10 Tips to Make the Most of Your Moisture Meter

Moisture-Meters-LeadThe moisture content of the wood you use to build projects is an important consideration. The moisture content of wood  that will be used to build furniture projects should be dried to approximately 6- to 8-percent moisture level in most parts of the United States. A moisture meter is the best tool for measuring moisture levels in wood. As is the case with any tool in your shop, a moisture meter will do you no good if you do not use it correctly.

Here are 10 tips from Wagner Moisture Meters to help you get the most accurate readings from your moisture meter.

1. Wipe Off Standing Water
Before taking wood moisture readings, wipe off any standing or visible water and allow the surface to dry for 60 seconds or more. Standing or visible water always results in inaccurate readings, regardless of the meter type. For example, pin moisture meters with non-insulated pins give highly exaggerated readings when the wood surface is wet. Also, be aware that if water soaks into the wood, it will give a higher MC reading.

2. Is Your Moisture Meter the Right One?
Use the proper meter for the job. If you are working with an exotic wood species, your meter will need a meter with an extended SG range, such as the Wagner MMC220. If you require extended data collection capabilities for quality control, the Wagner MMI1100 offers data analysis functions as well. The right meter for the job will save you time and potential trouble down the road.

3. Consider the Subfloor
If you are measuring moisture content levels in installed flooring, the meter will probably pick up moisture in the subfloor. If the subfloor is made of wood products, this probably won’t skew the readings, but concrete will give a higher reading.

4. Beware of Metal
Never check the moisture content of a piece of wood lying on a metal table. Instead, hold it in the air to take a reading. The reason: Moisture meters are sensitive to anything conductive. Thus, taking a reading on a metal table or near any metal objects such as nails, staples, or metal studs renders the moisture meter ineffective, resulting in a false reading.

5. Don’t Be a Klutz!
Be careful with your meter. Many moisture meters are calibrated at the factory, and will probably never need recalibrating. However, if you drop your meter, or it is accidentally submerged, it could be damaged. You should keep it on your belt loop in the provided carrying case for protection.

6. Keep Fresh Batteries on Hand
Moisture meters do not draw a lot of power, so the batteries will have a long life. It is still a good idea to keep spare batteries with your meter. A quick switch of batteries on the jobsite will make a big difference in time-on-task.

7. Don’t Forget Your Manual
Keep the manuals handy. In addition to the operation manual, the Wagner moisture meter comes with another very useful manual that tells you the specific gravities for each wood you deal with. Be sure to check your manual to get the most from your meter. Both manuals fit nicely next to your meter in the protective carrying case.

8. Keep Your Meter Dry
Be sure there is no condensation on the sensing plate of your moisture meter. Just as the surface you are measuring should be free of visible moisture, the sensing plate should be clear as well.

9. Consider Your Wood Materials
Moisture meters can be used to measure moisture content levels in plywood and OSB, but it may require using a special setting to get the best reading. If your meter has a material selection option, make sure you set your moisture meter to read the material you are testing.

10. Make good contact
Pinless meters require about three pounds of pressure is ideal for a good reading. Pin-style meters must be pressed firmly into the wood until the pins reach the designated reading depth. Be careful not to bend of break pins when pressing them into hard wood.

There you have it–10 ways to get the most from your  moisture meter. These pointers will help you use your meter trouble-free for years to come.


Space-Saving Chisel Rack

WJBlog_LHein_ChiselRackUprightGood chisels deserve good storage. If you regularly set a chisel down unprotected on the bench top, it could easily be nicked several times a day. Each time it gets nicked, it must be resharpened, which takes valuable time. Not only does resharpening take time, but good chisels are expensive, and every nick in the edge could cost you 50 cents. Aside from the hazard to the chisel, an exposed chisel edge also presents a serious hazard to hands and fingers. Obviously, making a chisel rack is time well-spent. Not only does it keep the chisel and your fingers safe, it dramatically reduces the time you spend hunting around for the chisel you need.

Many chisel racks use a rigid design that holds the chisels upright all the time. That design WJBlog_LHein_ChiselRackBoxprotects the blade well and makes it easy to grab a chisel when you need it, but it uses a lot of space. Another common storage method is to keep the chisels flat in a box. This is more compact and provides protection to the chisel handle, but when the box is open it leaves the blades less protected than the upright design. I wanted something that combined the best features of both designs, so I built a folding rack that stands up when I need it and folds into a box when I am done. It gives the chisels and my fingers maximum protection, is small enough to fit in my limited space, and enables me to quickly grab a chisel when I need it.

