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.

 

Tips for Using a Portable Sawmill

Editor’s Note: Sandor Nagyszalanczy is the author of the article “Portable Sawmills: Lumber from Local Trees” in the July/August 2013 issue of Woodworker’s Journal. Find out more about that article, plus lots more great content, here.

Salvaging a dead or dying tree, or logs that a power company or homeowner have cut, and milling them into useful lumber is a very satisfying experience (see the video of a portable band saw mill in action on the More on the Web page for the July/August issue). If this idea is in your wheelhouse, there are two ways to proceed: One is to find and hire a good sawyer that has the right experience to do the job for you. Many portable sawmill manufacturers have their own forums and links pages where you can find a reputable sawyer in your area. Some sawyers have their own web pages or are listed in your local phone directory. The other method is to buy or borrow the equipment and do the job yourself. Whether you buy/borrow a sawmill or hire a sawyer, the proper preparation will save you time and money, as well as potentially help produce more useable lumber. Here are some tips I gleaned from veteran sawyer David Boyt, publisher of Sawmill and Woodlot Management magazine, to help you prepare for the job:

  • • Make sure that you can get the mill to the worksite. You might have to trim some trees or bushes to be able to drive your pickup truck or tow vehicle to the site. Plus, if the mill is on a trailer, you’ll need plenty of room to negotiate corners and turn the trailer around. Once there, you’ll need a large, level worksite on which to set up the mill. Ultimately the size of the site depends on the length of the logs you’ll be milling, but a flat spot that’s 30 feet square is a good place to start. You’ll also need a level spot fairly close to the worksite where you can stack the freshly milled boards.
  • • Setting a sawmill’s track rails directly on the ground makes it easier to load logs, but then you’ll have to bend over to pick up every slab, board or edging you cut. Some operators opt to raise the sawmill up (8-14 inches is typical) by setting it on top of either rail ties or beam cutoffs. This can also make it easier to level the sawmill — necessary for proper operation. Make sure and secure the mill’s adjustable feet with lag screws to prevent the bed from shifting during use.
  • • Figure out how you’ll get the logs to the mill from where they’ve been cut or stacked. Ideally, you should transport the logs on a wagon, trailer or, if you have access to it, a front-end loader. One handy device is the LogRite® Buck Arch, a wheeled sulky that can be towed by an ATV or 4-wheel drive vehicle (there’s also a small hand-pulled model). Dragging the logs can be a problem for two reasons: 1. Dirt and grit end up embedded in the log’s bark and will take their toll on the band saw blade (if you’ve hired a sawyer, they may charge you for extra blades). You can clean light dirt off logs with a long-handled barbeque grill brush. 2. Dragged logs tend to leave deep ruts in soft ground, which can make walking around the worksite hazardous.
  • • To save board-handling time, stack your logs so that the longest, best quality stock is cut first. As you work your way down to the smaller, poorer quality logs, you’ll reach a point where it’s too much work for too little lumber (an exception is cutting some of your lower quality logs into blocking and stickers; you’ll need lots of these to properly stack the freshly cut lumber and keep it off the ground). If you’ve hired a sawyer, it’s usually not economical to have them cut any logs shorter than 8 feet and/or less than about 8 inches in diameter (plus some lumber mills have trouble clamping down shorter/smaller logs). The lumber yield just doesn’t add up to the amount of time it takes to cut such logs.
  • Have a cut list—or at least a good idea of what lumber dimensions you want—before you begin, especially if you’ve hired a sawyer. For example, if you ask for 2-in thick lumber, that’s what you get. But if you ask the sawyer for lumber for a 2” thick tabletop, he’ll probably recommend cutting the boards 2-3/8” thick so that after they are dried, you’ll have enough thickness to plane the boards down to 2 inch final thickness. When cutting boards that’ll be used for furniture, a good sawyer will take the time to look for interesting grain patterns and be extra careful to cut clean, flat boards. But if your goal is to produce flooring for a trailer or siding for a shed, it’s more economical for the sawyer to speed through the job. If you plan on using the milled lumber along with commercially purchased lumber, let the sawyer know so that they’ll produce the same dimensions for the sawn boards (e.g. a store bought 2×4 is actually slightly less than 1-1/2” by 3-1/2”).

 

Veneer on Video

Have you ever wondered how hardwood veneer is made? Yeah, me, too!

One of my woodworking friends sent this link to me — and it does a really great job of showing the process. Even though I’ve been around the industry for a long time, and have even seen veneer being made firsthand, I thought this video was great. Check it out!

Rob Johnstone, Woodworker’s Journal

From Oak Trees … to Lumber … to Projects

A couple of weeks ago, in Woodworker’s Journal eZine Issue 310, Woodworker’s Journal editor in chief Rob Johnstone wrote in his introductory editorial about a friend who’d questioned him on the viability of cutting his own lumber for a project. Rob asked eZine readers if any of them had ever chopped a tree down, turned it into lumber and built a project. Many of them had — including Herb Brodie, who shares his story here.

