7 Best Wood Moisture Meters

Woodworkers need a wood moisture meter to avoid building with wood that later warps or shrinks. Here are some of the best.

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Wood moisture measurement using an electronic meter. Measurements in the home workshop. Light background.Piotr Wytrazek/Getty Images

Every serious woodworker knows the importance of picking out good lumber. Obvious things to look for include grain patterns, poorly placed knots and out of control cups, bows or crooks. But one important and often overlooked aspect is moisture content.

Whenever a hardwood floor lifts around its perimeter, or a lacquer on a project turns cloudy or milky, it’s caused by excess moisture in the lumber. That’s why you should always check your lumber with a moisture meter before purchasing it.

“When trees are first cut down they have a very high moisture level, this is referred to as green wood,” says Brad Rodriguez, founder of Fix This Build That. “If you build with green wood then once the wood starts drying out and losing the moisture then it will bow, cup or crack. That’s why you want to let the wood lose most of its moisture and come to equilibrium before building with it.”

Moisture meters are a handy item to stash in your toolbox. They measure the amount of water (or moisture) in a piece of wood. Some can also help you find a leak behind drywall or determine whether a concrete subfloor is dry enough to start a project.

What To Consider When Choosing a Wood Moisture Meter

Relative moisture range: Wood moisture meters typically measure between five percent, which means the wood is dry, and 30 or 40 percent, which indicates saturation. Meters that measure relative moisture in other materials have different ranges, from 0 to 100 percent. Rodriguez notes that “moisture levels differ widely between species and locations. Wood in a hot arid climate like a desert region will stabilize much lower than wood in the Pacific Northwest. The key is to find a similar species of wood that has been dried for at least 1 year and see where it’s at. Then you know the equilibrium level for that type of wood in that location.”

It may be useful to buy a meter with a wider range if you plan to use it for materials other than wood. But accuracy suffers when the range is larger than you need it to be.

Readability: Choose a meter with an uncomplicated, easy-to-read display.

Functionality: Some wood moisture meters can measure other relevant parameters, such as temperature and ambient humidity. Some may also distinguish between relative and absolute moisture in the wood. (Relative moisture is the ratio of moisture to material, which depends on material density. Absolute moisture measures moisture content, useful for detecting leaks.)

Durability: Pins must be strong enough to resist breaking or bending when you force them into the wood. The casing must be strong enough to resist cracking if you drop the tool. Damage to the meter compromises the results. Durable meters come with longer warranty periods.

Cost: Most range from $25 to $50, but some high-accuracy multi-function tools can cost as much as $600.

Types of Moisture Meters and How They Work

Wood moisture meters are sold in two styles, pinned and pinless.

Pin-type meters measure moisture by physically penetrating the wood’s surface with two antenna-like metal pins. When turned on, an electrical current flows between the pins to establish total moisture percentage. If there’s resistance, it’s dry. If not, it’s wet.

Rather than penetrating and damaging the surface to obtain a reading, pinless meters utilize an electromagnetic sensor plate or ball that contacts the material surface. Pinless meters can measure moisture content deeper inside lumber than models with pins, although they traditionally are not as accurate.

“With pinned meters, ensure those pins are sharp and clean for accurate readings,” says Rodriguez. “For pinless, flat surfaces are your friend for the best results. Always calibrate according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and make sure you have a strong battery before you start measuring.”

How To Use a Wood Moisture Meter

Before taking any readings, always wipe off standing or visible water from the surface and let it dry for a few minutes. Ensure your moisture meter is set properly for the type of wood you’ve got.

Pinned moisture meters are straightforward to use — just jab the pins into the lumber surface and take your reading. In pinless meters, you need to apply the right amount of pressure while taking a reading. You can find the suggested pressure in your owner’s manual. For greatest accuracy, one sure the entire plate is in contact with the wood.

A few more things:

  • Be mindful when measuring wood affixed to concrete. A concrete subfloor will cause wood to absorb moisture and produce a higher reading.
  • Avoid metal with pinless moisture meters. Because of the sensitivity of their electromagnetic plate, any staple, nail or metal table can affect the eventual reading.

If you’re in the market for a moisture meter, here are some to consider.

