The best method I've found of checking the moisture content is by using a moisture meter. There are various makes and models on the market but currently only two main types that I know of.
The cheaper type has two prongs which have to be stuck into the wood to obtain a reading whilst the more expensive type has to be placed onto a flat surface of the timber.
Moisture content does depend on the intended use of the timber but I've found that the following percentages seem to apply.
- < 8%- The wood is usually too dry.
- 8%-10% - Most woodworking, especially furniture and some wood for turning.
- 10%-15% - Most general turning.
- 15%-20% - Any turned items that you want to warp.
- 20%+ - Too wet. Cracking or warping usually always occurs.