How To Tell If Your Wood Is Dry

Woodworking is as much an art as it is a science. One of the critical factors that can make or break a woodworking project is the moisture content of the wood. Understanding if the wood you are about to use is dry enough and acclimated properly is essential. In this blog, we will cover the importance of moisture content, how it varies across different regions in the US, the Wagner moisture meter, and best practices for acclimating your wood.

So, what is moisture content? Moisture content refers to the amount of water present in wood, typically expressed as a percentage of the wood's weight. It's critical that the wood you purchase has been dried to the right moisture content to avoid issues like cracking, warping, and possible glue failure.

The recommended moisture content for furniture, charcuterie boards, cabinetry, and indoor wood projects is 6% to 8%. Now, put your scientific hat on because this number can fluctuate to an extent based on the Equilibrium Moisture Content (EMC). EMC refers to the moisture content at which wood reaches a balance with the surrounding humidity and temperature. When wood is exposed to a particular environment, it will absorb or release moisture until it reaches this equilibrium state. For example, we dry all of our wood on our website to a range of 6% to 8%. We are located in Virginia, and if someone from Southern Florida were to order a slab from us that was dried to 6%, the customer would receive the slab at 6%. However, due to higher humidity in Florida vs. Virginia, the slab would absorb additional moisture as it acclimated to the climate. This could result in a new moisture content of the wood to be around 9%-12%, which is within the acceptable range of EMC for that area. Does this mean the wood could possibly be impacted due to the moisture content being higher than 6-8%? No, it does not. The EMC for your area will ultimately decide the ideal moisture content you will want the lumber to have before working with it. By us drying a slab to 6-8%, it gives the wood an ideal, recommended moisture content to allow for fluctuation for the final EMC. If you are interested in identifying the EMC for your area, below is a chart from The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory Research showing the EMC based on temperature and relative humidity.

The best way to determine the moisture in your wood is to use a moisture meter. There are many options and brands of moisture meters on the market, but in our opinion, Wagner Meters are the best. We are not affiliated with Wagner, and this is not a sales pitch. Wagner meters, in our experience, have been the most reliable and accurate. The price of a Wagner meter is high, running around $400, but the accuracy and reliability that they provide, along with the peace of mind, is well worth the purchase for even an entry-level woodworker. Below is the link to the one we use daily at our sawmill.

Now, before you go cutting into that new piece of wood that you just received, it is important to let it acclimate. Yes, we are telling you to sit that beautiful slab in the corner for two weeks before you begin cutting into it. We know the acclimating time can be hard and tempting, but it is important to let any new wood acclimate to prevent cracking and warping (remember the EMC from earlier!).

We hope you enjoyed learning about moisture content, EMC, meters, and acclimation! We tried to keep it short and sweet and hit the highlights of this topic since you can get into the weeds quickly, especially when you involve science and wood!

Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and we look forward to hearing from you again on our next blog!

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