Measuring Tools

Layout Measuring Tools

Tips & Tricks


Pretty much every day I’m in the shop I use some sort of measuring or layout tool. Besides the basic function they provide, their precision nature makes them a pleasure to use. Plus, they have a pride of ownership characteristic that comes to mind during use. So here are some useful things I’ve picked up along the way.

First: Don’t snap the tape. Letting a tape measure recoil until the tip hits the housing elongates the rivet holes that attach the tip. This will soon make measurements inaccurate and relegate an otherwise functional shop tool to laying out rows in your vegetable garden. The tip should move an amount equal to the thickness of the metal it is made of. This facilitates outside and inside measurements. For some measurements, the tip always seems to get in the way. An easy work around for this problem is to start at 10” either on a pencil line or at a physical edge like measuring a sash to order a piece of glass. This keeps everything easy, just remember to deduct 10 from the number you see on the tape. Marking installation lines on a wall and laying out shelf pin holes are other examples of tasks made easier by starting at 10.

I really enjoy the precision work done on a drill press. Every once and a while I get ahead of myself and need a center-to-center measurement that would have been much easier to get prior to drilling the holes. Solution: Left edge to left edge of already drilled holes will get the desired measurement.

Combination squares are a great tool for accuracy and for transferring measurements along a board or to other work pieces. A good example of this is installing drawer pulls or cabinet knobs. I like to use 4 different combination squares. That way I know at a glance which one is set up for which function. I suggest a 12” combination square, a 6” combination square, a 6” double square and a 4” double square. No. 4 delineated is great for woodwork, 1/8ths, 1/16ths, 1/32ths & 1/64ths.

Two other layout tools that are very useful for bench work are a 24” framing square and a hook ruler. The framing square is great for laying out and verifying 90 degree cross cuts that need to be done with a hand held electric tool. An example would be cross cutting a cabinet side or bottom. A hook ruler delineated in inches and millimeters is extremely useful for laying out cabinet boring patterns. Be sure to get one that is square on the opposite end and terminates with a whole number, that way it can be used for inside measurements. It will likely terminate on the inch side, that’s good because the millimeter side will start a 0 on the hook end, perfect for Euro hardware layout work.

One last item: Good Quality Pencils with hard lead. Soft lead pencils have their place, it’s just not in a wood shop! Ticonderoga No. 3 are my favorite. They work great on hardwoods and are not too hard for pine. Put a good quality pencil sharpener in your apron and enjoy the scent of cedar when you transform the point to the precision instrument.


  • Tape measures that have tip attached with 3 rivets are generally of better quality.
  • A large diameter knurled nut on a draw bolt of a combination square helps to lock in your setting.
  • Inch on one edge and metric on the other edge tape measures are great for cabinet work.