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Skip This Step and Your Project is Doomed

When I am ready to start building a new project I seem to have a routine that I go through. I begin with my drawing. It has all my measurements and necessary notes of interest important to the build. On my drawing, I write out a comprehensive, step-by-step procedure that aids me in organizing my thoughts and actions to avoid overlooking any steps or potential errors. Following that, I proceeded to select my wood, using chalk to label each piece according to my cut list and arrange the wood in the sequence required for the build. I do a quick check to make sure I have all my necessary tools and most importantly the hardware needed for the project. Finally, I conduct a brief double-check to ensure that I have all the essential tools and, most importantly, the necessary hardware required for the project. As thorough as this routine sounds, I still failed to do one important check that could jeopardize the whole project. I failed to check the moisture level in the wood.

Knowing the amount of moisture in the wood is important before using it. If the wood is storing excessive moisture, as the wood eventually dries, the wood can crack, split, or warp. This can happen during your build but usually happens after you’re finished with your project. Tops can cup, seats can split, and joints can become loose.  The amount of moisture can vary from tree to tree and from different species. So how can you control the amount of moisture in wood? Well, the first way to begin is by using a reliable moisture meter. I use the Bessemeter DS500.

The Bessemeter DS500 is quite thorough. Several moisture meters on the mark have two metal pins that require you to stick the pins into the wood to get a reading. This is not bad if your material is still in the rough-cut stage. But if you have some material that is already finished to size then those two pins are going to leave marks on your wood. The Bessemeter however, is pinless, meaning I can place it anywhere on my material and no marks will ever be made. 

The Bessemeter DS500 has two different depth options. It can check the depth at ¼” and also at ¾”. I usually keep it set at ¾” because most of my stock is ¾” or thicker. But if I am particularly concerned about a piece moving, say for example a ⅝” raised panel in a cabinet door, I will check the readings at both ¼” and ¾” take the average, and make sure it’s still within the right percentage of moisture.  However if my material is thicker than 1 ½” I will use the meter on both sides of my material and again take the average of the reading and make sure I am still within my required values.

When you first get your Bessemeter you want to make sure it’s calibrated correctly. This is an easy procedure. It comes with a plastic stand. Press the species button and set it to .50. Place the meter on the stand and press down firmly. The number that appears on the meter will match the number on the stand. If it doesn’t match, the manual recommends contacting Bessemeter. Fortunately, my number matched and I can then proceed with checking my wood. I would imagine that it probably only has to be checked once, but I find myself checking it every time I use it just to be reassured that the meter it fully calibrated each time.

The Bessemeter owner’s manual is important to keep because it has all the different wood species types listed in it. Next to each wood species is a number. That number must be set to the type of wood you are using to get a highly accurate reading of the moisture percentage in the wood. The fact that the meter has different number settings for each species tells me that it is very sensitive to the exact wood type it’s trying to read. And I think that shows the level of quality and precision put into this meter.

The meter comes in a durable plastic case with a foam cushion inside that completely encloses the meter for safety from accidental dropage. Fortunately, the owner’s manual also fits inside it to prevent from losing the manual.

The meter runs on a standard 9volt battery and it’s recommended that if you aren’t going to use it for more than 30 days the battery should be removed. Also, to help prevent the battery from accidental drainage, the meter will automatically turn itself off after sixty seconds to retain battery life. 

A few other things worth noting are that it comes with a 2-year warranty, a low battery indicator, a large easy-to-read screen, and a moisture content measurement reading range of 6% – 32% in wood. 

All in all, I am very pleased with my Bessemeter DS500 but If I had just one thing to “pick on”, it would be the calibrating stand. The meter and the owner’s manual fit perfectly in the storage care, but there is no place for the calibrating stand to go. I know I’m going to place it in a drawer or the back of a cabinet and it’s going to one day get lost. But honestly, I don’t worry too much about it if I do lose it because I have all the confidence in the world that this meter will give me many many years of accurate usage. 

If you are interested in purchasing your own Bessemeter DS500 click here If you are interested in the Bessemeter DS300 Click here

Chad Stanton- Owner of Stanton Fine Furniture 5/26/24