The moisture meter is an infinitely handy, though sometimes overlooked tool for the woodworker. But while you certainly need a moisture meter in order to ensure that your lumber stays in tip-top shape, deciding on the right one is no simple matter.
There are a lot of options out there, each with a large set of features, and what’s more, they are available for a wide range of different prices.
The goal, of course, is to get a moisture meter with all the features you could want for a price that won’t break your bank. That’s what we are here for. Read on for a comprehensive guide on choosing the right moisture meter.
Why You Need a Moisture Meter
The woodworker on a budget may very well overlook the value of the moisture meter. After all, they can be expensive and they aren’t nearly as exciting as expanding your tool collection.
But while they aren’t as glamorous as a table saw, they do represent an opportunity for the discerning woodworker that wants to ensure their timber is stable enough for use.
Think of your moisture meter as an insurance policy. Buy it once, and you will enjoy a lifetime of being able to tell what shape your wood is in.
The moisture meter allows wood workers to discern how wet or dry a piece of lumber is beneath its surface. The ideal saturation level is around 5-10%–a margin that you will be unable to detect with the naked eye.
Anything below or above these levels of moisture signifies both that the wood piece in its present state is not fit for use, and it may even suggest that you are not storing your lumber properly.
In other words, with the moisture meter, you will never need to worry about losing time by attempting to work with unfit lumber again. It may also save you money in the long run by providing valuable information on the conditions in which you store your lumber.
For instance, if you find that a good deal of your stock is experiencing high saturation levels, chances are that a change of storage is in order.
Investing in a moisture meter is a simple step you can take to make your life as a woodworker a little bit easier.
Types of Moisture Meters
All moisture meters meter moisture. However, not all moisture meters meter moisture to the same extent or in the same way. For instance, some are made solely for the purposes of the woodworker, while others are optimized to be used on asphalt.
Let’s examine a few of the different options that you can expect to encounter as you scour the moisture meter market.
Pin-Type Moisture Meter The pin type moisture meter uses two sharp pins to penetrate the surface of a piece to determine the level of moisture. The pin type moisture meter is able to only test for moisture to the extent that it is able to penetrate the surface.
A lot of woodworkers aren’t crazy about this type of moisture meter because it harms the workpiece. Do note that the extent to which this is true is minimal: If you weren’t looking for the pin pricks you would probably never find them, but nevertheless, this option is cringe-worthy in the eyes of many perfectionists.
That said, due to the nature of how this tool works, it is able to give very precise readings on exactly where the moisture buildups are occurring. There are pros and cons to the system, but personally I think if you can forgive the mild inconvenience of the pin pricks, it is a good buying option for the woodworker looking for a very precise reading.
Pinless Moisture Meter The pinless moisture meter is exactly what you would guess. It’s a non-invasive piece of equipment that is able to provide a moisture reading without penetrating the surface of a workpiece.
The pro is of course that your wood is going to remain unblemished. The con is that your reading isn’t going to be quite so precise, and you also won’t be able to localize the moisture.
One of the common set-backs of this tool is that it can get tripped up by surface-level moisture. In other words, the reading that the device gives you may be reflective of moisture build-up on the surface rather than the interior of the piece.
All-In-One The all in one essentially give you the opportunity to read moisture with or without the pins at your discretion. This method is of course the most versatile and if you are willing to spend a few extra dollars to acquire this type of system it may very well benefit you in the long run. Naturally, it has all the pros of the other two moisture meters without any of the cons.
All three of these different types of meters are also capable of measuring moisture on different types of surfaces. For instance, there are obviously moisture meters designed for wood, but there are others available for concrete, brick, drywall, etc.
Depending on the extent to which you need your moisture meter, you may very well be able to find a model that can take measurements on a variety of surfaces.
Now that you know what is out there, let’s now examine a few additional buying considerations you should make before you purchase your new moisture meter.
What Will You Use it For? I know this one will sound obvious, but I don’t just mean that you need to determine what type of surface that you need read.
You should also consider exactly what sort of information you are looking to get. Do you want general knowledge of the moisture levels in the workpiece, or do you need more precise, localized information?
Depending on which you would like, you may favor a pinless or pinned model.
Will You Only Use it For Woodworking? As I mentioned earlier, you can find moisture meters that are able to test on any number of surfaces. If you think that you might need to test for moisture on other surfaces down the line, you will probably find it worthwhile to invest in a system that is capable of doing exactly that.
This option will of course be the most beneficial to both contractors and do-it-yourselfers that may one day find themselves taking on, say, a drywall project.
Accessories There is a variety of accessories available for moisture meters that are capable of improving upon the range of their function. For example, in the case of the pinned moisture meter, you may be able to find extension attachments that will improve your ability to get a deeper reading.
You shouldn’t necessarily expect a meter to come with attachments—in fact, most that you find probably will not.
However, if you think that accessories are something that you would like to utilize down the road, you will want to at least make sure that your future moisture meter is capable of accepting them.
Not all moisture meters are equipped to accept attachments, so if this is a feature that is valuable to you, read up on a model before making your ultimate buying decision.
Scale Not all moisture meters are able to collect the exact same data, especially in the case of lumber material. In general moisture meters are able to detect moisture levels between 5-30% on all wood materials, which is an appropriate range that will help ensure you get all of the data that you need.
For the best possible results, make sure that any moisture meter that you consider is able to take readings from at least that level.
Price Of course, price is an obvious consideration for any buying decision. I list it here because the disparity in price unit to unit varies wildly in the world of moisture meters. You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg, but it is certainly possible to do exactly that.
The more features that you go for, the more a moisture meter is going to cost. Combination sets like the pinless / pinned models are going to cost a little bit more and so too will moisture meters that are capable of testing a wider range of surfaces.
If you need these features it may be worth the cost, but if all you are looking for is a handy way to measure the moisture levels of your wood, you should be able to find a good meter for under one hundred dollars.
As you can see, there are a lot of options out there. Now that you have an overview on all there is to know about the moisture meter, your decision should be relatively simple. If you decide going in what you want out of your moisture meter, and then carefully study the market, you should have no trouble finding the perfect moisture meter for your exact needs!
Feeling ready to buy? Check out some of our moisture meter reviews!
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