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I understand different woods age at different rates and the chosen drying process itself is a factor.

How can you tell if green wood, in general, has aged enough? Is there a visual aid? Do you make test holes and measure the moisture in some way?

I could see this being closed as too broad but there must some basic guidelines to consider.

  • I know this is an old article but I found this article to be very useful when trying to figure out moisture levels in wood. https://www.wagnermeters.com/moisture-meters/wood-info/acceptable-moisture-levels-wood/ I've used both pin meters and pinless meters. I've found it to be so much better to use a pinless meter for numerous reasons, but the main reason is you don't ruin the wood with a bunch of holes. Hope the article is helpful to anyone seeing this, it's been very helpful for me. – lostInTheTetons Jul 8 '19 at 20:45
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No, there is not a visual aid; you must measure or calculate the moisture.

Measuring with a meter

To measure the moisture directly, you can use a moisture meter. Pin-type meters require you to drive a set of pins into the wood, while pinless meters just need to be pressed against the surface of the wood.

Delmhorst, a manufacturer of both types of meters, explains the pros and cons of each type on their website:

For wood, both pinless and pin-type moisture meters have their uses. Pin-type meters, in particular, have the advantage of being able to tell you the depth at which a moisture pocket in wood occurs. To do this, simply push the pins in partially, take a reading, push them in a little more and take another reading, repeating until you hit the moisture pocket in the wood or reach the maximum penetration depth of the pins.

The major drawback to using pin-type meters is that they can only measure the moisture content of the material between the pins, so if a moisture pocket falls outside of that area, it can go undetected. However, this same focus is what allows pin meters to give users a precise location for moisture pockets and the depth at which they occur.

Pinless meters, on the other hand, are very good at scanning large areas of an object quickly. With these meters, there are no pins to constantly and carefully push in and out of the wood. Simply press the scanning plate against a flat piece of wood, push the button, and you have a moisture reading in seconds. This process can be repeated over different areas of a single piece of wood to give a thorough reading of the %MC of that piece of wood without leaving pin-holes in it.

There are, however, a few drawbacks to pinless meters:

A pinless meter requires a flat surface on which to press the scanning plate. Without such a flat surface, readings cannot be taken.

Pinless meters have a fixed scanning depth. If a piece of wood is too thick, the pinless meter will not be able to take a reading of the deepest layer of the wood. If the wood is too thin, you may actually get readings of the material behind that piece of wood, rather than for the wood itself.

Metal objects in piece of wood can cause a false positive. Pinless meters emit electromagnetic waves to scan a piece of wood, and use the distortions of returned waves to calculate the %MC of that wood. Foreign objects such as nails interfere with the electromagnetic waves emitted by the meter, creating a false positive reading.

When choosing a type of moisture meter for woodworking, take into account the size and shape of the wood you’re working with. For example, floorboards and other thin pieces of wood might not be thick enough to get reliable readings from a pinless meter, whereas big lengths of lumber would be perfect for pinless moisture meters.

Calculating moisture content

To calculate the moisture, you take a sample of the wood and weigh it. Record this as the initial weight. Then dry the sample in an oven set to 217 degrees F for 4 hours and weigh it again. Repeat this step until you've recorded the same weight several times in a row. This final number is the oven dry weight. Then use the following formula:

moisture content = (initial weight - oven dry weight) / oven dry weight * 100

More specifically, a study from Oregon State University recommends the following procedure:

Performing the Test

It is simple to do an oven-dry test, but the devil is in the details. The test is performed by cutting the sample to be tested, weighing it, drying it to a constant weight, reweighing, and doing the calculation. Now the details.

Sample Selection

The samples need to be representative of the lot of wood from which they are taken. Thus, they should come from throughout a pile or shipment, not just the top or sides. After a board is chosen, the sample should be cut at least 2 feet from the end of the board because wood picks up and loses moisture very rapidly through the end grain. The samples should either be weighed immediately after cutting or each sample should be stored in a separate plastic bag. After the initial weight is obtained, no particular precautions for storage need to be observed and the sample can be oven-dried at your convenience.

Weighing

Either a data sheet with sample numbers should be used or sometimes the weight can be written directly on the sample. Once the initial weight is taken and the sample begins to dry, there is no going back so it's important to keep a good record.

