If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: “Measure Twice, Cut Once.” The important takeaway is that the more accurate you measure and mark, the better the final results. Here are a few tools to help get you there.
The tools you have at hand will be influenced by what you are doing and making. I mostly fix things and make some furnishings for the house and yard out of wood. I realize that there are many more tools and exponentially more uses then I have outlined here. I invite you to add your favorite measuring tools and their uses in the comments below.
The ruler is the most common of household measuring tools, and my shop has a variety from 6″ to 3′. Some are plastic and some are metal. My favorite is my pica ruler left over from my design school days. So, what is a pica? The short answer is 1/6 of an inch. The ruler I use the most has little hooks on the end, making it great for measure lengths. The short of it is that a simple ruler comes in handy.
The number one workhorse in my shop, the tool that gets used in just about everything I do, is my combination square. It’s fabulous for marking cuts, right angles, and 45°s, and it can be set to a specific length for repeatable measuring. It’s there when I am setting my table saw fence and the depth of my router. Mine has a level on it as well. If you can tell me what to do with that feature, I’d love to know.
I have to admit that I am a big fan of accuracy, almost to a fault. The engineer’s square is the ideal tool for supreme accuracy in measuring 90° angles. I don’t really use it for marking cuts much, but really for measuring the accuracy of the cut once it’s been made. Its primary use is checking and setting up my machines. It is probably the most accurate right-angle in a 6-block radius.
They come in all sizes and a variety of materials, but I prefer the metal ones to plastic ones. You can even make a speed square out of wood. Mine gets the most play when 2 x 4s are involved, as it makes a great 90° guide for a circular saw. I don’t really use mine when making furnishings, mostly because I have more accurate measuring tools.
Watch this short video with “Rescue Renovation” host and licensed contractor Kayleen McCabe to see how to use a speed square:
I remember my dad having one of these when I was a kid. I have two. Admittedly, I’m not really sure what to do with either one. I don’t really do a lot of construction-type projects, and I prefer my combination square for laying out and marking cuts.
To be perfectly honest, you probably don’t need one of these. It takes up a lot of space. It’s kind of a pain to fold and unfold. A tape measure is faster for measuring lengths. The one redeeming quality, however, is the sliding brass insert (not all have one), which is fantastic at measuring depths of holes and assorted difficult measuring tasks.
Who doesn’t have one of these? I have 2. I think both of mine are 25′, which works for me. The biggest think I have to measure is a room in my home. They come in all varieties and lengths from 10′ to 300′ or more. Regardless of the length, spend the few extra bucks and get a decent one.
My calipers are exclusively used for measuring the thickness of the lumber. Believe it or not, those 1 x 4s you bought may or may not be ¾ of an inch thick. I have them range anywhere from ⅝” to ⅞”. It may not be important that you boards are exactly ¾ of an inch thick, but instead that they are of equal thickness, whatever that may be.
Calipers come in a few different configurations: sliding, dial, and digital. The one here is a sliding caliper. Do yourself a favor and get a digital or a dial caliper. This one is very hard to read, but it’s what I’ve got and it does the job.
In the near future, I’m going to write a little about marking, which is the sibling of measuring. In it, we’ll talk a bit about using some of these tools and a fews others to get better results.
Don’t measure if you don’t have to. Yeah, that’s right. Don’t measure if you don’t have to. If you need a board to fit into a specific space, simply hold it up and make your mark right on the board. Cut out the middle man.