How To Check Moisture Content Of Wood Without Meter

How To Check Moisture Content Of Wood Without Meter?

If you’ve ever wondered about the moisture content of wood but don’t have a fancy moisture meter on hand, fear not! There’s a simple and surprisingly effective way to get a rough idea using just your senses. It’s like a mini science experiment you can do right at home.

To determine the moisture content of wood, you can use the following formula:

Moisture Content (%)= (Wet Weight )- (Dry Weight)(Dry Weight) ×100

Also, simple and accessible methods like the Dish Soap Test, Banging Test, and examining the wood’s appearance. 

Keep Reading To Find Out More 

Why Check Wood for Moisture Content?

Why Check Wood for Moisture Content

Checking the moisture content of wood is crucial because it influences the wood’s shape and size. Wood, being a material that absorbs or loses moisture based on the surrounding humidity, can passively retain some moisture after being cut. This moisture can persist or gradually dissipate, depending on the environmental conditions.

In high humidity, wood fibers absorb moisture, causing expansion. In dry conditions, wood loses moisture, leading to shrinkage. The equilibrium moisture content (EMC) is reached when wood stabilizes its moisture level, neither gaining nor losing. Woodworkers measure moisture content to prevent shrinkage and warping in their projects.

In addition, to avoid problems, woodworkers choose pieces that won’t become excessively wet over time. Flooring installers aim for a moisture content suitable for acclimating wood to the ambient humidity of a building. Understanding and managing moisture content is essential for maintaining the integrity of wood in various applications.

Wood Types Requiring Moisture Checks

Certain types of wood require regular moisture checks, and their moisture content significantly influences their properties. Generally, heavier and denser wood tends to retain more moisture, being more resistant to warping or breaking over time.

Furthermore, lighter woods need more frequent checks, as they are more prone to significant changes in weight and shape as their moisture content adjusts. The retained water has a greater impact on shaping their fibers.

Here are some wood types that often need moisture checks:

  • Maple:
    • Popular in flooring and furniture, it tends to shrink a bit in humid conditions.
  • Pine:
    • While pine handles shrinkage and warping reasonably well, being a soft wood makes it worth checking.
  • Spruce:
    • Excellent for finishing and resistant to decay, but it may experience frequent shrinkage.
  • Cedar:
    • Decay-resistant and rot-resistant, but it can expand and shrink in higher humidity, requiring moisture content measurement.

Certain durable and heavy woods like mahogany, walnut, oak, cherry, and teak resist warping and shrinkage. While it’s generally less critical to check the moisture content of these wood types, it’s never a bad idea to do so for overall quality assurance.

How to Check Moisture Content of Wood Without a Meter?

The Oven-Drying Method

If you don’t have a moisture meter but want to estimate the moisture content of your wood, you can use the oven-drying method. This technique relies on the fact that wood gives off or absorbs moisture based on the humidity of the air around it until it reaches a balance.

Here’s a simple breakdown of how to check moisture content without a meter:

  • Get the Right Setup:
    • Use a well-ventilated oven suitable for drying wood, or if available, a kiln.
  • Take a Sample:
    • Grab a small sample of the wood and measure its weight.
  • Start Drying:
    • Set the oven thermometer to 215°F-221°F and begin drying the wood. This process can take several hours or more, depending on the wood type and moisture content.
  • Check Weight Periodically:
    • Every few hours, check the wood’s weight to see if there’s any change compared to the previous measurement.
  • Finish Drying:
    • When consecutive measurements show no difference, turn off the oven and finish the drying process.
  • Calculate Moisture Content:

Use the following formula to calculate moisture content:

  • Wood Moisture Content (%)= (Wet Weight )- (Dry Weight)(Dry Weight) ×100
  • Example:
    • Original wood sample weight: 5.2 pounds
    • Oven-dried sample weight: 3.9 pounds
    • Moisture content:
    • (5.2 )- (3.9)3.9 ×100
    • 5.2−3.9 /3.9×100=33.33%

Main Drawbacks of This Method:

  • You need the right type of oven or kiln with proper ventilation and temperature control.
  • The process is time-consuming and involves measurements and calculations, making it less efficient compared to using a meter.

While this method can give you an idea of moisture content, it’s more time-consuming and requires more effort than using a moisture meter, which is often a more practical choice.

