March 15, 2021

What humidity level should wood be at for carving | How to Check

Humidity level for carving

The moisture level in the wood you use for carving is vital. It can make or break your project and affect the quality of your product. I remember trying to carve out a piece from Basswood the first time. I didn’t know that the moisture content in the wood needed to be below or at a certain level. Before I knew it, the wood was swelling and cracking. 

I quickly learned that when humidity levels drop and the wood moisture content decreases, the wood also shrinks. Varying humidity levels in the environment and moisture in the wood will determine how the wood expands or shrinks. You must know and understand what moisture levels are acceptable so that you don’t wind up with a messed-up carving—the recommended levels of moisture range between 6 and 12%.

List of things that you may need to use:

Moisture content meter (either pin-type or pinless)

Step By Step Process.

  1. To use the pin-type of meters, here’s what you will need to do:
  2. Stick the pins of the meter into the wood. 
  3. Align the pins with the grain of the wood. 
  4. Turn the meter on. At this point, the electrical current will course through the wood, resisting wood better than water.
  5. Take the reading.

Or you can use the pinless meter. 

  1. Place the scanning face of the meter against the wood. Try to choose a large, flat surface of wood. 
  2. Turn the scanner on
  3. Run it along with the wood.
  4. Take the reading

 How Long it will take

Whether you are using a pin-type or pinless scanner, scanning the wood or taking the reading should take no more than a few seconds. 

Expected Results

You can measure moisture in wood using a meter. This method is often favored because it is fast and easy. The pin-type meter uses electrodes, which are then inserted into the wood. Here’s how this works: Water conducts electricity, but wood doesn’t. When there is a lot of water or moisture in the wood, the resistance to electrical current isn’t as great as when there is no moisture or low levels. 

This boils down to dry wood producing less resistance. The pinless meter doesn’t have electrodes to be inserted into the wood. However, they use an electromagnetic sensor to detect the amount of water in the wood. The work is similar to the way that a scanner works for documents. All you need to do is run the meter over the wood. Just make sure you run it over a large wood surface. These meters are often more accurate.

The great thing about pinless meters is that they do not leave holes in the wood. As such, it is always better to use pinless meters on wood that you would not want to get any holes in, such as expensive artefacts.  Here are some expected figures that you could work with. 

If the humidity of the in-use location is between 19 and 25% and the EMC is 5%, then the corresponding EMC needs to be 5%. If the humidity is between 47 and 52% and the EMC is 9%, then the MC (moisture content) will also be 9%. 

Things to look out for

If you do not want the wood to have pinholes, you must use a pinless moisture meter. This will help you determine the moisture content of the wood, which will depend on the room’s humidity and what you intend to use the wood for. 

You can use a moisture meter to check the moisture content of wood. If the wood moisture content is above normal, your carving may not hold up for long, hence why you need to be on the lookout for MC levels. 

If there is too much moisture in the wood, then the wood may shrink. 

If there isn’t enough moisture in the wood, it will expand, which may cause it to buckle or bow, harming the carving you are working on. 

Be careful also not to fall for common myths surrounding the wood. Some myths claim that wood will expand when hot and contract or shrink when cold. 

This is a myth because the moisture in the wood cannot freeze. After all, the chemicals are stuck to the wood’s walls. The outside temperature will not affect the wood or cause it to shrink or expand. 

Before you use wood, you must allow it to acclimate first. Once this is done, its moisture content will be in tandem with the room humidity level, also known as RH. 


The moisture content in a piece of wood can make or break it. While moisture must be between 6 and 12%, the value is not black and white or cut dry. The amount of moisture in wood is the equilibrium moisture content. This refers to the delicate balance of moisture in the air, balancing out with the wood’s moisture. 

The eventual EMC will be derived when the wood’s moisture is balanced with the environment’s moisture. You want the wood to find its stable state with its environment. Most furniture and wood carvings do well with wood moisture content, which is 9%. But this is before you factor in the moisture content in the environment. 

If your wood has more moisture than you need, you must dry it to reach the right levels. This is to prevent your work from sharing, cracking, or warping. Happy carving!

David D. Hughes

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