Make the Rack
The part that holds the chisels is the same as the upright part of a rigid rack. The most important feature of this piece is that the chisel should not touch the bottom of the slot. In most shops, grit will accumulate in the bottom of the slot and nick the chisel edge if it is allowed to touch it. WJBlog_LHein_ChiselUprightMost chisels get thinner towards the end, so this is easily accomplished by making the slot longer than the flat part of the chisel. Find a 3/4″ thick board, cut it to 1-1/4” longer than your chisel slots, and mark the places for the chisel slots on the face. Leave 1/4” between slots and 3/8” between slots and the edge of the board. Use the chisel to stop the cut where the edges and ends of the slots will be. This helps to keep the cut you make from bringing splinters with it from outside the desired area. Slowly cut down until the slots are as deep as the thinnest part of the chisel. If the flat part of the chisel is tapered, cut the slot to match. When you have all three slots right, cut a 1/4” thick piece of wood to the same size as the board and screw it on the face with the slots. We now have what looks like the upright part of a normal chisel rack, and we need to make a box for it.

Make the Box
Find a board the same width as the chisel holder. Measure the length of the chisel holder with chisels in it and add 3-3/4″. Cut the board to this length. Now cut two 2” wide boards to this same length and screw them to the sides of the first one. Cut two small pieces of wood as wide as the WJBlog_LHein_BoxSlatInProcesschisel rack and 2” long. These will be dovetailed into the ends of the board to keep it from splitting. You can dovetail them to the sides as well or just use screws. The next step is to add a way for the chisel rack to stand up and fold down. I considered using a hinge, but I did not have a suitable one on hand. Instead, I put a slot at one end that holds the chisel holder upright. It is locked in place with a pin. Cut a piece of WJBlog_LHein_ChiselRackPinwood as wide as the chisel holder is thick and 1-1/4” long. Stand the chisel holder up against the end of the box, push the block of wood against it and mark where it goes. Take out the block, pre-drill screw holes, and screw it in place. Mark a location for the pin on the end of the box where it will not hit any screws. Because the chisel holder is 1-1/4” longer than the slots, it is impossible to hit a slot. When you have found the right location, drill a hole for the pin. I used an ordinary 16 penny nail and a 9/64″hole. Although the nominal size of the nail was .131, there were burrs near the point that needed to be removed before it would fit. Unless you possess a set of hole-shrinking drill bits, you should make enlarging the hole your last resort.

WJBlog_LHein_CClampSome kind of knob for the pin is a nice touch. Take a 1” length of 3/8” diameter dowel and cross-drill a 1/8” hole through the middle. This assumes that your nail has a diameter of about  .131”. If it is different, use a drill bit that is about .006” smaller than your nail. Since you are cross-drilling a round dowel, It helps to start the hole with a machinist’s combined drill and countersink. Drill in with this until the countersunk area is larger than the drill you will be WJBlog_LHein_ArborPressusing. This ensures that it will not wander. When the hole is drilled, press the nail through. You can do this with a C clamp and a piece of pipe or with an arbor press.

At this point, you could declare the chisel rack complete, but I decided to add a lid. This is a simple matter of a suitably sized board, two hinges, and a latch. My main reason for the lid was that I have limited shelf space. WJBlog_LHein_ChiselRackBoxOpenWith the addition of a lid to keep the chisels in the box, I could add a hanger and hang the box on a hook. This completes the chisel rack. Now, not only do you have compact protection for your expensive chisels, but you can live by the motto that “The edge is never dull.”

WJ Reader Ideas Needed: Raise the Bar (By Adding Some Wood!)

Among woodworkers, there are some projects that are “classics” — whether the woodworker in question has built them or just has them on a mental “someday” list. Sometimes, it seems as if nearly everyone has built, or wants to build, a guitar, a wooden boat … or a bar for the basement.

If that woodworker was participating in the “Raising the Bar” program of George Dickel’s Tennessee Whiskey, they’d be building a pretty fancy bar. It might, for example, include using whiskey barrels for barstools — or even the front end of a classic car for the bar front.  Those are just a couple of examples from the real-life teams competing in this event, which is now a film series on Hulu .

Team bar-building? Competition? Yep, and there’s a chance for Woodworker’s Journal readers to get in on the action, too. Tell us your ideas for what to add to this bar to make it cooler — anything from specific types of glasses to specific types of stools — and, if your idea is chosen as the winner, you could see your idea come to reality. (Here’s a thought from your editors: since you’re Woodworker’s Journal readers, we’d suggest something made out of wood.)

Further details? OK. First, the backstory. Whiskey company George Dickel’s slogan is “Handmade the Hard Way.” It refers to their 25 employees personally overseeing every step of the distillation process. To promote that slogan, they partnered with the producers of such TV shows as “Deadliest Catch” and “Storage Wars” to film six teams of real-life craftsmen — woodworkers, metalworkers and more — building bars at the 2012 American Royal World Series of BBQ in Kansas City, Missouri. Each team had just eight hours to build what they thought would be an impressive bar. “Most of my projects take exponentially longer,” said Kansas City woodworker Kirk Brown. “You can’t make anything really well, really fast, just like you can’t make whiskey real fast.”

Some teams went in with design ideas; some didn’t. They had access to some handheld power tools — like a circular saw, jigsaw, planer and battery-powered drills — and they brought some of their own tools. “I brought a hand plane,” Kansas City woodworker Kirk Brown said, “and thank goodness, because we ended up using it when we plowed over the cord of the power planer.”

