We are a small family business run by husband and wife team John and Pamela Flood. The first (which is used primarily in laboratory situations) requires five steps: 1 Weigh a sample of the wood to be measured, 2 place the sample in an oven and carefully bake out all the moisture, (3 weigh the dried sample, 4 subtract the weight of the dried sample from its wet weight, and (5 use the difference to calculate the percentage of moisture in the original sample.
The way to determine water content is usually by jamming an electronic probe into the side of the board on an inconspicuous surface, but if you know how much your wood should weigh dry versus wet then you can determine water content by weighing it. I suppose that tip is more useful for people using very small pieces of wood who don’t want any surface marred by test probes.
I have had success taking wood down to 6% in mere minutes by microwaving very small pieces of oak in the kitchen microwave a few pieces at a time (a lot of trial and error getting the timing/settings just right for my wattage of oven of course the microwave heats the water on the inside and you then set the wood outside the oven to dry while you heat the next batch; test and repeat until you get it).
I think the single biggest help would simply be to know what the MC the wood is currently at. Beyond this, as a general rule, I’d recommend starting outdoors and moving indoors after several months — it all depends on what the MC of the wood is at. Tarps aren’t ideal, but yeah, you should try to keep it somewhat protected from the elements — direct sunlight as much as rain.
The main advantage of a kiln is that with the increased temperature and airflow—all while carefully maintaining and controlling the ambient humidity—the wood can be dried much more evenly, minimizing any sort of moisture gradient between the outer shell (which dries very quickly) and the inner core (which slowly equalizes moisture with the shell).
Therefore, knowing the moisture content of lumber is paramount in understanding how to handle and work with the material. My sculpture work is sometimes thick and it takes time for heat to fully penetrate the work (clay is a great insulator.). Plus I wish to keep control of these stokes to keep an oxygen rich atmosphere in the kiln through about 1500°F in the firebox zone.