Drying

The time to dry is typically about 24 hours for a one- to two-inch sample cut from dimension lumber or boards. The correct method is to dry to a constant weight, meaning that the weight change over a four-hour period is less than twice the sensitivity of the scale. This means less than about 0.2 grams for a 100 gram sample. Do not add wet samples to the oven when other samples are almost dry. Water will evaporate from the wet samples and be picked up by the drier ones causing an error when they are weighed due to a temporary increase in moisture content. If the oven temperature is too low, the relative humidity in the oven will not be low enough. The ambient air contains moisture and raising its temperature simply lowers its relative humidity causing a lower equilibrium moisture content. For example, if the ambient air is at 70°F and 50% relative humidity, the relative humidity in the oven will be about 1% with an equilibrium moisture content of about 0.1 to 0.2%. On a humid day the samples won't dry as much, but at 217°F the variability due to ambient conditions is minimal. An oven in a humid tropical country will give results that are within 0.3 or 0.4% moisture content of and oven in a cold dry climate as long as 217°F is used. If the oven temperature is too high, some of the wood components can be driven off. When these are counted as moisture, the indicated moisture content is too high. Do not overload an oven. Good air circulation around the samples is needed to reduce the risk of fire.

Is it dry enough?

Whether you measure the moisture of your lumber with a meter or by calculating it yourself, you might find general moisture content recommendations ranging from 6%-12%. The truth is, this figure will fluctuate with temperature and relative humidity. What you really need to aim for is the equilibrium moisture content, or EMC, which is the moisture content at which the wood is neither losing nor gaining moisture from the air. Suffice it to say, this is not quite as simple a formula, but there are several calculators and charts you can use, such as the following:

If your wood has not reached equilibrium, you need to let it continue to dry. Ideally this involves stickering the lumber and air-drying it or drying it in a commercial kiln or a homemade solar kiln. The typical rule-of-thumb for air-drying fresh-cut lumber is 1 year per inch of thickness, but you can continue to check the moisture content periodically since the type of wood and environmental factors can accelerate or lengthen the drying process.

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  • Might look into moisture meters when I get into green wood. Doubt the wife will let me use the oven. Thanks for the thorough answer. – Matt Mar 23 '15 at 17:57
  • +1 for a great answer. Question, given that maintaining a household oven at 217 degrees is basically impossible, what is the implication for doing the test at, say, 225 degrees? – Jeremy Mar 23 '15 at 19:37
  • @Jeremy it's a tough call, since the temperature swing in a household oven can be dramatic and household ovens themselves vary widely, even without comparing conventional vs. convection ovens that actively circulate the air. The paper suggests mounting an oven thermometer inside the oven to account for inaccuracy in oven dials, but I suppose if your oven has a window you could also use the thermometer to manually maintain a tighter temperature range. The paper also warns against temps higher than 217F because compounds from the wood will evaporate. (to be continued...) – rob Mar 23 '15 at 19:55
  • (...continued from previous comment) In the end what you're often looking to find out is if you're even in the ballpark of the EMC. If the MC is already higher than the EMC after the first couple bakings, you know immediately that it's too wet. Aside from that, I think as long as you maintain a temperature somewhere in the range of 200 degrees, your methodology is consistent, and you don't open the oven door prematurely during any of the 4-hour drying periods, your measurements are likely to be close enough for the purposes of woodworking. After all, the EMC can vary even within the same day. – rob Mar 23 '15 at 20:14
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Rule of thumb is to allow a year per inch of thickness.

More precise answer would be to use a moisture meter, available from woodworking suppliers. Prices for these vary; I have a cheap one but do 't know enough about the varieties available to have a valid opinion.

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There are several ways to check the moisture in a piece of wood.

The most expensive and simplest is a moisture meter, I bought a Ligno one and it works pretty good for me. You can set it to different 'types' of wood and it gives you back a number when you press the points into the wood.

If you have time and are willing to sacrifice some wood, you can take a piece cut off part and dry it out in the oven. You weigh it at the beginning and through out the process, when the weight stabilizes it should be %100 dry, the difference is how much water weight there was in it.

You then weigh another piece in the drying rack and periodically weigh (or wait until you think it should be getting close). You can use that to calculate how much moisture is left in the wood when that piece is 'dry' then the whole lot should be about the same (assuming relatively consistent environment for all of it) Or you just repeat the process of Cut a small piece, weigh it, bake it, weigh it wait and repeat.

Here's a formula to use:

Moisture content = (Weight when cut - Oven dry weight) \ Oven dry weight * 100

Otherwise you are mostly guessing, a year is good for some woods, especially if it has air circulating, some like oak need closer to 2 years air drying.

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  • What kind of oven and at what temperature? this actually could be a whole new question for the Forum if there is a difference with wood types. – Brian H Mar 23 '15 at 17:53
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    Stealing from rob's answer 217F for 4 hours should work. – bowlturner Mar 23 '15 at 17:55

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