at a wide variety of depths, but accurate measurement depends on properly driven pins and the temperature of the wood can impact their accuracy. Pin meters also only measure the moisture content of a small area, requiring multiple tests to get a complete picture of the moisture level.
How Much Does a Moisture Meter Cost?
The cost of a moisture meter can vary depending on the brand, type, and features. A basic moisture meter can cost between $20 to $50 and is more commonly used for firewood. While a quality moisture meter can range from $100 to $500 or more, depending on the brand and features.
We suggest staying away from cheap moisture meters as they’re not accurate and less reliable.
What is the Best Moisture Meter?
Our choice for the best moisture meter is the Wagner Meters Orion 950 pinless wood moisture meter.
But truly, it all depends on what you’re looking for as far as meters go. There are many different articles out there with their lists of the best moisture meters, but how can you tell if it’s the right one for you?
Here is your guide to wood moisture meters so you can use them wisely and confidently on all your woodworking projects.
What Are Acceptable Moisture Readings
The typical EMC to which wood will be exposed ranges from 7% to 19%. However, that’s too large a range to accept for a specific project.
Most wood flooring manufacturers dry the wood they use to between 6% to 9%.
The EMC applicable to a specific location depends on temperature and RH variations throughout the year in that region and how controlled the environment will be in the immediate usage area (i.e., is this wood for indoor or outdoor installation).
The wood used for construction has a higher EMC range of 9% to 14%.
Again, this will vary by location and species and is just the typical range.
If you’re building in a dry city like Las Vegas, the local EMC can drop as low as 4%. But wood objects that will spend their lives indoors—anything from violins to tables—will have a more predictable target EMC range of 6% to 8%.
Can a Moisture Meter Reading Be Wrong?
Yes, absolutely. A moisture meter reading could be wrong for various reasons including, but not limited to…
- It’s out of calibration.
- The wood’s surface is wet.
- You’ve entered the wrong wood species.
- The meter has been damaged.
- The pinless meter’s scanning plate has been damaged in some way, affecting its ability to make proper contact with the wood.
- The pins on your pin-type meter are bent, broken, or rusted.
- There are flaws in the wood, such as knots in the area of reading, that are affecting the wood’s specific gravity (density).
- The meter’s batteries are low.
Are Moisture Meters Worth It?
A wood moisture meter is worth the investment for many reasons. A quality moisture meter can provide accurate readings of the moisture content in wood. This way, you can know when the wood is ready for use or needs more time to acclimate.
How to Select the Best Wood Moisture Meter
Many prefer a pinless moisture meter because they don’t want the probes to ruin the wood. The more tests run with a pin meter, the more damage it does to the wood.
Yet, without running enough tests, you won’t understand the wood’s moisture condition accurately.
Quite a conundrum.
There also is no model of the pin meter that can be recalibrated onsite.
Another area for comparison when selecting a moisture meter is the scope of “field features” you find valuable. Since the moisture measurement technology hasn’t fundamentally changed, adding high-value field features is how you can distinguish an advanced moisture reader from a simpler one.
Such extra features can include:
- having an extended range of species settings
- calculating EMC for you
- storing large amounts of measurement data
- on-site calibration
The bottom line: the process of using a pin meter can be time-consuming, tedious, and exert stress on the physical meter, which tends to result in taking short-cuts when measuring moisture.
Overall, pinless meters are the way to go. But ultimately, it is up to you to determine the scope of your need for a comprehensive moisture meter for wood enhancements.
Read our article to learn the differences between a pin and pinless moisture meter.
In truth, the technology used by pin and pinless meters hasn’t changed significantly over the last two decades.
That’s why the objective tests of Wagner Meter moisture meters, linked below, from years ago remain valid today.
- Moisture Meter Studies
- Accuracy of a Capacitance-type and Three Resistance-type Pin Meters
- Assessment of the Accuracy of the Electronic Resistance and the Wagner Hand Held Meter
- Comparative testing of Wagner L612
- Study by the University of Florence and CNR/IRL
All four of these independent studies, commissioned by Wagner Meters, found that Wagner Meter pinless wood moisture meters were consistently and reliably more accurate in assessing wood moisture content than any of the meters they were tested against.
Now that you’ve read the buying guide, and reviewed our moisture meter tests, take advantage of an Orion moisture meter and start using an accurate one.
Buy a Meter Today
As Sales Manager for Wagner Meters, Ron has more than 35 years of experience with instrumentation and measurement systems in different industries. In previous positions, he has served as Regional Sales Manager, Product and Projects Manager, and Sales Manager for manufacturers involved in measurement instrumentation.
Last updated on March 3rd, 2023
Over this article you will get to know in detail about the Wood Moisture Meters Buying Guide. Things to be considering include many options listed in this link. It is very useful article and would suggest others too. I am sure many people will come to read this in future.
Hi Wagner Sales Team,
This is Harshad Raveshia from India, we are largest Wooden Pencil manufacturer in India and we are not able to find any accurate Moisture Meter in Indian Market.
We need many Moisture Meters on our Factory Shop floor to keep on monitoring our Pencil manufacturing process.
Our actual size of Pencil Wooden Slat is 5.00 Thickness X 75 mm Width X 185 mm Length and we use such 1.5 million slats every day. Right from Round Log cutting to converting it in to Pencil Slat, Seasoning it, Softening by Impregnation process and again Seasoning it and there after converting in to Raw Pencil, everywhere Moisture % play important role!
