Must-Have Marking & Measuring Tools
After months of testing, these super-accurate layout helpers earned a permanent place in the WOOD magazine shop.
Your shop may be filled with the finest cutting and shaping tools money can buy, but if you don't measure and mark precisely, your project parts will fit like a cheap suit. Perhaps that's why woodworking catalogs offer page after page of products promising to make you a more accurate woodworker. To help you sort it all out, here are the marking and measuring tools we find essential, plus some that are just darned useful. (Sources for tools not specifically sourced will be shown on last slide.)
First, make sure you have the basics: 6" and 12" steel rules
Look for a matte or satin finish with etched markings (rather than stamped) for accuracy and readability. Increments should go down to at least 1/32". Buy one with a combination-square head and you'll multiply its value at least threefold by adding the ability to check and mark perfect 90° and 45° angles.
For longer dimensions, a 6'' folding wooden rule provides more reliable accuracy than a retractable steel tape measure because there's no hook on one end that can get damaged and affect the accuracy. Get the kind with a sliding extension for dead-on measurement inside cases and boxes.
4" or 6" machinist square
Ideal for tool setup and for marking crosscuts precisely, it slips easily into an apron pocket. Good thing, too, because you'll reach for this more often than you might think.
Sliding bevel gauge
This simple device performs for any angle what a combination square does for 90° and 45° , making transferring or duplicating that odd angle foolproof, without even having to know the angle.
Mechanical pencil or marking knife
Measuring to a gnat's backside means little if your old carpenter's pencil makes a wide swath. A marking knife scores razor-thin lines, and a mechanical pencil's thin mark is consistent and predictable.
Now add to your arsenal : 4" double square
Take the best features of a combination square (easy adjustability and measurement markings), mix in the best features of a machinist square (precision and pocket portability), and you'll see why we like a 4" double square. The blade slides through the body for gauging reveals on cabinet doors or for setting up saw blades and router bits, without being cumbersome like a full-size combo square.
Lee Valley, 24N08.01
12" adjustable hook rule
Like the hook on the end of a retractable tape measure, the one on the end of this steel rule makes it easy to measure from an overhanging edge. The hook can be repositioned along the end of the rule to work with thin materials; to reach over a routed edge, as shown; or you can remove it completely if you like. Four scales (one on each edge, front and back) let you choose incremental markings from 1/8" to 1/64", depending on how accurate you want to be.
Lee Valley, 24N08.11
We use stopblocks on the tablesaw, router table, and drill press practically every day in the WOOD® magazine shop to ensure multiple matching cuts or evenly spaced holes. Why wouldn't you want that same reliable repeatability when marking and measuring? The dovetail slot in this handy add-on grips virtually any steel rule up to 1 3/16" wide. We put a Ruler Stop at each end of a 12" rule and flipped it end for end as we marked a series of cabinet door handles 2" up from the bottom (flip!) and 1" in from the edge.
Garrett Wade (16R01.10)
Veritas Miter Hook
The toughest measurement to make accurately has to be the short length (or heel) of a mitered workpiece, such as the inside dimensions of a picture frame or window casing. Veritas' Miter Hook makes this previously formidable task foolproof by giving you a solid place to hook your retractable steel tape measure. Steel pins bite into the end grain, and rare-earth magnets keep the tape from coming unhooked from the hook. As a bonus, stepped edges around the Miter Hook act as 1/8" and 1/4" reveal gauges for perfect placement of moldings.
Lee Valley, 05N37.01
We've all done it: To mark a radius on the corner of a workpiece, you pull out a coin (or soda can, or glue bottle, or roll of masking tape, or...) and trace around it. It's tough, though, to locate that temporary template perfectly on the corner. Quick Corners transparent templates self-index to any square corner for marking precise radii every time. We found the yellow template, for marking convex curves from 1/2" to 2" in 1/4" increments, the most useful. The set also includes templates for concave radii, chamfered corners, and convex radii up to 6".
McFeely's, Rockler, Woodcraft
Universal Angle Guide
When you need to mark a known angle (and not merely copy or match one), you can't beat the precision of this multi-function tool. Although pricey, its super-fine laser-etched markings provide a dead-on reference for any angle from 0° to 180° in 1/2" increments. Use it to set your miter gauge or sliding bevel gauge, as shown. Either end of the Universal Angle Guide also can be used to set router bit and saw blade height, but we found the fine markings difficult to read for this purpose.
MasterGage, (888-893-8300, mastergage.com)
9" protractor square
This oversize bevel gauge picks up where your pocket-size model leaves off. For transferring angles from an odd-shaped piece to the mitersaw (as shown) or to your tablesaw miter gauge, the long blades of a protractor square provide plenty of bearing surface to ensure precise setup. This device does have a degree scale that you could use to set specific angles, but the small, closely spaced markings are difficult to read.
Lee Valley, Woodcraft
Retailers and Catalogs
You'll find the "basics" at many retailers and in catalogs, including the ones listed below. Sources for the other products are listed at the end of each description.
Garrett Wade, 800-221-2942, garrettwade.com
Lee Valley, 800-871-8158, leevalley.com
McFeely's, 800-443-7937, mcfeelys.com
MLCS, 800-533-9298, mlcswoodworking.com
Rockler, 800-279-4441, rockler.com
Woodcraft, 800-225-1153, woodcraft.com