Simple Tests for Dry Firewood: No Moisture Meter Needed

You don’t always need to measure the exact moisture content of your firewood to know if it’s ready to burn. Here are some simple tests:

Dish Soap Test:

  • Pour some dish soap on one end of a wood log and blow on the other end.
  • If tiny bubbles come out, the firewood is likely dry.

Banging Test:

  • Bang two wood logs together at room temperature.
  • If you hear a ringing sound, the wood is probably dry.
  • If the sound is dull and muffled, the wood might still be wet.


  • Look for deep cracks at both ends of seasoned firewood logs.
  • Cracks indicate aging and drying, but note that certain wood types, like plantation pine, can be dry without visible cracks.

These simple tests can help you determine if your firewood is dry enough without the need for a moisture meter.

How to Check Wood Moisture Content Using a Meter?

Using a wood moisture meter is the best way to find out how wet or dry your wood is. Here’s how it works:

  • Types of Meters:
    • There are two main types: pin-type and pinless.
    • Pin-type meters have two pins that you stick into the wood to measure moisture.
    • Pinless meters work without pricking the wood and are good for non-destructive testing.
  • Using Pin-Type Meters:
    • Install the measuring pins, make sure the batteries are in, and switch it on.
    • Set the measurement type to wood.
    • Insert the pins into the wood and read the moisture percentage on the display.
  • Using Pinless Meters:
    • Make sure the batteries are in and switch it on.
    • Set the measurement type to wood and, if possible, the wood type.
    • Press the sensor against the wood surface and read the value on the display.
  • Accuracy:
    • Most meters are reasonably accurate, with errors ranging from 0.1% to 4%.
    • Pin-type meters are generally more accurate than pinless ones.
    • Take multiple readings for a more accurate overall picture of wood dryness.
  • Tips for Pin-Type Meters:
    • Improve accuracy by pressing the pins transversely to the wood fibers.
    • Perform several readings for different areas of the wood.

Using a moisture meter is quick, easy, and affordable (usually under $40). It gives you precise information about your wood’s moisture content, helping you avoid issues like burning wet firewood.

Why is the best tool for measuring moisture a moisture meter?

Why is the best tool for measuring moisture a moisture meter

A moisture meter is the best option for measuring moisture in wood because it’s quick and accurate. Other methods like oven-drying or distillation are not practical, especially when you need a fast solution. It provides the most precise readings without needing extra equipment.

So, if you’ve misplaced your moisture meter, try to find it or get it repaired. If that’s not possible, consider buying a new one. It’s worth the effort.

If you’re new to buying a moisture meter, you’ll need to decide between a pinless or pin-type meter. Check out our buying guide for tips on what to look for.


1. How can you tell if wood is dry without a moisture meter?

Smell it: Fresh wood has a strong smell, while dry wood has barely any.

Listen to it: Smack two pieces together; high moisture wood will ‘thud,’ while dry wood will ‘bonk’ or ring.

Check radial cracks: Dry wood shows radial cracks that form when it’s dry enough.

2. How do you test for moisture in wood?

Two main methods: Oven-dry testing, a scientific approach.

Wood moisture meter: Fastest and easiest method for flooring installation or woodworking.

3. How do you calculate the moisture content of wood?

Moisture Content (MC) is the weight of water in wood divided by wood weight.

Multiply the result by 100 to get the percentage.

4. How can I measure moisture content at home?

Use a hygrometer to measure humidity and temperature.

5. How do you know when wood is fully dry?

Easier to split, dry wood feels dry inside.

Check moisture level by burning a test piece; seasoned wood burns well.

6. What level of moisture is acceptable?

Readings of 5 to 12% are normal.

Up to 17% is considered acceptable.

7. Why is moisture in wood bad?

Excess moisture in wood can cause issues like cupping, crowning, and buckling in floors.

In furniture, swollen wood can complicate assembly and make the final product unstable.

Final Words

Assessing wood moisture content without a meter can be achieved through simple and accessible methods like the Dish Soap Test, Banging Test, and examining the wood’s appearance. While these methods offer a quick and practical way to estimate moisture levels, it’s essential to acknowledge their limitations in precision.

Moreover, for casual checks and quick assessments, these DIY methods can provide useful insights. However, when precision matters, investing in a dedicated moisture meter is recommended. Overall, the choice between these approaches depends on the specific needs of the task and the level of accuracy required for optimal wood usage.