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Wood Moisture Meter Tavool Digital Moisture Ecomm Via Amazon.com
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Best Pinned Wood Moisture Meter

Tavool Wood Moisture Meter

Tavool Wood Moisture Meter features two modes, one for wood and another for building materials like drywall or laminate flooring. A temperature readout helps locate drafts inside wall cavities throughout the house.

Eight preprogrammed settings allow for different types of wood. It performs with an accuracy of ±two percent. A large, easy-to-read LED display makes switching between measurement modes easy, and it shuts down automatically if accidentally turned on.

Style: Pinned.
Range: Wood: 6% to 60%, Building materials: 0.2% to 2.9%.
Accuracy: ±2%.
Power supply: 9v battery.

Pros

  • Inexpensive;
  • User manual explains everything clearly.

Cons

  • You need to make holes in the material with each reading;
  • Hard to get the pins deep into dense woods.

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Klein Tools Pinless Moisture Meter Ecomm Via Amazon.com
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Best Pinless Wood Moisture Meter

Klein Tools ET140 Pinless Moisture Meter

Keep your work surface free of holes with the inexpensive Klein Tools ET140 Pinless Moisture Meter. It detects moisture up to 3/4-in. deep in hardwoods, softwoods, masonry and drywall with an easy-to-read LED display.

We love the bar of green, yellow and red LED lights below the display which lets you quickly determine if the material is wet or dry. It’s another high quality tool from the Klein Tools family.

Style: Pinless.
Range: Wood up to 55%, building materials up to 100%.
Accuracy: ±4%.
Power supply: 9v battery.

Pros

  • Doesn’t produce holes in work surface;
  • Inexpensive;
  • Quick color coded readings.

Cons

  • Pinless meters are not as accurate.

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Wood Moisture Meter Dr Meter Dampness Detector Ecomm Via Amazon.com
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Best Pin/Pinless Wood Moisture Meter

Dr. Meter Pin/Pinless Moisture Tester

The reasonably priced Dr. Meter Pin/Pinless Moisture Tester measures moisture in wood and most other building materials. The device can also be used as a leak detector.

There are four modes: softwood, hardwood, masonry and drywall. It beeps when wood moisture exceeds 17% or drywall humidity exceeds 70%. That’s helpful when you’re bringing logs inside for the fireplace, or after a basement flood.

Style: Pin/pinless.
Range: Pin mode: wood 5% to 50%, building materials: 1.5% to 33%. Pinless mode: wood 5% to 53%, building materials: 0% to 35%.
Accuracy: Pin mode ±2%, pinless mode ±4%.
Power supply: 9v battery.

Pros

  • Both pin and pinless;
  • Inexpensive;
  • Over saturation alert.

Cons

  • Versatile but not as accurate as the best pin or pinless models.

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Wagner Meters Orion Pinless Wood Moisture Meter Ecomm Via Amazon.com
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Best Wood Moisture Meter for Cabinetmakers

Wagner Orion 910

Custom cabinetry demands the accuracy of a pinned meter without riddling your raw materials with pinholes. If your budget allows, the Wagner Orion 910 is the right meter for you.

It features easy species selection via up/down buttons, a programmable excessive moisture alarm, a calibrator and a rubber casing that’s easy to grip.

This device measures moisture in wood or other material 3/4-in. deep, with an accuracy of ±0.1-percent — about as good as it gets. The Wagner Orion 910 is a great choice for lumber, flooring and other non-wood building materials.

Style: Pinless.
Range: Wood: 4% to 32%.
Accuracy: ±0.1%.
Power supply: 9v battery.

Pros

  • Doesn’t leave holes in work surface;
  • Super accurate;
  • Seven-year warranty.

Cons

  • Expensive.

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Flir Thermal Imaging Moisture Meter Ecomm Via Amazon.com
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Best Wood Moisture Meter Splurge

Teledyne FLIR MR176

A picture is worth a thousand pinholes. Teledyne FLIR MR176‘s built-in camera produces a thermal image to identify moisture-rich areas. Once found, obtain an accurate reading via its pinless sensor or pin probe attachment.

