If you’re holding a piece of wood in mid-air and trying to see how much moisture it holds by how heavy it feels, that’s just not the best way to measure wood moisture. I’m pretty sure it won’t give you the kind of feedback you need. You need a wood moisture meter. And while you’re at it, why not get the best wood moisture meter?
Sure, Thomas Chippendale never used a wood moisture meter back in his 18th century woodshop, you might argue. Even if we had wood moisture meters back then, he probably would have gotten by with his amazing carpentry skills alone. He also never used a Sawzall, but you’re not going to try doing without one are you?
So follow me into the sometimes squishy realm of the best wood moisture meters, or wood moisture detectors – whatever you prefer to call them.
Top 9 Best Wood Moisture Meters
1. Wagner Meters Orion 910 – Overall Best Wood Moisture Meter
Best Feature: Adaptable to a very wide range of wood species
The best wood moisture meter is made by Wagner Meters, a respected manufacturer of moisture meters, moisture detectors, testing equipment and moisture mitigating devices for wood and concrete. The company maintains membership status in a number of associations within the construction and building trades industry, including (but not limited to):
- The American Society for Testing & Materials
- The Association of Woodworking & Furnishings Suppliers
- Certified Floorcovering Installers Association
- Empire State Forest Products Association
- International Concrete Repair Institute
- Indiana Hardwood Lumberman’s Association
- International Standards and Trading Alliance
- World Floor Covering Association
Never mind that you may never had heard of any of those organizations. It simply points out that this company means business, and that you can trust their wood moisture meters to be top-of-the-line, as well as their other products.
According to product literature, the Orion 910 leads the wave of new generation wood moisture meters, promising to provide accuracy, versatility and quality. By the same token, however, the essential design of this wood moisture meter remains unchanged after its introduction a few years ago. I guess the “if it works, don’t change it” philosophy applies here.
Most wood moisture meters inject sharp little pins into the wood. The Orion 910 moisture meter does not, leaving the often expensive finish wood intact. If you’ve had to scrap even a couple of inches of hardwood because of the holes left behind by a moisture meter, you should appreciate this feature.
This wood moisture meter uses what the Wagner people call IntellisenseTechnology to take readings based on the species selection you assign to it. The very important calibration process (which you can perform in the field) allows the unit to process the data it receives regardless of the temperature of the wood or the ambient air.
Even some of the best wood moisture meters must be sent back to the factory for calibration. That may or may not pose an inconvenience to you, but if you depend on your moisture meter on a daily basis, it could turn into a game-changer. The Orion 910 moisture meter can be field-calibrated. It takes all of 30 seconds to perform.
You simply put the wood moisture meter into calibration mode, set it in a specially-made cradle and wait for it to beep at you. At that point, you pick the wood moisture meter up and hold it in the air for about five seconds. This allows the moisture meter to evaluate the ambient moisture as it compares to the wood.
Wagner has applied for a patent on its calibration-on-demand process. For additional cost, you can order an NIST-traceable* version of this moisture meter. *NIST stands for National Institute of Standards and Technology, which maintains a baseline for all electronic measuring devices. With this baseline, one set of results can be compared to results obtained by a different device, as long as both devices are NIST-traceable.
This wood moisture meter can take readings from .25 inch to .75 inches deep, but owners have reported greater sensitivity than that. The species of wood affects the depth at which this moisture meter will extract useable data, so regard the .25-inch and .75-inch as conservative estimates.
A nice feature for this wood moisture meter is the hold button. This holds the reading in temporary suspension in case you’re in a poorly-lit area and you can’t read the display. This way, you can wait until you move into better light before looking at the reading.
Often, you might not care for precise readings, but simply want to know if the wood’s moisture level exceeds a pre-determined level. The Orion 910 moisture meter will sound an audible alarm if it encounters a moisture level that is out of range. (The volume is adjustable, for you easily-startled types.)
You can use this moisture meter for material other than wood. Using the relative measurement mode, you can measure the moisture content of concrete, drywall and other dense materials.
