One of the downsides of working with wood is that it has the ability to absorb and release moisture, which means the wood can expand and contract. This can, and does, create major problems with some woodworking projects ... but there are ways to help reduce some of the challenges. The first thing we need to do is work with wood where we know what the moisture content of the wood is to begin with.
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For many woodworking projects, a general rule of thumb is to only use wood with a moisture content around 9 %. This can vary depending on climatic conditions, but it's at least a good starting point. It is not unusual for freshly cut trees to have a moisture content in excess of 35%, so there is a LOT of water in the trees that need to be evaporated out, which in turn makes the wood we work with much more stable. It will still absorb and release moisture, but by the time it gets down to 9% these changes should be much more subtle.
Where Problems Start ...
Like anything else, the best way to reduce problems is before they even start and with wood and wood movement this starts before we even purchase wood. We can (and should) measure the moisture content in the wood we acquire using a moisture meter. This is the only accurate way of knowing how wet or dry our wood is because wood that is wet is going to shrink as it dries and that causes problems. Using wet wood causes a myriad of problems such as; top coat finishes that don't adhere properly or become discolored or milky looking, table tops crack or edges of tables that crack as the wood dries, table legs that become strikingly warped or bent, joints that crack or come apart, drawers that become ill-fitting, or crack and door frames that crack and the list goes on.
Wagner Moisture Meter 950 Orion Model
Moisture Meter Types
There are 2 basic kinds of moisture meters, those with pins and those without. Pinned meters have dual pins that require being poked into the wood to get a reading. This, of course, leaves a couple of holes in the wood, and some meters have very slim pins, which means they get bent, which can lead to inaccurate meter readings and if bent too many times they can break off. If you purchase your wood from a wood store, most of them will not want you to be measuring the moisture content of their wood with your pinned moisture meter, unless you plan on buying the wood yourself. They don't want to try and sell wood that has a bunch of pin holes in it.
Pin-less meters only need to laid on the wood and turned on in order check the moisture content, they do not need to penetrate the wood therefore no holes which means you can randomly wander around the wood shop testing moisture content and nobody will care. The Wagner pin-less meters even have settings to adjust the meter to different species and wood densities so you can get extremely accurate readings.
Wagner Moisture Meter in Box with Calibration Stand
The Wagner Orion Series
I'm not going to tell you all about the Wagner moisture meters, you can download the manuals and read all about them off their website. What I am going to tell you about are some of the features that really appealed to me as a woodworker.
1 - A meter I can take to the lumber store to know what I am buying
2 - A line up of meters to suit any need ... for woodworkers I believe the 920 Orion is a perfect match
3 - I love the fact that you can set the meter with an audible tone if the reading is over a moisture content setting that you can set
4 - These are easy to use meters that even turn themselves off after a minute of nonuse
5 - a 7-year warranty (yes seven year)
6 - Easy to check calibration
7 - Species (wood density) selection for accurate readings
There are many other features that some people in other industries would also find useful, but this is my list of features that I particularly liked.
Wagner Meter on Calibration Stand
A moisture meter is just another woodworking tool that can help to guide you away from problems and issues with your projects that might be brought on by using wood that has too much moisture in it and will cause you problems later on. No woodworker wants to be fixing problems with their projects that could have been avoided by selecting wood that was drier or even just waiting for wood to dry a bit more until it is usable.
Click here to take a moment to visit the Wagner website and check out the variety of meters they have ... Wagner Meter Company
Copyright Colin Knecht