The device can display relative moisture, dew point, vapor pressure, ambient air temperature and relative humidity, all on the same screen. Use it to detect moisture and drafts in walls, ceilings and other large surfaces.

Style: Pin/pinless.
Range: Pin 7% to 30%, pinless 0% to 100%.
Accuracy:  ±1.5% for up to 30%; reference only above that.
Power supply: Rechargeable battery.

Pros

  • Thermal image camera is a game-changer;
  • Rechargeable battery.

Cons

  • Expensive;
  • Overkill for testing lumber.

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Proster Digital Wood Moisture Meter Ecomm Via Amazon.com
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Best Wood Moisture Meter Value

Proster Digital Moisture Meter

The three-button Proster Digital Moisture Meter is an ideal entry level meter for lumber, firewood, uncut logs and cardboard paper products. According to the manufacturer, the sensitive electrode pins measure with ±0.5-percent accuracy.

It features an easy-to-read LCD display, auto power-off functionality and nearly 50 preprogrammed species of wood, all in an affordable and durable ABS plastic device.

Style: Pin.
Range: Up to 99.9%.
Accuracy:  ±0.5%.
Power supply: 9v battery.

Pros

  • Inexpensive;
  • User friendly.

Cons

  • May not be as accurate as manufacturer says.

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General Tools 4 In 1 Pinless Combo Moisture Meter Ecomm Via Amazon.com
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Best All-Around Moisture Meter

General Tools Four-in-One Digital Moisture Meter

The pricy General Tools Four-in-One Digital Moisture Meter gives you the most accurate readings for finding mold in your home. The pin/pinless device features a humidity sensor, water leak detector and a mold tester. It can detect moisture levels of 5% to 50% in wood or 1.5% to 33% in concrete and drywall.

The dual display has a hold function for storing a reading for later review, an auto diagnostic check and auto power off after three minutes of inactivity. You’ll also receive a molded plastic case, lanyard, two spare pins and an instruction manual to get you started.

Style: Pin/pinless.
Range: Wood: 5% to 50%. Building materials: 1.5% to 33%.
Accuracy:  ±3%.
Power supply: 9v battery.

Pros

  • Both pin and pinless;
  • Four modes;
  • Includes lots of accessories.

Cons

  • Pricey;
  • May be challenging to use.

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Why You Should Trust Us

With more than 30 years working in the building trades, I used my hands-on experience and first-hand knowledge to select the best wood moisture meters on the market. I’ve contributed to constructing a city in the Oregon desert, co-established two landscaping companies and worked as a carpenter, plumber and furniture refinisher. Since 2010, I’ve been sharing my expertise through DIY articles and serving as an online consultant, including with Home Depot’s Pro Referral service.

We consulted with Brad Rodriguez, founder of Fix This Build That to learn more about how moisture meters work and why they’re an important tool. Rodriguez channeled his love of woodworking into building a website that teaches everyone from beginners up to seasoned woodworkers how to complete various projects.

FAQs

How accurate are wood moisture meters?

This is the No. 1 feature to note. Some expensive meters boast ±0.1% accuracy. A woodworker usually doesn’t need that and can get by with a cheaper, less accurate meter. The highest error range that ensures meaningful results is ±5%.

How much does a moisture meter cost?

As with anything, moisture meters can be simple and straightforward or loaded with extras. Prices range from less than $20 to more than $1,000.

Are pin or pinless moisture meters better?

As mentioned earlier, pin-type meters measure moisture by penetrating the wood’s surface, pinless meters use a sensor plate that makes contact with the wood’s surface. Pinless meters are able to measure moisture content deeper inside the wood than pin-type meters, but they don’t get as accurate of a reading.

Chris Deziel
Chris Deziel has been building and designing homes, and writing about the process, for over four decades. He developed his construction and landscaping skills in the 1980s while helping build a small city in the Oregon desert from the ground up. He's worked as a flooring installer, landscape builder and residential remodeler. Since turning his focus to writing, he has published or consulted on more than 10,000 articles and served as online building consultant for ProReferral.com as well as an expert reviewer for Hunker.com. Though his specialties are carpentry, cabinetry and furniture refinishing, Chris is known by his Family Handyman editors as a DIY writer with a seemingly endless well of hands-on experience.