Whether you’re building dining tables or installing wood flooring, failure to consider wood movement can destroy countless hours of otherwise masterful handiwork. As wood exchanges moisture to and from the environment it shrinks and plumps with virtually unstoppable hydraulic forces. An accurate assessment of moisture content with a wood moisture meter can make (or literally break) the job. Wagner, an industry leader in moisture measurement solutions for over 50 years, offered up their latest and greatest – the Orion Pinless Wood moisture meter, model 950 – for review. If you’re tired of poking holes into wood to assess moisture levels, or even if you have never used a moisture meter, join us for this in-depth look.
Why Does Moisture Content Matter Anyway?
You may have heard that wood “moves”. Not that it’s haunted by wood spirits; it’s just that as wood dries or absorbs moisture from the air, it changes in size. It may even twist and contort. Build a dresser with lumber that’s still wet behind the ears and you may have a busted bureau in your near future.
It’s true that even fully seasoned, acclimated wood will swell and shrink throughout the year. But if you start with a proper baseline, you’re much less likely to be caught off guard by a dimensional mood swing that permanently disfigures your hard work. And your wallet.
If wood flooring is too wet or dry when installed, it can buckle or develop unsightly gaps. Boards and panel glueups can warp or split. Joinery can rip itself apart. And the larger the area, the larger the potential problem. Unless you’re into this sort of thing – these disastrous failures – it’s a good idea to make sure you’re using materials that have already equilibrated to the ambient air.
For more insight into the effects of wood moisture content, check out Matthias Wandel’s video featuring an older (now discontinued) Wagner moisture meter:
Orion 950 Pinless Wood Moisture Meter – Getting Our Feet Wet
In addition to all the bases covered by earlier Wagner Orion pinless wood moisture meters, the 950 can collect and store data (Orion 940 has this feature too), has built-in temperature and humidity sensors, and performs dew point, EMC and GPP/GPK calculations. The 950 also has Bluetooth connectivity to Wagner’s new mobile apps. Before diving into the details, let’s dip our toes into some of the other features:
* Included “on-demand calibrator” provides quick, accurate, on-site calibration.
* Protective rubber boot and ABS storage case.
* A whopping 7 year warranty.
* Pinless metering reads beyond the surface without punching holes in your material.
* 1/4” and 3/4” depth modes for solid wood up to 1-1/2” thick.
* Scanning area: 2.0” x 2.5”
* “IntelliSense Technology” is less affected by surface moisture.
* Ambient relative humidity and temperature (°F or °C) measurements.
* Dew point calculations.
* Meets international ASTM D4442-16 “oven-dry” standards. (Basically, the industry’s highest standard for determining moisture content of wood.)
* Programmable to match the specific gravity of your particular wood species for more accurate readings (reference book included).
* Free Apple/Android apps for receiving and recording job and materials data.
* Hold function to keep the reading on screen, for those hard to access or hard to view areas.
And of course there’s more. This isn’t your average wood moisture meter, after all! For reference, WagnerMeters.com has a feature matrix showing what each Orion moisture meter is capable of. If you’d like to check every box, the 950 is the one for you.
Pitch The Pins – Acupuncture Is Bunk Anyway
With the 950 being a pinless wood moisture meter, you can test from the “show face” without marring your material. No pins also means 100% less poking yourself and never having to resharpen or replace dulled probes.
Pinned moisture meters rely on passing an electrical current between a pair of probes stabbed into the wood. But their readings only reflect near surface conditions. Wagner’s IntelliSense wizardry scans depths up to 3/4” to give you a better picture of the wood’s true moisture level. For wood up to 1-1/2” thick, measure from both faces and average the results (data mode makes this quick and easy).
Loads Of Modes! Orion 950 Pinless Wood Moisture Meter
There’s a lot more to the Orion 950 moisture meter than quick draw moisture measurements and a smooth backside. This thing can perform some handy tricks you might not have even realized you wanted.
Dual Depth Modes
Of course there’s the expected functionality of displaying the moisture content of the wood under test, with a nice wide range of 4.0 – 32.0%. But, unlike pinned meters, the Orion 950 pinless wood moisture meter gives you two depth ranges to peer deeply into the material in an absolutely non-destructive, non-marring manner. Shallow (1/4”) mode covers wood ranging from 1/4” – 1/2” in thickness. The deeper mode (3/4”) is for the thicker stuff.
EMC Mode (Equilibrium Moisture Content) – The Goldilocks Zone
Verifying that wood has achieved hygroscopic equilibrium with its environment becomes more and more crucial as the size of the job (and the material) increases. I personally own and have used several different moisture meters. But it was always a gray area for me to determine whether or not wood I milled a couple years ago (or bought last week) has fully acclimated to the shop.
For most woodworkers, figuring out when green wood has stopped drying is a matter of taking multiple moisture readings over a span of weeks or months and seeing how much it’s changed, if at all. Sure, you can “simply” do the math; but who has time for that nonsense? Not me, that’s for sure!