The Orion 910 wood moisture meter includes:
- The wood moisture meter
- Paired on-demand calibrator
- Rubber protective boot
- Foam-lined ABS plastic carrying case
- 9-volt battery
- Species setting booklet
- Instruction manual
- Common flooring materials settings reference card
Overall, this is the best wood moisture meter for 2020. It comes with a lot of accessories, is reasonably priced (especially in comparison to other wood moisture meters on the market), works with a wide variety of woods and materials, and is easy to use. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better wood moisture meter.
Best Feature: Built-in correction for wood types
This may be the second best wood moisture meter, but it is versatile enough for field use, shop use and can even be used as reliable wood moisture meter at the lumber mill. The workers to benefit the most from this wood moisture meter include flooring contractors, woodworkers, cabinet makers and furniture manufacturers. If you run a wood kiln, this could come in handy there as well.
The J-2000 wood moisture meter helps keep up with environmental changes from place to place, and makes corrections for wood species, ambient humidity and ambient temperature on the fly. This makes it a super functional wood moisture meter with a lot of versatility.
Easy to use and read, the J-2000 wood moisture meter corrects for 50 different wood species (it probably includes some you never even heard of), automatically taking into account the temperature of the wood and the surrounding air.
The range on this wood moisture meter runs from 6% to 40% on wood – a really nice feature, along with the accuracy of the unit and the automatic correction function.
Throw in built-in calibration and you have a very handy tool at your disposal.
Big numbers on the LCD screen and bright illumination make it easy to read. But if you find yourself in a dark corner, you can hold a reading in storage until you move out to better light.
The top-mounted integral contact pins provide 5/16” penetration, and for tough woods and building materials, this kit includes a plunger-type pin attachment that connects to the base unit easily.
This version of the J-2000 wood moisture meter ships with a scuff-proof carrying case, the afore-mentioned plunger-type pin attachment, spare pins, a cap that assists with calibration and a thorough instruction manual.
Overall, a solid contender to the best wood moisture meter with a nice carrying case and a ton of versatility. If you deal with a wide variety of woods, this may be the best moisture meter for you.
Best Feature: Specific gravity feature for different wood types
If you care at all about the quality of your woodworking or your construction project in general, then this wood moisture detector should reside in your shop or toolbox. The Tramex MRH3 wood moisture meter is a well-crafted hand-held digital moisture meter calibrated for wood and for most building materials.
This device especially shines when put to the task of measuring moisture in wood, concrete, stucco, drywall, masonry, roofing and other building materials. This is the best wood moisture meter for someone who needs it for wood, and everything else.
The MRH III serves as both a pin-type and pinless moisture meter. It uses what the manufacturer calls “deep signal penetration” up to an inch deep without damaging the material. A few factors affect the depth to which this deep signal penetration can penetrate, namely the density of the material.
It also attaches to an optional relative humidity probe and heavy-duty pin type electrodes. This provides a valuable service in determining precise moisture readings for use in plotting a moisture map on concrete slabs or wood floors. With this probe, some pre-drilling is necessary, however.
The electronics of this sophisticated device provide for specific gravity adjustments for various wood types. Specific gravity is the ratio of the density of a substance (like wood) to the density of water at a specified temperature. As temperature of the wood, temperature of the atmosphere and the relative humidity affects wood moisture readings, the MRH III automatically accounts for all those factors.
The device has a range of 5% to 30% and 0 to 100 comparative values for construction materials.
- Large LCD characters on backlit LCD screen.
- Hold feature keeps a readout in place until the user is able to move to better light in order to read it.
- Audible warning for out-of-tolerance readings.
- Auto off when not in use.
- Returns to previous settings on restart.
This best wood moisture meter is not only a wood moisture meter, it’s good for nearly every other type of material too. So, if you’re looking for a high quality wood moisture meter with a lot of versatility, this moisture meter is for you.
Best Feature: Can be used with pins or pinless
Do you remember the old Double Mint gum commercials with the “Two! Two! Two mints in one?” If you do, you’re old.
