Moisture Meters (for Timber and Building Materials)

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Moisture meters are commonly used by woodworkers and sawmillers to accurately measure the moisture content of their timber; providing invaluable data for timber drying, storage and project preparation.

Moisture meters can also be used for building inspections and general troubleshooting moisture issues.

         

Information on moisture meters

Moisture meters are used to measure the percentage of water in a given substance. This information can be used to determine if the material is ready for use, unexpectedly wet or dry, or otherwise in need of further inspection. Wood and paper products are very sensitive to their moisture content. Physical properties are strongly affected by moisture content and high moisture content for a period of time may progressively degrade a material.

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Meters for wood - Moisture Content (MC).

Newly-cut logs can have a moisture content (MC) of 80% or more, depending on species. Since wood shrinks, and can also split, twist or otherwise change shape as it dries, most wood is dried before being used. This is most often done using a kiln, but may use the air drying method, which is much slower. Depending on your location, the minimum moisture content that can be generally obtained in air drying is about 12 to 15 percent. Most air-dried material is usually closer to 20 percent moisture content when used.

In-kiln drying is usually monitored by some type of moisture meter. Moisture meters are used to measure the amount of water in the wood so that the woodworker can determine if it is suitable for the intended purpose. Building inspectors and many more, carpenters, hobbyists, and other woodworkers often are required to have moisture meters. Wood flooring installers, for example, have to verify that the MC of the wood matches the relative humidity in the air of the building. If this step is skipped, a vast array of problems may present itself: cracking, cupping, crowning, buckling, sunken joints, and cracked finishes.

The problems caused by varying degrees of moisture content in wood go beyond simple shrinkage in the dimensions of wood parts. Problems with distortions in the shape of the wood, such as twisting, warping and cupping, occur because of the difference in the degree of dimensional change in wood cells tangentially (perpendicular to the grain and parallel to the growth rings) versus radially (perpendicular to the growth rings).

Moisture meter measurements.

A moisture meter gives a reading of the approximate moisture content of wood. The reading helps in determining whether the wood is suitably dry for its intended purpose. The moisture content reading can also assist in planning a project design that will accommodate future changes in dimension caused by changes in relative humidity. The amount of overall shrinkage timber will undergo in the drying process varies from wood species to wood species. The difference between radial and tangential shrinkage also varies from species to species. Woods with a low ratio of tangential to radial shrinkage, such as teak and mahogany, are less prone to distortion due to changes in moisture content than woods with a high ratio, such as pine and certain species of hardwood. Species with both low overall shrinkage and a low tangential/radial shrinkage ratio are more stable and will react better to changes in moisture content.

Timber species - Australian timbers.

All but basic moisture meters have the ability to select the species or species group being tested. Once selected the meter will factor in different parameters for that timber and more accurately provide a moisture content reading. Many meters allow for selecting a species group. The meter’s instructions will have a table indicating which species are in each group. Most meters are manufactured for non-Australian markets and will not have many or any Australian species listed in the group table; so you will need to do a little research to find an equivalent species. In practice, depending on how precise you need to be, selecting an equivalent species based on your experience works well, or selecting between “hardwood” and “softwood” groups may be accurate enough.

In many circumstances, the precise MC of the timber is less important than the relative MC level at different points in time or throughout a process; or ultimately the Equilibrium Moisture Content (EMC) measurement is the key consideration.

Equilibrium Moisture Content (EMC).

For wood that is to be used in making furniture, for wood floors, in construction or for any building project, the ideal state is one of equilibrium moisture content (EMC). EMC means that the wood is in balance with the relative humidity it surrounding environment, and is therefore neither gaining or losing in moisture content. In reality, however, it is extremely rare for an environment to maintain a constant fixed relative humidity, and some degree of dimensional change along with seasonal changes in relative humidity is to be expected.

This video by James Wright does a good job of explaining measuring and EMC. See explanation from 2min 40 sec.

He describes the difference in obtaining wood in equilibrium with the current environment and how a sample smaller control piece of timber (often a small off-cut) can assist in determining when the slab or board is at equilibrium; by having the same MC as the control off-cut.

Types of moisture meters.

Pin Type – For typical woodworking operations, two basic types of moisture meters are available. Depending in the brand, pin-type meters measure the electrical resistance, termed resistivity, or its reciprocal, conductance, of the wood substrate. Water freely conducts electricity; consequently, increasing water content correlates to increased conductance. Pin-type meters incorporate two pin electrodes which are driven into the wood fibers and directly measure electrical resistance or conductivity. Each brand of moisture meter utilises proprietary calculations and displays the final moisture content as a percentage.

Pinless – The second type of moisture meter relies on the dielectric properties of wood. Many pinless moisture meters incorporates two pads which serve as rubber electrodes that transmit and receive a signal when pressed into the wood substrate. The pad type moisture meter is non-invasive in nature and requires only surface contact with the wood to obtain a reading. The non-invasive meter creates a low-frequency electrical wave between the two pads and measures the electrical properties of the wood, similar to the invasive pin-type meter. Some pinless moisture meters will have a spherical or other metal sensor to measure in a similar way to the pad meters, but measure at a greater depth within the wood.

Building applications.

Moisture meters may also be utilised by building-industry professionals and water damage restoration consultants to ascertain precise moisture content of a wide range of materials found in the built environment, such as gypsum board drywall or interior finish plaster. Locating high moisture within buildings is essential in locating leaks that may not be visible to the eye. This ability to locate and measure moisture anomalies can help manage and control indoor air quality as in relates to mould growth.

      

Selecting a moisture meter.

There are dozens of moisture meters on the market, and many with similar features makes it hard to choose a good one for your needs. Understanding many of our customers are mainly interested in measuring the moisture content of timber for woodworking and building projects, and sometimes for general moisture inspection in buildings; we have primarily selected moisture meters of interest that fit that profile of use. As usual we have ensured only quality, accurate meters from reputable manufactures are selection for your consideration.

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Some key items to consider as you select a moisture meter...

Pin or pinless.

Pinless causes no damage tot he material under test, can test deeper into the material, and is faster and easier to take one or many measurements.

Sensor physical characteristics.

Primarily consider the type and location of the sensor. Pinless meters with a protruding sensor can be helpful for testing boards in a kiln drying or air-drying stack. However spherical ball type sensor will detect in all directions it is making contact so be aware you may be measuring the board below or above the sensor. The Testo 616 meter sensor protrudes out front and is ideal for testing boards in a stack, but only detects underneath the curved metal sensor plate, so you cannot test two boards by mistake.

Sensor detection depth.

Pinless meters detect into the material up to the specified depth. If the measurement depth is deeper than the material is thick it will also measure the material underneath. So consider required measurement depth, review the meter’s specification, and be aware when using a deep sensing meter that you may be sensing a substrate, board underneath, or even you hand if you are holding the board. So a air-gap between material being tested may be important, like there is in a stickered stack of timber. Measuring s substrate may be desirable in some cases, so a meter with excellent measurement depth may be appropriate for your needs.

Material selection / Timber species.

As discussed above, it may be important or less so to specify the timber species being tested. Select a meter that supports the settings you will need. For example, the Excech MO53 is an excellent but can only select between “Timber” and “Building Materials”; where as the Testo 616 can select between “Softwood” group, “Hardwood” group, and eight types of building materials. The Extech MO280 and Flir MR60 has up to eight timber groups to choose from, some of which do actually list Australian species.

Moisture meter comparison table.

TypeWood GroupsBuilding MaterialsMax depthDisplay HoldThreshhold AlarmsMin / MaxTemp MeasureData AcquisitionBatteries
(included)
Flir MR60Pin + Pinless9y19mmyyInternal memory, USB ConnectivityLi-ion rechargeable
Testo 616Pinless2y50mmyy9V
Extech MO280Pinless9y20mmy9V
Extech MO57Pinless1y100mmy9V
Extech MO53Pinless1y20mmy9V
Stihl ST10Pin1ya few mmAmbient4 x LR44 buttons


Still not sure which meter might be best for you needs? If you wish to discuss your requirements please email support@idealtools.com.au or give us a call.

$659 Incl. GST.

The FLIR MR60 Moisture Meter Pro is an easy-to-use pin and pinless moisture meter with advanced functionality. An integrated pinless sensor and an external pin probe provide the flexibility to take destructive or non-destructive measurements. Select one of the eleven material groups for pin moisture, or set a reference point for pinless moisture scanning. Then conveniently save screenshots of your measurements as a CSV file with the date, time, and settings.

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$482 Incl. GST.

The Testo 616 material moisture meter provides you with a precise and non-destructive means of measuring the moisture content of wood and building materials and of monitoring the drying process after water damage. Simply select the characteristic curve and place the meter’s measuring claw against the surface of the material you would like to measure.The meter shows you the moisture content as a weight percentage compared to the dry weight. Press the relevant key to save the reading to your meter.Although the measuring claw only comes into contact with the surface, wall or flooring that is being measured, it is able to determine the moisture content of the wood or other material down to a depth of 50mm.Made in Germany

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$360 Incl. GST.

The MO280 provides non-invasive moisture measurements in wood and other building materials with virtually no surface damage. It has a large number of timber groups and highly suited to sawmillers and woodworkers. The meter uses electro-magnetic technology to quickly indicate the moisture content of wood and building materials. Select from 10 wood types and measurement ranges. The LCD displays % moisture of wood or material being tested. It has a measurement depth to 22mm below the surface. The meter also features an automatic internal test and calibration and low battery indication. Complete with 9V battery and pouch case.

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$285 Incl. GST.

Take pinless (non-invasive) Moisture measurements on wood and building materials without damaging the surface with the depth of approx <100mm with Extech’s MO57 Moisture Meter. The ball moisture sensor provides smooth gliding on hard or delicate surfaces. Easy-to-operate with display icons that indicate the levels of moisture content plus audible alert feature. Ideal for building restoration projects and applications where moisture detection on floors, tiles and under carpets is critical. A must have tool for analysing the after-effects of water leakage behind walls and in ceilings and also measuring moisture content on a non-flat surface.

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$154 Incl. GST.

For non-invasive measurements on wood and other building materials with virtually no surface damage. The depth of measurement is approx <20mm. Easy-to-operate with display icons that indicate the levels of moisture content plus audible alert feature. Ideal for building restoration projects and applications where moisture detection on floors, tiles and under carpets is critical. A must-have tool for analysing the after-effects of water leakage behind walls and in ceilings.

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$48 $44 Incl. GST.

This device can be used to measure the degree of moisture within cut wood (as well as paper and cardboard) and hardened material (mortar, concrete and plaster). The moisture level is displayed clearly. The device can also be used to measure the temperature of the surrounding area.

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