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The Ultimate Guide to Moisture Meter and How You Use Them for Woodworking

Are you wondering if the wood you used for that cabinet project is too dry or too wet? With a moisture meter, you can eliminate these worries. A moisture meter is an electronic device that tells you if the wood you purchased for your latest project has the right amount of moisture for indoor projects. You need to know the moisture content of wood will help you decide if that piece can be stable enough for the particular project you have in mind.

Wood is indeed a living, breathing creature and therefore it could retain a lot of moisture even after it is cut and used for different woodworking projects. And wood that has a lot of moisture or very little moisture may not fare well with load-bearing furniture, flooring, ceilings and walls, and can even change its shape in the future. Finding out the moisture level in wood can therefore save you a lot of money in the long run. Think of moisture meters as affordable insurance.

The types of moisture meters

There are two types of moisture meters available in the market: moisture meters with a pin and moisture meters without a pin. The pin type meter measures the effect of moisture on an electric current while the pinless measures the effect of moisture on an electromagnetic field.

Pinless moisture meters can measure the amount of moisture without having to put holes in the wood. It is portable and therefore you can take it to the hardware or the lumberyard to determine the amount of moisture on a piece of wood before you make your purchase. But because a pinless meter does not have a pin, the sensor on the meter has to be in good contact with the surface of the wood to get an accurate reading.

Pin type moisture meters can take measurements on any kind of wood and on any kind of surface. This is because the two pins of the meter are pressed on the wood surface to get a good reading. And with pin-type meters, you can read the moisture content in wood remotely using pieces of probes. This technique requires driving a nails or probes to the center of the wooden piece to get a core reading.

How to use a pin type moisture meter

1. Clean the piece of wood that you will check

You need a clean area, free from dirt, dust and grime to start with. This is a very critical step since you must have a good area to test to get a good reading. It is recommended that you choose a dry area on the piece of wood. Use a dry cloth or brush to clean the surface before you place the pin type meter.

2. Prepare the pin type moisture meter

Power on the moisture meter, make sure that the readings are zero before you start using the device. It is also a good idea to calibrate the meter before use. Some digital pin type and pinless meters have built in calibration features.

Make sure that you have also read the device instruction manual. There are different brands and manufacturers of pin type moisture meters and its best to get to know the functions and features of the device first so you can work more efficiently.

3. Select a good area where to place the pins

Now that your moisture meter is ready, choose a good area to test. It has to be a clear area where you can poke the pins. Remember that you must make sure that the pins on the meter have a good and deep connection with the wood to get an accurate reading.

4. Dig deep

Pin type moisture meters have different pin depths. Good meters can provide 5/16” depth which is more than enough to get a good %MC reading in no time.

5. Read the measurements

Most digital meters, and even traditional meters, can read the moisture content in a matter of seconds. Some models have digital readings that beep which tells the user that it is currently reading the %MC while some may take a few minutes to take a reading. Record the measurements in a sheet of paper. You can make several readings on a single block or plank of wood and get the average of these readings.

6. Use a probe or a nail

A probe is similar to a meat thermometer which lets you check the inner %MC levels accurately and quickly. Probes can penetrate deep down the wood surface and is more preferred than using the actual pins of the meter.

Some pin type moisture meters come with long probes while some have a set of electrodes which has to be paired with specific connectors and pins. Read the manual first to learn how to use these accessories. Take note of your measurements and make sure to check your readings for accuracy.

How to use a pinless moisture meter

1. Clean the piece of wood that you will check

Similar to using a pin type moisture meter, clean the area that you will use to check the %MC. Remember that a pinless meter needs a larger are to check the reading so allot a large space. The meter’s collecting plate has to come in close contact with the wood surface.

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2. Prepare the pinless moisture meter

Read the device manual to learn all about the features of the pinless meter. Different pinless meters may have different features but all use some kind of plate to collect readings accurately. Make sure that the meter’s plate is clean and free from anything that could affect its reading.

3. Select a good area to put the plate of the meter

Preferably the area must be dry, clean and enough to accommodate the meter’s plate.

4. Wait for the meter to take a reading

A pinless moisture meter could take time to take a reading. Be prepared to wait a few seconds to a few minutes. Take several readings on different parts of the wooden piece and list these down.

Care and maintenance of moisture meters

After use, clean the part of the moisture meter that has come in contact with the wood with a clean soft cloth. Store it in its box or if it does not have a box, place the moisture meter in a dry area of your working area or station. Remove the device’s batteries if it will be kept for a long time. Calibrate your meter after it has been kept for a long period of time or after it has been extensively used. Always use accessories that are compatible with your moisture meter and do not forget to choose products with good warranty to get the best value out of your money. Read product information and user manuals to learn more about special care instructions for your particular moisture meter brand.

Purchasing a moisture meter

It’s your choice. You can purchase a pin type meter or a pinless meter. It all depends on your preference. Check out the product features too like the meter’s ability to store a number of readings, wood species references so you can have baseline data to work with and the ability to take an accurate reading. Moisture meters with built in calibration features, easy to read displays and a lightweight design are a plus. Don’t forget the items or accessories that come with the meter upon purchase should be the items that you will most likely use for your project.

Moisture meters come in a number of brands and manufacturers and with this, these come in a wide range of prices. Affordable meters could cost around $40 while high end ones as high as $100 or more. Read reviews and compare products; the price does not always reflect good value. If possible, choose a product with a good warranty. Warranties and guaranties safeguards consumers against defective products so pick the one with a longer manufacturer or product warranties.

So before purchasing a moisture meter, do your homework and you will be able to purchase a good meter for your woodworking needs.


Moisture meters come in pin and pinless types. A pin type meter penetrates the wood surface to get a reliable reading while a pines type uses an electrical panel to get an accurate reading. Both of these meters need to come in contact with wood to get the %MC but the pin type may use probes or nails to get a core reading of the moisture content.

Moisture meters also need to be cared for and maintained every time it’s used. It must also be calibrated to ensure that readings are accurate and reliable. And in purchasing a moisture meter, it’s your choice from a pin type or a pinless type meter.

Have you ever tried using a moisture meter? Tell us your thoughts from the comment section below. And if you like our article, share this to a friend who you think needs help with using a moisture meter for woodworking today.

  • October 3, 2017
  • DIY