But the folks at Protimeter might want to try marketing this with “Two! Two! Two meters in one!” That’s pretty much what we have here with this best wood moisture meter. Protimeter led the way with the first dual-function moisture meter some years ago, and many professionals consider it their go-to device when they need to do a moisture reading.
Clearly designed for one-hand operation, this moisture meter makes taking readings a breeze on wood, masonry, concrete, drywall and even fiberglass boat hulls. When in pinless mode, this moisture meter can take non-invasive, damage-free readings up to 3/4 inches deep.
Pin mode is far more accurate, if precision is crucial for your project, as with flooring or wall coverings. Calibration is built in, and the moisture meter accounts for density variations in wood species.
This may stand as the most rugged moisture meter on our list. With rubber booting and reinforced corners, this bad boy can take a drop kick through the goalposts of life. But don’t test it. Take our word for it.
While the unit does offer a hold feature for readings you might not see well, backlighting on the LCD screen should help for on-the-spot readings.
This high quality wood moisture meter comes with more goodies than any of the other wood moisture readers on our list.
It ships with:
- Soft carry bag
- 5-inch wall probes
- Heavy duty moisture probe check tool
- Electrical leads
- 9-volt battery
- Instruction manual
One of the greatest things about this top quality wood moisture meter is that it accommodates a full range of accessories that expand its versatility to an even greater extent. Those accessories include:
- Baseboard moisture probe
- Extension moisture probe
- Spare pins
- Heavy duty hammer electrode
- Hammer probe
- EIFS probe
- 9-inch and 14-inch deep wall probes
- “Quickstick” sensors of various types
Although this is fourth on the list, it’s still one of the best wood moisture meters on the market. You can’t go wrong with the Protimeter wood moisture meter. Although, it would have been nice if the carrying case was hard instead of soft.
Best Feature: Large LED screen
Ergonomically and aesthetically, this might reign as the best of the bunch. The design is interesting, in that it conforms to the size of your hand at one end, and then swells to larger dimensions at the other end to allow for a larger LCD screen. The white-on-black text stands out smartly and the arrangement of the data makes sense.
The FLIR MR60 wood moisture meter is easy to use and can perform pin or pinless operation with advanced functionality. In its default mode, the moisture meter performs as a pinless device, capable of taking readings at depths up to 3/4 inch. For pin use, an external pin probe provides the flexibility to take accurate measurements.
You can choose one of the eleven material groups for pin moisture, or set a baseline for pinless moisture reading. You can also save up to 10,000 screenshots of your measurements as a CSV file with the date, time, and settings. This provides a service beyond mere archiving. It becomes a teaching tool for the user, as he can begin to recognize trends with the different wood types and building materials, like wallboard, stucco, masonry and concrete.
If all you need is a “yes” or “no” response when performing moisture readings, then you will find the audible alarm a handy feature. This can be adjusted for your exact purposes.
Most of the wood moisture meters on our list run on standard 9-volt batteries, but the FLIR runs on a rechargeable lithium ion battery. This allows settings to be saved and the archive of screen shots maintained.
There’s not a lot of fancy extras that ship with this moisture meter, but there’s enough to get you going. The combo includes the wood moisture meter, an external pin probe, charger and instruction manual.
Overall, a solid wood moisture meter with good functionality and a rechargeable battery to boot. One of the best wood moisture meters if you’re not looking for all the bells and whistles, but still want high quality.
Best Feature: Built-in calibration
There’s a trade-off between pin and non-pin wood moisture meters. While non-pin moisture meters leave no “puncture wounds” on the wood, pin-type moisture meters tend to be more accurate. Pin meters measure all thicknesses of wood, from sheet-thin veneers to fireplace logs.
In general, odd-shaped pieces of wood pose no problems for pin-type moisture meters, and unlike non-pin moisture meters, you can run leads to the meter from inside a lumber kiln.
