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Pin vs Pinless Moisture Meters: What’s the Difference?

a wood moisture meterThere are two basic meters for measuring the moisture content of wood. One uses pins that measures the electrical resistance between the two to determine moisture content. The other, a pinless meter, shoots out little electromagnetic pulses when placed next to the wood.

The right meter for you depends on what you need it for.

A pin for the win on price, conditions

The primary advantage to a pin meter is that it’s a bit cheaper. Both kinds do a pretty good basic job, so if you’re on a really tight budget, it’s a good route to take.

One other advantage they have is that because the probes are directly inserted to the place where you want a measurement, they are unaffected by conditions in between. If the wood you’re measuring has a rough or angled surface, these will still work whereby pinless meters are much less effective.

They come with a significant drawback, however. They leave two holes where you measure. If you’re measuring wood where appearance doesn’t matter, like frames, that doesn’t really matter. But for hardwood flooring and furniture, that could mean unsightly blemishes.

Our favorite pin meter:

Lignomat Moisture Meter Mini-Ligno E/D
  • Measuring Range 6-45%
  • Built in calibration
  • Calibration for domestic species

Pinless delivers on the need for speed

Pinless meters don’t leave holes. That’s because the meter itself sends out an electromagnetic pulse that is used to measure moisture content. If you’re working with wood that people will see, that’s a big advantage that makes it worth spending a touch more.

Pinless meters have a bigger advantage, however. They are faster. With a pin meter, you have to move it to a new location, insert the pins into the wood and do it right. You can just slide a pinless meter to a new location and get a reading almost instantly. This is a significant advantage if you have a lot of wood that you need to measure. This also means you don’t have to worry about snapping off pins or getting them inserted just right.

Pinless meters are not suitable for wood with a surface that is rough or angled.

Our favorite pinless meter:

Wagner Meters Orion 930 Dual Depth Pinless Wood...
  • Next generation of pinless moisture meters featuring accuracy, versatility, and quality
  • Built with a non-damaging pinless sensor, IntelliSense technology, and backed with a 7-year warranty
  • Virtually unaffected by temperature of the wood or the environment

Where they work best

Taken as the sum of each’s parts, the relative advantages and disadvantages tell us that a pin meter works best with wood that isn’t finished or even carefully sanded down and might be uneven. This is interior frames and firewood, and generally stuff that is kept out of eyesight. A pinless meter’s advantages make it better suited to wood that leaving two holes in might put off houseguests. That’s wood that is probably flat and sanded down, anyway. It’s also stuff that you’re probably most willing to spend a little more to test.

The general exception to this is if you have a pile of 2x4s, when the speed of a pinless meter will significantly cut down on the amount of time you have to spend working.

In conclusion

There are two basic kinds of moisture meters: those with pins, and those that are pinless. Neither is, by itself, a superior model and the right one for you will depend on your needs and the work you need it for.

Pin meters measure moisture content in wood by checking the electrical resistance between two pins inserting into the wood. This means the tell you the moisture content right where you want to measure it, and are usable on wood that isn’t flat. They also happen to be a bit lighter on your wallet. One significant drawback is that they leave two small holes in the wood where the probes are inserted. For wood that is visible, this is a significant drawback. For wood-like frames and firewood, this is no big deal.

Pinless meters measure moisture content with electromagnetic pulses to go a certain distance into the wood. They are much faster than pin meters and don’t leave the little holes. That makes them ideal for wood you have to hang in places where it will be visible. They are also a little more expensive and require a flat surface to get an accurate reading. Also, if there is significant blockage between the meter and the place you want to measure, that could create an issue.

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