11 Tips for Using a Wood Moisture Meter

Whether you’re a woodworker, hobbyist, or another individual who works with wood, you want to improve your craft. How can you become more accurate and efficient in the way you do your work? How do you save time without cutting quality?

It is possible!

A simple way to do so is by following these tips for using a wood moisture meter. With these, you’ll spend less time fiddling with its features and get more accurate readings.

And this advice is for everyone—no matter your level of experience with woodwork.

Here’s a rundown:

Basic tips for using a wood moisture meter

A pen and a piece of paper for recording wood moisture meter readingsYou already know the basics of how your moisture meter works. But maybe you’ve been having some trouble.

Do the numbers seem unusually high or low?

Does it seem like you’re getting inconsistent or false readings?

Here are some basic tips to help you avoid common problems and use your moisture meter more effectively. These will apply to all types of wood moisture meters.

1. Verify the calibration of your meter.

Verify the calibration of your meter before using it to ensure you get an accurate reading. Most meters, like those made by Bessemeter, come with a calibration verification reference tool. A few even have a built-in calibrator that works with the press of a button (though the calibrator can malfunction if the meter malfunctions).

If your meter doesn’t come with a calibration verification device, you can purchase one from the manufacturer.

Having this tool is important because you always want to be able to check the calibration of your meter—especially if you’ve dropped it recently or it’s been bouncing around in the back of your vehicle.

Also, keep in mind that not having a method of calibration verification can be a sign of a poor-quality moisture meter.. If this is the case with your meter, you might want to consider an upgrade.

2. Keep extra batteries on hand.

A battery, something useful to keep on hand when using a moisture meterThe batteries of wood moisture meters usually last a long time, so you don’t have to worry about replacing them often. However, it doesn’t hurt to have an extra set on hand—just in case.

You wouldn’t want to be in the middle of measuring a batch of wood only to realize you have to leave the job site to run to the store for more batteries.

Here’s the short of it:

Know what batteries your moisture meter uses and keep an extra set with you.

3. Correct for wood species.

The wood species affects the results of your moisture meter—pin or pinless.

Here’s why.

Different species of wood have different chemical compositions and specific gravities. Pin meters, which measure moisture through electrical conductivity, are affected by chemical composition because it affects the amount of electrical resistance.

And for a pinless meter, it’s about the specific gravity of the wood. The specific gravity varies based on wood species and impacts the pinless meter’s electromagnetic sensor readings.

To offset these effects, your moisture meter may have a way for you to input the species number. If not, it should come with a chart that allows you to correct the readings you get.

4. Wipe off surface water from the wood.

Before measuring with a moisture meter, ensure that your wood’s surface is dry. Water droplets on the wood can skew the readings for pin and pinless meters.

5. Avoid measuring over knots or unusual grains in the wood.

A knot in a piece of wood, which can skew moisture meter readingsPutting your wood moisture meter over these spots can give you an inaccurate reading since they can affect the mechanism of the meter. To be on the safe side, look for a place on the wood that has a straight grain to take your measurements.

6. Don’t take readings near metal.

Metal will affect your readings.

So avoid measuring near metal studs, fasteners, or nails. If your wood is thin, you may even want to avoid having a metal table underneath it while testing.

7. Test near the middle of a board of wood.

Wood tends to dry out more quickly from its ends than from other places.

If you test near the end, you’re likely to get a reading that doesn’t reflect the moisture content of most of the board. Thus, be sure to be several inches in from the ends. 

8. Test multiple places and multiple times.

A hand holding a pinless moisture meter on a board of woodTake plenty of readings throughout a load of wood. A board (especially softwood) can have drier or wetter spots, so it’s important to test in multiple places on some boards to get an accurate picture of their moisture content.

If you have a large batch of wood, test enough boards to get a representation of the wood.

Having a pinless meter is definitely helpful in this case. You’ll get instant readings without leaving pin holes in the wood.

9. If in doubt, check the manufacturer’s manual.

If you’re getting an unusual reading or having trouble with a feature on your meter, the manufacturer’s manual is always a good place to go.

Different brands of moisture meters have various features and ways of working. That’s why it’s essential to understand the instructions specific to your meter.

Advanced tips

Ready to take your wood moisture measurements to the next level? The following are a couple of advanced tips related to data collection and industry-specific guidelines.

10. Know and use your moisture meter’s data collection tools.

A Bessemeter moisture meter with a black case and a yellow calibration verification referenceHow do you keep a record of wood moisture measurements?

Some moisture meters, like the ones at Bessemeter, have a simple “Hold” feature that keeps the data on the screen until you can record it. Check the manufacturer’s manual to find out about and take advantage of these tools.

If you are a professional, tracking your moisture meter readings is especially important. It’ll build credibility with your customers as they see that you’re following proper procedures when working on their projects.

11. Pay attention to industry-specific guidelines.

Some industries offer guidelines for checking the moisture content of wood materials.

This is the case with the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA), which provides recommendations for how many boards to measure per square feet of flooring. It also provides acceptable moisture differences between flooring and subflooring materials.

Referring to industry-specific resources from the get-go will help prevent problems and save you time in the long run.

BONUS: Advice for pin meters

The recommendations we’ve shared thus far have applied to both pin and pinless meters. But now, let’s get a little more specific about checking moisture levels with these two meters.

We’ll start with pin-type moisture meters.

Make sure your wood is at the right temperature.

Temperature can affect the results you get with your pin meter. That’s why you’ll want to make sure your wood is at room temperature. If not, use a chart that allows you to make adjustments for temperature.

A good-quality moisture meter will come with one of these charts.

Choose the correct pins for your situation.

Determine what depth you need to measure so you’ll know whether you need long or short pins.

You’ll also have to decide whether you need insulated or non-insulated pins. Insulated pins are great for bypassing surface moisture on a piece of wood and getting the moisture content of the wood at different depths.

Keep extra pins on hand.

You never know when you might accidentally break or bend one of the pins in your meter. To make the exchange seamless, make sure you have extra pins and the tools to replace them.

A hammer probe may also be handy for getting the pins into the wood (especially if the wood is harder or you want to measure moisture deep in the wood on thicker pieces of wood).

BONUS: Advice for pinless moisture meters

Here are some things to consider when using a non-invasive pinless meter.

Make sure your meter can measure the proper depth for the thickness of your wood.

Different pinless meters read at different depths. Common depths for them to be able to measure are ¼ of an inch and ¾ of an inch.

So check how deep your meter can read, and then make sure that it matches the thickness of your wood. You wouldn’t want a meter reading at a depth of ¾ of an inch when your wood is only ½ an inch thick.

Measure on a flat surface.A hand measuring moisture content on the flat surface of a piece of wood furniture

Pinless meters only work when they are pressed onto a flat surface. They won’t work on uneven surfaces where the sensor plate is not fully touching the wood.

Keep this in mind when taking your moisture readings. If you have to measure something uneven, a pin meter will be a better option.

Use the proper pressure.

Not holding your moisture meter firmly enough against the surface of the wood may give an inaccurate reading. You’ll want to ensure you’re giving it about 3 pounds of pressure.

Mastering your moisture meter is worth it.

It takes time and consistency to master the use of any tool—wood moisture meters included.

That’s why we put together these tips to help you simplify the process.

Instead of spending hours figuring out how to use your meter, you’ll be on the road to greater efficiency before you know it.

Your wood moisture meter will benefit you and make your work simpler in many ways, saving you the frustrations, challenges, and costs of moisture damage. So, learning to use it properly is worth it!

Have any other questions or concerns about your moisture meter? Contact us here at Bessemeter for further advice and information.