Pin-type moisture meters measure the electrical resistance between the two pins that penetrate the wood. If the moisture varies between the pins, the value corresponds with the amount of the voltage drop. Allowances for wood species help fine tune the readings.
Not only do pin-type moisture meters take more accurate readings, their range exceeds that of pinless types of moisture meters. The mini-LEGNO features a measuring range of six to 45 percent.
The mini-LIGNO wood moisture meter offers built-in calibration, and while the adjustments are not species-specific, they are wood group-specific. The difference in density between some species of trees tends to be minimal, so it makes sense to group like species together and still obtain accurate readings.
One drawback to the calibration capability is that it is limited to domestic wood only. If you regularly use imported wood, you would have to make some extrapolations based on your overall knowledge of wood density.
Once you push the pins into the wood, the moisture meter responds instantly with a reading. Sometimes, a deeper push obtains a more accurate reading for the core of the wood piece. The manufacturer recommends that for thick pieces of wood, you should cut off the end if possible and obtain your reading from the fresh cut.
Optional electrode pin readers make it possible to take readings much deeper in the wood. The pins can be driven into the flat surface of the wood, rather than the end, and can be driven into wood with the use of a plunger.
You don’t get a lot of extras with the mini-LEGNO – actually none at all. The battery is included, and it does ship with a handy wrist strap. You’ll have to be satisfied with paying way less money for this product than with many of the other moisture meters on our list.
Best Feature: Extremely low cost
This budget moisture meter offers a great value to the homeowner and occasional user. For moisture detection in a number of materials, this may be the best of the bunch dollar-for-dollar. No, professionals won’t find this model particularly useful, mainly due its limited ability to account for different densities of wood species, but it works well for what it does.
If you have a mold and mildew problem, or if you’ve had water damage for one reason or another, the MM4DE makes a great moisture detection tool. This can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars if it stops you from remodeling a room, covering a floor or refinishing a surface that isn’t ready for it.
The manufacturer of this unit lists its accuracy at +/- 3%. That works fine for a homeowner to check the laundry room for moisture in the drywall, but not so fine for someone laying down floor tile on a wood subfloor.
This is a pin-type moisture meter with a range of 5 to 50% for wood and 1.5 to 33% for other materials. You get a numerical readout on the LCD screen plus low, medium and high tones, accompanied by green, yellow and red LED lights. You can hold a reading taken in low light and read it later.
In addition to the wood, drywall and other building materials, the MM4DE also works with rugs and carpeting. Fabrics’ tendency to dry out unevenly can lead to problems later on with mold development, and this tool can provide a more thorough assessment of the drying process.
You calibrate the device with the protective cap in place that has a predetermined resistance value between the depressed areas for the pins. You then make the adjustments until the readout matches the resistance value, and you’re good to do.
For the price, you shouldn’t expect a suitcase full of extras with this product. You do get extra pins, plus a standard 9-volt battery.
Best Feature: Wide range
They call this a professional grade moisture meter. That may constitute a bit of “gilding the lily,” but this comes across as a pretty darn good moisture meter for the price. This unit features large easy-to-read color LCD screen. Where some units have a “value hold” function for dealing with low-light circumstances, this has an LCD flashlight function in addition to the hold function.
Using this moisture meter is simple. The first step involves selecting one of four material types:
- Hardwoods – Hickory, mahogany, oak, walnut, teak and maple.
- Softwoods – Cedar, Douglas fir, pine, redwood and spruce.
Carpeting can be measured on the same settings as softwoods.
The second step is to insert the pins into the material. In the case of concrete, you will have to drill two pilot holes spaced the proper distance apart to accommodate the pins.
There are two types of indicators: an LCD color display that shows the moisture as a percentage and a color bar graph that indicates high or low moisture content. Even though the Sam-Pro moisture meter shows only four types of materials, over 100 different materials fit into those four categories.