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Bullets and Black Walnut

Walnut With BulletsLast winter I was visiting a friend in Mississippi near Vicksburg. The farm at which I was staying is located on a road that leads directly to that city’s famous battlefield. In fact, the Confederate army marched down that very road to get to the fight. While I was talking to my host about the battle of Vicksburg and the national park that is located at the battlefield, he mentioned a tree. Apparently, this tree had the unlucky fate of being located directly between significant numbers of soldiers of the two opposing armies. When the bullets started to fly, and then continued flying for a long, long time — the tree was one of the early casualties of the battle. According to my host, so many bullets hit the tree that it eventually fell over from the weight of the lead embedded in its wood fibers.

Not so long ago, I was reminded of that story as I built a table that would be featured in the print magazine. (Woodworker’s Journal, October, 2012 … Walnut Game Table) As I was preparing the stock for the table, I noticed a couple of voids in the wood. Walnut Game TableThinking it was insect damage, I continued to plane the stock to thickness. Then I noticed that the bug holes were shiny.

Turning off the machine, I took a close look and found that the wood was full of bullet holes … and bullets. There were too many slugs to be found in these chunks of wood to be a random shot … my guess is that someone had hung a target up on a black walnut tree. (Unless, perhaps, it was in some less well-known battle!) Now, I’ve found bullets in boards before. It is not too uncommon and, if you surface a lot of wood, you’ll run into some sooner or later. But I have never before found so many bullets in such a small stash of wood. It was an odd but enjoyable event in my shop … and one that I thought you might get a kick out of.

Rob Johnstone

Editor in Chief

 

Kiwi Window Trim…It Really is a Small World

This spring I moved into a new shop, and I’m finally getting around to doing the finish carpentry to wrap up the interior work. I decided to save some money and run the base molding, door and window trim myself. Every now and again, I really like this sort of trim work, and the contractor’s budget is long since spent.

To keep things moving forward on a Saturday afternoon, I decided to purchase my window and door trim from the local home center. It’s simply off-the-shelf 1x radiata pine — nice, clean and straight material that I could pretty much sand, cut and install. Now I wouldn’t think of pine as a home center species that would come from great distances — especially another hemisphere for gosh sakes — but this batch sure did. The SKU tag says it’s from, of all places, New Zealand.

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Historic Collection of Woodworking Projects Now Available

Today's Woodworker  Complete Collection CD

Here at Woodworker’s Journal, we’ve been digging deep in our archives to put together our largest collection to date of almost-forgotten projects, articles, tips, techniques and wood science. But the archives where we’ve been digging aren’t exactly Woodworker’s Journal archives — at least, not really. Confused?

Longtime readers may remember when two different magazines — Woodworker’s Journal and Today’s Woodworker — combined into the publication you know today as Woodworker’s Journal. Once that happened, Today’s Woodworker ceased publication.

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A Popular Hardwood for Interior Parts

I mentioned yellow poplar last month in my post about the Southern yellow pines, so I thought it would be appropriate to follow up on that.  Yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipfera), or tulip poplar for most of us Southerners, is one of two trees in the genus Liriodendron.  The other is a native of China.  Neither are true poplars. True poplars are in the willow family of trees, which also contain the genus Populus (cottonwoods), and which is Latin for “people” and was also the Latin name for “tree.”  (I could get confused, too, if I didn’t write all this stuff down.)

Deep breath; I’m almost through.

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The Cheap, Good Wood

Longleaf Pine Forest

USDA Forest Service Archive, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

I know. The words cheap and good usually aren’t used together when the subject is wood for woodworking. But in the case of the Southern yellow pines, this wording is well-suited.

Southern yellow pine is a catchall phrase for all of the Southern pines. They include loblolly, shortleaf, slash, longleaf and Virginia, as well as some other minor species. They are commonly known as “softwoods” and are mostly sold as dimensional lumber for construction.

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Christmas Wood and the “Poor Man’s Ebony”

The title of this blog post may be a little confusing, but it is not meant to be. (Well, maybe it is — but we’ll clear things up in a minute.)

American holly (Illex opaca) is native only to the United States but, since it closely resembled English holly to the Pilgrims, it quickly became the Americans’ symbol of Christmas. It was, and still is, found along the coast of Massachusetts and all the way down through the southeast to East Texas. It grows in the same geographic areas as the Southern yellow pines, but since it can’t tolerate fire, it is rarely found in those pine forests that are regularly burned. So, most large trees are more commonly associated with old hardwood forests. American holly is a slow grower, taking 100 to 150 years to grow large enough for lumber, but it can grow to 70 feet tall and two feet or greater in diameter.

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