What Makes a Good Wood Moisture Meter for Woodworking?

If you Google “good wood moisture meter,” you’ll get pages of results, listing different meters that are all hailed as “the best.”

So how do you know what the best wood moisture meter is? And more importantly, how do you know it’s good quality?

While some brand names are known for quality, you’ll still want to look for specific features that are indicators of that quality. Let’s go over those features so you can be prepared going into the purchase of your own meter.

We’ll cover:

Features to look for

Moisture meters come equipped with all kinds of features, some of which you may use all the time, and some, hardly ever. Determining the features that indicate quality is essential. Here are the necessary ones:

Species settings

A branch of a pine tree

Species settings allow you to adjust the meter for different types of wood. You might need to measure an oak board one day and a Douglas fir board the next day. Using the meter to account for the species helps the measurement stay accurate. Otherwise, you’d have to manually adjust the species with a chart.

Why is this the case?

Well, some types of wood are denser than others or have a different chemical makeup. These factors can influence the meter’s reading and skew the number.

A good moisture meter will come with the ability to measure multiple species, including hardwoods, softwoods, and some exotic woods (plus some other building materials like drywall). If you use exotic woods on a regular basis, you may want to check whether the meter will cover the specific one you’re using.

Data saving

The ability to save data can come in a couple different ways. First, this could mean holding the data temporarily. It could also mean the meter stores readings for your future analysis.

If you have to take readings but don’t have anywhere to write them down at the moment, a good meter can store them for later access. And it may even have a hold data functionality. Some meters can store a few readings, some up to 100 or more.

Advanced meters might even be able to perform simple analyses of the stored readings to show trends or highest and lowest measurements.

Calibration verification

The Bessemeter DS500 resting on the calibration verification block

Calibration is extremely important for a moisture meter. If a meter isn’t calibrated to begin with, or not calibrated correctly, you’re asking for trouble.

Inaccurate readings. Damaged projects. Even a sullied reputation. Because an uncalibrated meter won’t give accurate moisture content readings.

So, look for a meter that comes with a verification tool to confirm its calibration.

Some models even allow you to calibrate the meter on-site. While a meter typically stays calibrated for years, it can become uncalibrated after being dropped, thrown around, or handled roughly. Being able to recalibrate right there without sending it to the company is an added bonus.

Pin vs. pinless

In the wood moisture meter world, there are two main types: pin-type meters and pinless meters. The one you choose will depend on the type of project you’re working on and the features you need.

Pin-type moisture meter

A pin meter has two small prongs (called pins) that protrude from the meter. These are inserted into the wood. An electrical current between the two pins detects the amount of resistance, which determines the moisture content. Water conducts electricity well, so the less resistance, the more water in the wood and the greater the moisture content.

Pinless wood moisture meter

Two Bessemeter moisture meters. One is faced to show the back sensor plate and battery compartment.

On the other hand, pinless wood moisture meters use a sensor pad on the bottom of the tool. Placed on the wood, the sensor sends out electrical waves at a certain frequency. This causes an electromagnetic field to form under the sensor, and the waves return. Changes in these waves indicate the moisture level.

Depending on the woodworking you’ll be doing, you may choose a pinless over a pin, or vice versa. Consider a pin meter if you’re:

  • Using smaller amounts of wood
  • Working with rough surfaces or sharp edges
  • On a budget
  • Working with softer wood

A pinless meter may be better for you if you’re:

  • Going through large amounts of wood
  • Working primarily with smooth, flat surfaces, such as wood flooring (a pinless meter relies on a flat surface for accurate measurements)
  • Wanting to avoid leaving pinholes in the wood
  • Using a variety of wood types


A woodworker surrounded by sawdust

A good moisture meter must be able to withstand a bit of a beating. Woodworking is no desk job, and things can get rough, dirty, cold, hot, and much more. You need a meter that can take all that and still work well!

So, a good meter needs to have a strong casing that won’t crack or break if you accidentally drop it. Ideally, it should be a hard shell or rubber covering.

It also needs to be able to withstand a harsher environment. It might live in your toolbox or travel around to worksites on the hottest day of the year or in the depths of a cold winter. You might have to use it in the rain or on windy days.

In addition, a woodworking shop can create a lot of dust—sawdust, shavings, and just … dust. Some electronics can’t handle that level of grit. A quality moisture meter can.

And for pin meters particularly, the pins need to be sturdy enough that they won’t snap or bend quickly. Bent pins definitely won’t produce accuracy.

A good warranty

Because you’re investing some money in a good moisture meter, you’ll want some safeguard should it come with a defect or develop an issue early on. Many reliable meters will come with a warranty, usually a couple of years, but some up to several.

If you don’t know whether it has a warranty, be sure to ask before buying.

Bonus features

Many good-quality meters also come with a couple of these other handy features. They aren’t the most important, but they can be nice to have at your disposal:

  • Dual-depth measurement—this means you can take meter readings at two different depths in the wood, helping to ensure the wood has the appropriate moisture content all the way through.
  • EMC calculator—EMC (equilibrium moisture content) is the point at which wood neither absorbs nor releases moisture anymore. Having a meter that calculates the EMC of a given space is handy for determining when your wood is ready.
  • User-friendly operation—having a clutter-free screen or easy-to-understand buttons helps you learn more quickly how the meter works, especially if you’re a beginner.
  • Bluetooth capability—this allows you to send readings to other devices, like apps or sites.
  • Backlit LCD screen—this neat feature lights up the numbers on the screen, allowing you to see the test results even in the dead of night.
  • Temperature and relative humidity mode—this mode measures the conditions in the air around the wood, which can broaden your picture of what’s going on with the wood.

What makes a higher-grade meter better

A high-quality Bessemeter moisture meter

Quite simply, higher-grade wood moisture meters are better than inexpensive ones because they are more accurate and reliable.

You’re investing in a meter in the first place to know the moisture content of your wood, right? Wouldn’t it make more sense to spend a little more for a number you know is accurate than to wonder whether the cheaper meter is off by several percentage points?

Here’s a practical example.

Suppose you were building cabinets for a customer. You need the moisture content to be low, around 6%. So, you pick up a cheap meter and measure your wood. It reads 6%. Great! You begin your project.

But that cheap meter was off 7%, and the moisture content is actually 13%. So a few months after you’ve finished the cabinets and sent them to the customer, you get a complaint that the joints are coming apart and the wood is cracking.

If you’d had a good-quality meter, you wouldn’t have had that issue. You’d have saved time (in not having to redo the project), money, and reputation.

Besides accuracy—the most important factor—a quality meter is probably going to have more of those desirable features we talked about than a less expensive one. It will probably have a wide range of species settings to choose from and be able to save your readings. In addition, it should have a way to verify the calibration.

It will also be built better. If you drop the meter once or twice, you won’t have cause for a heart attack and can check to see if it’s still reading correctly.

Ready to buy

The myriad of wood moisture meters out there are enough to bewilder almost anyone. Everyone has their favorite. But knowing the features every good moisture meter should have, you can confidently weed out the ones you don’t need and purchase a good-quality, accurate meter for your woodworking projects.

Are you ready to buy? Why not start with Bessemeter?