How to Check Moisture in Wood

There are multiple reasons why individuals may need to check the moisture level of the wood in their home or for woodworking projects. There may have been flooding, extreme humidity, or the air conditioner may have broken down. Wood that contains an excess amount of moisture is subject to shrinking and warping as it dries, which can affect the structural integrity of a home or custom furnishings.

Moisture Meter

The simplest, fastest and easiest way to test moisture levels in wood is with a moisture meter. There are two types of handheld devices. One has two “pins” on one end that are inserted into the wood. The meter measures the electrical resistance in the wood. Unfortunately, it will leave two small holes in the wood.

There are also pin less meters. They’re typically more expensive, but don’t leave marks in the wood. They have a scanning plate that’s simply pressed against the wood to obtain a reading. Water conducts electricity, so the more moisture in the wood, the greater the reading on the meter, no matter which type is utilized.

Wood absorbs moisture from the air around it. Even a 1 percent variance can cause significant problems, especially for those that install wood flooring or create custom woodworking projects.

Oven Drying

The oldest method of measuring moisture content in wood is by drying it in a specialized oven or kiln, then measuring how much it weighs. Before the invention of modern moisture meters, this was the accepted method for determining water content in lumber and it was highly accurate when performed correctly.

The disadvantage to oven/kiln drying is that it’s time-consuming, renders the wood unusable, and a special oven or kiln is required to perform the testing. It was used to measure moisture in the wood before a structure was built, or a custom woodworking project was launched, to ensure it didn’t exceed an 8 to 25 percent moisture level.

Logs, siding and lumber used to build storage sheds, barns and even boats are often still kiln-dried to ensure the wood won’t shrink or pull apart during the construction process. Posts and beams aren’t usually tested for moisture content prior to construction.

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