Wood Moisture Meters Buying Guide: Pinless vs Pin-type
Wood moisture levels matter whether you’re constructing a building, laying 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 want to 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?
- Why You Need a Moisture Meter
- How Much Does a Moisture Meter Cost?
- What Are Acceptable Moisture Readings?
- Moisture in Wood-Framed Construction
- 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 understanding 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 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, creating an electromagnetic field 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 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.
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.
Inserting the pins properly can take a fair amount of pressure, especially the longer the probe. The denser the wood species, the more pressure is required to insert the pins properly.
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.
Why Do I Need a Moisture Meter?
If you’re an experienced woodworker or DIY enthusiast, a wood moisture meter is essential. It allows you to accurately measure the moisture content of wood, which is critical in ensuring that your wood is of the right quality for your project. With a wood moisture meter, you can determine the exact moisture content of your wood and adjust your project accordingly, ensuring that you end up with a high-quality, durable end product.
Investing in a wood moisture meter may seem like an additional expense, but it will save you time and money in the long run and ensure that your wood projects turn out the way you envision them.
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. At the same time, 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 regarding meters. Many articles list 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 to between 6% and 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%.
Moisture in Wood-Framed Construction
Wood-framed construction, a major building industry sector, requires careful moisture monitoring to ensure structural stability and quality. Bottom plates in contact with the floor are typically the moistest and need particular attention.
Moisture meters are key to assessing wood condition, including framing, floors, walls, and ceilings. Both pin and pinless meters are effective, but the choice depends on the acceptable invasiveness.
Pinless meters provide non-invasive, comprehensive moisture readings, while pin meters leave holes in the wood.
When taking readings, consider the wood’s expected equilibrium moisture content (EMC), usually between 9% to 14% for construction lumber. Aligning lumber moisture content with its expected EMC can prevent wood warping or structural failure.
Therefore, proper moisture monitoring is vital for the longevity and success of construction projects, contributing to the industry’s robustness.
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 somehow, affecting its ability to contact the wood properly.
- 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 meters 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 September 6th, 2023