Afterward, producer Thom Beers’ Original Productions company turned each of these builds into a video for the Hulu series. And public relations company Taylor Strategy assigned each of these teams to a partner publication — randomly, you will notice. Which is perhaps why the assigned “Woodworker’s Journal” team is one that incorporated no wood into their build, except the stand for metalworker Kyle Moody’s anvil. (Not that we’re bitter.)

Moving on. Each partner is soliciting ideas from our own team — that’s you, Woodworker’s Journal readers — for additions that will “raise the bar” further for our assigned bar. Examples? Replacing the glass in a traditional shot glass with redwood (a shot wood?). Or adding rockers to the bar stools. Or … ? We’re waiting for your ideas, which will be submitted to Taylor Strategy on Monday, April 15. They’ll be judged on a) originality and creativity; b) representation of true American craftsmanship; and c) the “cool-ness” factor: something you’d want to show off to your friends.

Whatever’s picked as the winning “Raising the Bar” item will actually be made, in a set of eight. If it’s a Woodworker’s Journal team item that wins, they’ll send us the eight items — but we’ll share with our readers. We promise.

So, watch the video of “our” bar (and the other ones, too, if you’d like — some of them incorporate wood) and send us your ideas for additions. You can share in the comments to this blog post, on our Woodworker’s Journal Facebook page, or by emailing us at editor@woodworkersjournal.com. Let’s “raise the bar” on (woodworking’s) creativity!

Memories of George

I was reorganizing some paperwork the other day, when I ran across a file that contained letters, manuscripts and notes from master wood finisher George Frank. I worked with George when I was an editor at Fine Woodworking magazine. I was originally assigned to work with George because he and I were both Hungarians and so could converse in our native tongue. Over the years, George became not only a treasured colleague of mine, but I also kind of became his adoped grandson; he had no male children of his own. George passed away nearly 15 years ago, at the ripe old age of 94.

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March/April 2012 Issue Preview

March/April 2012 Issue CoverRob Johnstone gives you a sneak peek at the March/April 2012 issue, which you’ll find on newsstands soon, including the following:

Downdraft Sanding Cart
Working from a series of mock-ups and prototypes, the Woodworker’s Journal staff has designed one of the handiest build-your-own downdraft tables you’ll find, with features to hold your wood steady and, of course, confine the dust.

Stickley Hall Table
A particularly stunning piece of wood and some simple pocket-hole joinery combine to create a classically Arts and Crafts styled table (which knocks down for transport).

Simple Knife Block
Done totally on the table saw, this weekend project will provide you with handy homemade kitchen storage.

Tool Review: 1/4″-Sheet Sanders
Sandor Nagyszalanczy takes palm sanders in hand to review what’s out there on the basis of factors like power and sanding performance, ergonomics and ease of paper change, plus dust collection.

Today’s Shop: Benchtop Router Tables
Benchtop router tables have grown up: Chris Marshall takes you through the features that put today’s tables on an even playing field with the big boys.

Rust-Oleum Gives Woodworker’s Journal Sneak Peek

Group Shot from Rust-Oleum VisitIf you’re one of those dyed-in-the-wool loyalists when it comes to the types and brands of finish you use, it might seem like there’s not much new that could (or should) be put into a can these days.

But if it seems like there isn’t much new “under the sun” when it comes to stain and varnish, sometimes all it takes is a new player in the market with some fresh ideas.

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AWFS Tool Show: WJ as Official Blog Partner

If it’s summer in the woodworking world, it must be time for tool shows! Last week, your intrepid Woodworker’s Journal editors were off to AWFS (the Association of Woodworking and Furnishings Suppliers) 2011  show in Vegas — for which we were the official blog partner!

Click on over to AWFSBLOG.com for new tool insights and other news from the show, with videos that make you feel like you were there along with us!



And the Winner Is …

November/December 2010 Issue CoverThank you to all who participated in our June Father’s Day Giveaway here on the Woodworker’s Journal Blog. The woodworker who won the one-year subscription to the print Woodworker’s Journal was Rich, who left the comment

“I love the moment when I realize that the pile of parts and pieces I have so diligently been working on have come together as something that was only seen in my mind’s eye.”

We agree, that’s a pretty cool part of woodworking – and so were all the other great aspects you shared of what you like most about woodworking.

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Making Sawdust: The Weird Way

It all started with a cry for help.

Early last year, I read an interesting entry on a foresters’ forum. A reader explained that she was given a wooden chainsaw-carved bear by her father. A few days after she received, it she noticed that it was growing “hair.” Lauren wrote, “I noticed some things growing out of the sides of the bear that look like little white strings, about 2 inches long. I got a broom and brushed them off, and within 2 hours of me brushing them off, they had already started to grow back!” She had no idea what was happening with her new gift, and most of the good folks who replied didn’t either. Most of them guessed it was fungus of some sort. They were close, but it was far too early to call it a fungus. Confused yet? Continue reading