A few simple accessories ship with the moisture meter, it includes:
- Moisture Meter
- Nylon Carrying Case
- 2 Replacement Pins
- 5 Batteries
- Owner’s Manual
Measuring Moisture in Concrete
A word about using this or any other moisture meter to determine moisture content in concrete:
Depending on your plans for the concrete, you may only need a surface-level moisture reading. For example, say you’re getting ready to apply a sealant to an old bit of concrete flooring. All you really need to know is whether the moisture content of the concrete was too high for the sealant.
The structural integrity of concrete requires a more thorough assessment, however. Newly-poured concrete or old concrete that has been exposed to severe flooding needs to be checked for moisture throughout. A moisture meter serves as a good initial indicator for small areas, but it can’t provide the kind of end-to-end results you need.
A common method of measuring moisture in concrete is to use a calcium chloride solution test. Without going into too much detail, this moisture vapor test provides an estimate of the moisture in concrete near the surface. Using a moisture meter can help provide an independent verification of the calcium chloride test’s results. In either case, multiple testing provides more thorough information. Also recommended is a moisture meter specifically designed for use with concrete, like this concrete moisture meter.
Best Feature: 7 modes for different materials
If you need a basic “this is too wet” reading and little else, then the Tacklife moisture meter can be your best buddy. This is a pin-type moisture meter with good accuracy and it’s easy to use.
Two modes can be set for greater accuracy, but the modes are pretty basic: wood and other materials, with a nice range of 0%-60. Accuracy is listed a +/- 2%. That’s not the best, but unless you’re keeping watch over a stack of wood in the kiln, it’s close enough for jazz.
When testing the moisture content of wood, it’s not as foolproof as the manufacturers would have you believe. Environmental factors can influence the results you get, and under certain circumstances lead to a costly mistake.
We already know about the species of wood, but the condition of the wood’s surface (Is it damp on the surface only?) can throw your numbers off a hair. Other factors include the ambient humidity in the air and the ambient temperature, which can become a major influence.
Higher temperature can make wood and other materials slightly more electrically conductive. Pin type moisture meters could display a reading that is higher than the object’s actual moisture content. Conversely, low temperatures can reduce the conductivity of the wood slightly and give a false low reading.
The Tacklife moisture meter makes accurate readings of the ambient temperature and makes adjustments for it. This unit’s temperature range is 14°F to 120°F, and frankly, if the ambient temperature is outside of those extremes, you don’t want to be working anyway.
This has seven modes that approximate the density of different woods and building materials. Modes 1 and 2 are strictly for wood and modes 3-7 are for other types of building materials.
Like other moisture meters on our list, this incorporates a hold button to allow you move to better lighting conditions. But then again, this also has a backlit LCD, so if you’re able to face the device toward you, you can get a reading in the dark. Calibration takes less than a minute.
This unit comes with these accessories:
- 9-volt battery
- Two replacement pins
- Carrying case
- Instruction manual
Best Wood Moisture Meters – What to Look For
Why Do I Need a Moisture Meter?
The first question to ask and answer is: Why do I need a wood (building materials) moisture meter? Most materials shrink when they lose moisture, and some materials crack when they shrink.
This may or not affect the integrity of your project, but even if a little shrinkage or cracking wouldn’t pose a big problem, you need to know what’s going on, so that you can adjust for it.
The need for a moisture meter is more apparent in flooring projects than in just about any other trade. Making certain that the concrete slab or wood sub-floors are completely dry, or dry to an acceptable level, is crucial to a successful floor laying.
The detriments of excessive moisture include:
- Adhesives – The use of moisture-sensitive adhesives has increased, making it more crucial than ever that the materials the adhesives are applied to are dry. Moisture can weaken the bond and lead to full-scale failure.
- Floating floors – New flooring techniques include the installation of “floating floors,” floorcoverings that don’t attach to the subfloor. They instead link with each other in a grid and are less susceptible to seasonal shifts in temperature and humidity.
Installers have two options: (1) install a moisture barrier between the subfloor and the floorcovering, or (2) wait until the subfloor is completely dry. (The first option is preferred by most flooring manufacturers).
The moisture barrier concept has almost become standard operating procedure, regardless. Still, it doesn’t minimize the importance of making sure your material is dry.
