Measuring and Marking

We've got 10 super-simple shop skills that will improve your marking accuracy.

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  • Mark circles with a center hole

    When using a compass to make circles for my chip-carving projects, there are times when I don't want to leave a hole in the center of the circle. What to do? I created a "temporary" hole from a small square of clear acrylic as shown in the drawing. For "feet," I went with self-adhesive cabinet-door bumpers (Woodcraft part no. 02S81, $7.50, 800/225-1153 or

    To use the device, I first draw diagonals on my workpiece as shown at right. Next, I position the intersection of the acrylic square's scribed lines over the center mark. Finally, with the point of the compass in the center of the scribed lines, I draw the circle. Downward pressure on the compass and feet keeps the acrylic from slipping on the workpiece.

    -- Merle Krug, Marion, Iowa

  • A simple way to divide circles

    It's easy to divide a circle into four equal parts. Just draw two perpendicular lines through the middle. But when you want to put five, six, or seven spokes in a wheel, how do you divide the circle into equal segments without making a lot of complicated measurements? Call your high school geometry teacher or follow along with this four-part procedure: 1. Draw line AB through the center of your circle, and divide it equally into the number of parts you want. (In the example shown, it's six.) 2. Set a compass at points A and B, scribe the two arcs as shown, and label their intersection as point C. 3. Draw a line from point C through the second mark AB and on through the outer edge of the circle, creating point D. 4. Set your compass to the distance AD and mark off equally spaced segments.

    -- Vernon Raaen, Oak Ridge, Tenn.

  • Transfer your patterns with acetate

    If you want to transfer a scrollsaw or chip-carving pattern onto a piece of wood, buy some clear acetate film. Available from office-supply stores, this film has a peel-off backing that allows you to adhere it to any workpiece. (Before you buy, check with a service technician or the company who makes your copy machine to ensure that the machine will accept clear acetate sheets.)

    Now, to get your design onto the applique film, first draw or trace the pattern on a piece of paper. Then, place the paper pattern face-side down on the glass plate of the copy machine, load the applique film in the paper-supply bin, and photocopy the pattern onto the applique film. Now, you're ready to adhere the applique pattern to your project piece.

    -- Phil Maass, Rochester, Minn.

  • Want pencil lines erased without a trace? Try alcohol

    The next time you make a pencil mark that you don't want to sand away or remove with an eraser, try denatured alcohol. Soak the corner of a rag in alcohol, and rub the rag across the pencil line. The alcohol will remove the pencil mark and not leave any residue to affect the finish.

    -- Russell Marooney, Odessa, Texas

  • Mark hidden nailers with post-it notes

    To mark the location of a stud or a hidden nailer, use a 3M Post-It Note or a similar adhesive-backed paper tab. These squares of paper can be left in place for days, they won't leave a pencil mark on your wall or project, and they won't peel up paint or finishes as masking tape might. What's more, you can draw level lines across the squares of paper to aid in the installation of shelves.

    -- Randy Lee, Fairfield, Ohio

  • Duplicate a spindle by tracing its shadow

    I recently tried unsuccessfully to duplicate a small spindle from an antique toy chair. Because of its small size, measuring the spindle with dividers and calipers just wasn't accurate enough.

    To make an accurate pattern, I taped the spindle to one side of a piece of glass and taped some tracing paper to the other side. By shining a lamp on the spindle, I was able to trace the outline of its shadow on the tracing paper. Darkening the room makes the shadow easier to see.

    -- Jeff Gaynor, Rootstown, Ohio

  • Transfer patterns with lacquer thinner

    When I first started chip carving, I enjoyed every aspect except one--transferring the detailed pattern to the workpiece. I tried "ironing" a photocopy onto the wood, but I didn't like the results. So I came up with my own method that works great for both detailed and simple patterns.

    First, I wipe down the workpiece lightly with a rag dipped in lacquer thinner. Then, I immediately press a photocopy of the pattern face side down on the same surface. The lacquer thinner slightly dissolves the photocopy's toner, leaving a crisp outline of the pattern on the wood.

    On patterns with lettering, you need to make an intermediate pattern or the letters will come out backwards. I make this "reverse" pattern first on a sheet of acetate film used with overhead projectors. Then, I put this acetate copy upside down in the copier and make a paper photocopy of it. When I apply this copy to the workpiece, the lettering transfers correctly. If your copier has a manual setting, I've also found that "light" copies transfer better than "dark" ones.

    -- Paul W. Tidwell, Huntsville, Texas

  • Post-it glue keeps patterns in their place

    I tried using spray adhesives to attach scrollsaw patterns to wood blanks, but I always found the aerosols messy and smelly to work with and hard to remove once I was done sawing. I recently found a great alternative that also lets me reposition the pattern--the 3M Post-It Removable Adhesive Glue Stick. I rub the glue stick on the back of the pattern and press it in place. It holds tight during sawing but peels off easily and leaves no residue on the wood. Using the glue stick also means no sticky overspray or noxious fumes.

    -- Patrick W. Brown, Camp Zama, Japan

  • Template and washer team up to draw a blank

    When cutting blanks for template routing, I like to cut them about 1/8" larger all the way around, then rout them to exact size with a pattern bit. Instead of tracing directly around the template and trying to cut outside the line, I "enlarge" the template slightly while I trace it, as shown at left. Then, after bandsawing all the rough pieces, I stack them and stick them together with cloth-backed double-faced tape, tape the template on top, and rout them all to finished size.

    -- Chuck Hedlund, WOOD® magazine staff

  • Save time laying out clock faces

    I've seen many methods of marking out a time ring, but I was never impressed with their accuracy. Here's the foolproof method I use to divide a circle into 12 equal sections for making a clock face.

    We invite you to hop on over to WOOD's Top Shop Tip forum. The shop tips forum is for you to share your shop tips that might be of benefit to other woodworkers. Our tips editor, periodically reviews all of the tips posted here for publication, and all tips are eligible to win our Top Shop Tip $250 tool prize, as-well-as $100 per published tip awarded in each issue of WOOD magazine.

    -- Thomas E. Karkos, Medinah, Ill.

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