Can you suggest us some Good, Sturdy and Economical model which our staff?
You can see a list of our pinless wood moisture meters here: https://www.wagnermeters.com/wood-moisture-meters/
Our top-rated moisture meter is the Orion 950.
If you’d like more information feel free to give us a call at 1-800-634-9961.
Hello. What is the best way to measure moisture behind tiles or acrylic in a shower area?
If you have an Orion moisture meter, you can put it in relative mode to measure moisture that way since you’re not testing moisture in wood. Try to find a dry spot to get a base reading, and then go from there. If you’re not sure if there are any dry spots, take lots of readings and the higher readings should be your wetter spots.
Hello I need to read a thin slat of 1/8″ thicknes, is it possible to get some accurate readings with some of your meters? thank you
The model 920 would be the most appropriate. If you’re ONLY going to read real thin stuff, otherwise the Orion 930 would be the best option.
How does pinless moisture meters work with OSB. Can they read a value or do you have to calibrate a sample via oven drying to get a baseline?
Thanks for your help
Wagner’s Orion line of handheld moisture meters has a setting for OSB. We developed this using oven-dry data a number of years ago.
Hope this helps.
Hi , I need a xilohygrometer to measure logs and firewood (with and without bark) Wich device do you recommend?
We sell pinless wood moisture meters. We have 5 different options to choose from. You can look at our comparison chart, https://www.wagnermeters.com/moisture-meters/comparison-matrix/ to see which one is best for you. You might consider the Orion 930 as it has dual depth measurements.
I am looking to purchase the Wagner 910 Pinless Moisture Meter to my address in Islamabad, Pakistan. Could you give me quotation on the total cost of the product and shipping? Thanks
I like how you mentioned that they are pinless moisture meters for anyone who doesn’t want to put a hole in the tree. I don’t see a point in harming the tree to see it’s moisture level. If you put a hole in it and it ends up not being useful, well now it’s got a useless hole in it.
Wagner does not have a distributor in Russia, but you can contact Wagner’s long-time distributor in Sweden, Woodcontrol. The main contact is Thomas Henriksson, and his email is Thomas@woodcontrol.se
Kris, how are you intending to use the meter?
Hello! We want to buy Orion 950, there is no delivery to Russia. Is there a representative of your company in Russia?
I hired an inspector after my newly installed engineered wood floors began end-lifting. The pictures he sent me show the pins of his meter inserted only a tiny bit. Are the readings accurate if the pins aren’t inserted very deep?
Thanks for the question. The meter will be measuring from the tip of the pin to whatever depth the pins are inserted; whichever area has the most moisture. So it just depends on which area of the wood he/she was trying to measure.
For measuring woods moisture of a wood sample which is coated with lacquer or paint,
which type of moisture meter will be useful pin type of pinless?
We recommend a pinless meter. Our Orion moisture meters use IntelliSense technology which takes measurements deep into the wood.
Bonjour, pourquoi l’appareil qui est calibré à l’usine ne reste pas calibré, merci Mario
All measurement instrumentation can, and will drift from factory calibration over time. This is why instrumentation needs to be calibrated (or be verified for calibration) typically every one or two years, based on international standards.
hello i am manufacturer of soccer balls can i use this meter on pvc or pu material for check the moisture on the sheet or please advice me what meter i used on this pvc and pu sheet for check the moisturising on the sheet.
and how can i purchase this please your early response will be highly appreciated
Wagner’s handheld moisture meters were designed for wood and wood-based materials, but perhaps I could steer you in a better direction, with the answers to some questions: 1) What is the minimum and maximum thickness of the material you wish to measure? 2) What is the moisture content range for these materials? 3) What is the required accuracy of the moisture measurements? 4) Would it be possible for someone or some company in the US to acquire samples of these materials in the US?
We have a requirement to measure Moisture content in Door frames & gypsum plasters,Which Moisture meter is suitable
Are the door frames flat or do they have some kind of profile or curve on the surface? What is the narrowest width?
Next, Wagner meters are typically designed to moisture the moisture content in solid wood. You can, however, get comparative (relative, not actual ‘moisture content %’) measurements of the moisture condition in some non-wood building materials such as gypsum-based wallboard.
Is pinned moisture meters are has ISO? can we use it in industries? if there is any policies can we have access to that?
Wagner does not make pin-type moisture meters for wood, but the manufacturers that do make them can inform you as to whether or not they have ISO certification. Wagner is not ISO certified.
if I think I have a leak in my wall or floor can I use this
The Wagner BI2200 would be the best model to use.
will foil lined wall insulation effect readings?
Yes, could very well affect the readings, causing false high measurements. If you are just trying to obtain ‘comparative’ (relative) measurements to try and find wet areas (vs. normal), then it may not be an issue anyway. I assume you are attempting to determine moisture condition on a wall, and not a wood floor.
Hi, I’m impressed the way it works and also it is user friendly. What is the price and how to purchase it. can you ship it via post as DHL / UPS cost is too much.and makes it uneconomical purchase while shipping to country like Pakistan.
You can order it online on this website, we do ship to Pakistan. But at any rate we will be in touch tos see how we can help.
Do u manufacture a machine measuring the strength of wood
Hi Gerry, We do not manufacture anything for the strength of wood — only for moisture.