- Wood shrinkage – Wood shrinks or swells according to the moisture content within. If you know the moisture content of the wood prior to making cuts or joining wood pieces, you can plan accordingly.
- Mold – Mold is a serious health risk for a large segment of our population. Drywall that has not sufficiently dried before being painted or covered with wallpaper is susceptible to mold development. This can cause problems with paint or wallpaper adhesives, and create dot patterns visible on light colored wallpaper.
Pin vs. Pinless Wood Moisture Meter
Pinless moisture meters use some mighty impressive technology. Yet, they’re not as accurate as pin-type moisture meters. Your preference should be based on how much you need precise readings. If you’re a furniture maker who uses a host of wood species and do a lot of dovetail joints and cabinet drawers, precsion is going to be important. If you’re a weekend warrior wanting to lay new laminate flooring in the laundry room, perhaps a yes/no response is all you need.
Two of the wood moisture meters on our list are dual function, using pin and pinless technology as directed by the user. These tend to be a little more expensive, perhaps more expensive than the advantage is worth.
How Does a Pin-Type Moisture Meter Work?
Pin-type moisture meters function very much like volt-ohm meters by measuring the electrical resistance between two electrodes (the pins). As you probably learned in 7th grade science class, moisture enables the transmission of current because it offers little resistance.
Therefore, wood, drywall or any penetrable material that has a high moisture content will offer less resistance than dry wood. This resistance is measured in ohms – same as with a volt-ohm meter. For woodworking applications, the number then becomes a percentage. Essentially, 16 percent moisture content means that 16 percent of the wood’s mass is comprised of water.
The old way (still used in some applications) of determining wood moisture content involves weighing wood prior to it being inserted in a kiln and then weighing the wood again 24 hours later. The assumption is that the wood would weigh less.
This provides a ballpark figure of wood dryness, but it serves only as a comparison to what it was prior to kilning. If wood factored high in moisture before kilning, it could still be oversaturated even after kilning, and you wouldn’t have a good way of knowing it.
How Do Pinless Moisture Meters Work?
Pinless moisture meters are also called noninvasive moisture meters. Like pin-type moisture meters, they operate on the principle of electrical impedance, but they measure it differently since there is no pin-to-pin transmission of current. Instead, these work on a relative scale, based on a known value. Typically, the wood scale reads between 5 to 30% on a relative scale of 0 to 100. Concrete, stucco, plaster and drywall have different base values.
Budget Moisture Meter or Pony Up the Bucks?
Again, your typical use should be your guide. If you only occasionally need a moisture meter, and don’t need the precision or versatility of the more expensive versions, then it’s a no-brainer to get the cheaper versions.
But do be aware of some pitfalls with less expensive devices. The accuracy might be acceptable early on, but the sensitivity of the sensors diminishes over time, and the cheaper ones don’t calibrate as effectively.
Less expensive moisture meters can group certain types of materials into a “close enough for horseshoes” group, but they lack the precise tolerance of the more pricey units. For some woodworkers, being able to adjust for pine versus oak is critical, and you won’t get that kind of detailed measurement from a cheap moisture meter.
The plunger type pin probes on some of these moisture meters can be very helpful when taking moisture readings on a concrete slab. They require the drilling of a small pilot holes, but the depth at which they work is amazing. Concrete notoriously dries unevenly, and the wise contractor will take numerous readings at different points to get a clear picture of the drying process.
Ease of Use
Let’s face it – ALL of these moisture readers are easy to use. There may exist a bit of a learning curve with the more sophisticated units, but the manufacturers try to design the programs and lighting grids as intuitive as they can, so it’s not going to be over your head. Promise.
At the end of the day, when you’re looking for the best moisture meter you’re probably thinking about cost the most. However, if you want a high quality moisture meter, you have to spend the money. The budget moisture meters don’t have the functionality and don’t work as well, plain and simple. You get what you pay for. That’s a good rule of thumb for almost any tool when it comes to professional grade equipment, not just moisture meters.