Species Setting Mode – Several Species Of Variously Dense Woods Gathered Together In A Shop And Moisture Metered Without Pins
To obtain the most accurate readings, the Orion 950 moisture meter can essentially be “zeroed” to compensate for the typical specific gravity (ratio of density compared to water) of the wood species under test. A “species settings” booklet comes with the meter. Or you can refer to Wagner’s even more populated online database.
Another pinless moisture meter brand boasts compensation for 69-71 different species of wood. Wagner’s database blows that out of the water, just in the “A’s” alone: from “A Koura” to “Azza”! (Don’t feel bad, I’ve never heard of those woods either). There are also settings for non-solid wood materials, such as plywood, OSB, HDF core, “Permacore” MDF and “Advantech”.
Extensive attention to detail gives Orion moisture meters a level of precision that’s really hard to beat. But that may be a double edged sword for some users, as many species have a lot of varieties; and their specific gravities can differ quite a bit between them. For example, pine and oak each have almost 20 varieties listed in the little pocket booklet alone! I can see how that might overwhelm the casual woodworker uncertain of the exact variety they have on hand. Even so, it will usually get them in the ballpark.
Orion 950 Data Collection Mode And Logging With The App(s)
The Orion 950 has manual and automatic data collection modes, with on-board storage and recall for up to 100 readings. And if you want, it will even tell you the minimum and maximum stored data points or calculate the average.
Note that readings can vary within the same board (even when measured from points fairly close to each other) because of density and moisture variations. This is a case where I’ve found the average function to be quite useful for getting a clearer picture of what’s really going on.
For more versatility and organization with your data readings, download one of Wagner’s mobile apps created specifically for use with the Orion 950 moisture meter. There’s “FloorSmart App” and “Woodshop MC”, both of which connect via Bluetooth.
Relative Moisture Mode – How Damp Are Your Kiln Folk?
Relative (“comparative”, really) moisture measurements are useful when you need to know if, say, that water damaged drywall is becoming an actual dry wall. If not, perhaps the leak you thought was fixed needs to be re-addressed. In such cases, you’re more concerned with how close it is to matching known-dry areas than you are with the actual moisture content.
Conversely, detecting a section of wall having abnormally moist conditions – relative to those around it – could be indicative of a problem hidden within.
Audio Alarm – Orion 950 Moisture Meter
Another nice feature is the audio alarm, which allows you to quickly scan and locate any areas or pieces having a moisture content above a threshold of your choosing. A beeping tone notifies you without your having to watch the screen. So if you just want to quickly verify that all of the material has dried below, say, 13% moisture content, set the alarm to 13% and scan away.
GPP (Grains Of Water Per Pound Of Dry Air) – Specific Humidity (Humidity Ratio)
As if Orion 950 didn’t have enough going for it, it’s also capable of GPP (Grains* Per Pound) measurements. Or if you’d prefer, GPK (Grains Per Kilogram). If you operate a wood kiln, this is the kind of thing you’re going to want to know and control for. Moving warm air is great, but if it’s too humid the wood isn’t going to dry. (* 1 grain = approx. 1 drop of water. 7,000 grains = 1 pound of water.)
On-Demand Calibration – Making Sure Your Orion Moisture Meter Isn’t Leaving You High Or Dry
Some test equipment manufacturers charge for periodic calibrations and require you to send your meter in. Wagner Orion moisture meters come with an “on-demand calibrator”, letting you do the job yourself whenever you’d like. The calibration plate is paired to the meter (serial numbers match) to ensure it’s always dead-on accurate, and not just “close enough”.
Dry Commentary On The Orion 950 Moisture Meter
To quote WagnerMeters.com: “The Orion 950 Smart Moisture Meter is the pinnacle achievement of the Orion line. [It is] designed for professional wood flooring installers/inspectors, quality control managers as well as restoration professionals.” The Orion 950 moisture meter is more capable than the average garage woodworker is likely to need. And at nearly $480, it’s also more than the hobbyist is likely to spend. But if you want the best…
It was immediately apparent to me that the Orion 950 is something special. But, like everything we review here at Home Fixated, there is room for improvement. For one, the LCD screen can be hard to read sometimes. A back light would not only improve the user experience, but would make the product stand out even more from others on the market.
Also, since the LCD display is set back a ways from the front panel overlay, screen elements at the edges can be partially obscured at some viewing angles. Finally, the rubber boot feels a little flimsy (especially the concave sections along the sides) and has hard edges that are a bit rough in the hand.
But considering all the things that are great about Wagner’s Orion 950 pinless moisture meter, none of these little details would prevent me from recommending it. It’s a professional grade meter for when you absolutely have to get it right. If your livelihood (or pride) relies on wood in some way, the Orion 950 moisture meter is packed with the tools you need for confident, reliable measurements every time.
Purchase the Orion 950 moisture meter for around $480 (Also available with NIST traceable on-demand calibrator platform.):
Which Orion moisture meter is right for you?
Pin vs. Pinless Moisture Meters:
Wagner Meter Manuals & Species Adjustment Tables: