My 3 Favorite Measuring Tools

If you’re going to do woodworking, you’re going to have to measure stuff. Here are the three measuring tools I use the most, and why I like them.

My Three Favorite Measuring Tools

FastCap Lefty/Righty 16' Tape Measure

# 1. FastCap Lefty/Righty 16′ Tape Measure. I’ve used lots of tape measures, and this is one of the best. The white disc on the face is just like a dry erase board. I can write dimensions or notes on it, and erase them later. My aging brain appreciates this. A pencil sharpener is built in to the body. Although I’m past the point of learning how to read fractions on a ruler, I’ve taught lots of kids and adults who struggle with this. FastCap tapes have the dimensional fractions actually written on the ruler, so no one is measuring 1″ plus three little lines. And the price is right at $7.95.

My Three Favorite Measuring Tools

FastCap's righty/lefty tape measure includes dimensional fractions

FastCap makes a bunch of tape measures within their ProCarpenter Tape line, but I prefer the FastCap Lefty/Righty. It’s got measurements on both edges, so I can read it left to right or right to left. It’s long enough to be useful but compact enough to keep in an apron pocket.

My Three Favorite Measuring Tools

Wixey Digital Calipers read in fractions.

# 2. Wixey Fractional Digital Calipers. I first learned to read vernier calipers back in my machine shop days. The calipers were precise, but hard to read. The next advent of calipers was going digital, but they read in decimal inches, so I had to keep a chart handy so I could cross reference to fractions. The next step was digital calipers that read in fractions, and I LOVE them. The Wixey Digital Calipers, $39, have earned their keep in my shop over and over again. My #1 application is when I’m thicknessing material. It just doesn’t get any easier than sandwiching the board between the jaws and reading the thickness. Coupled with knowing my planer and surface sander remove 1/16″ per handle revolution, it’s very simple for me to control my material thickness.

I also use digital calipers to set the cursor on my tablesaw fence. I position the fence, make a cut, then measure the piece with the calipers. Position the fence cursor over whatever number the calipers read. It makes precision easy.

My Three Favorite Measuring Tools

While not a high tech tool, an 8-ft. folding ruler can be a handy tool in the shop.

# 3. 8′ Folding Rule. Alright, I hear some of you groaning. Well, as with many things in my life, there’s a story. When I was in building construction I worked for an ex-military set-in-his-ways carpenter. He was an amazing craftsman with distinct ideas about how to get accurate measurements. It boiled down to tape measures for outside measurements and stick rules for inside measurements. Under threat of a size 11 boot in an uncomfortable location I learned to do things Jim’s way, and found out he was right.

I always have a folding rule in the back pocket of my jeans. (OK, not when I’m out with my wife, but you know what I mean.) Like Jim said, I use the folding rule whenever I need an inside measurement. It’s all I use at the table saw, router table any place I’m setting a fence or stop. I like that it’s rigid and, when opened, I can project the ruler out pretty far. A trick I’ve often used when measuring on site is opening the first section or two, then opening the rest so it’s perpendicular to the first sections, like a big L. I can stand on the floor and hold the ‘smart end’ of the ruler up over my head to take measurements.

I buy my rulers at a home center. An 8′ is under $10. I prefer the rulers that have the 1-2-3 on the inside face of the ruler, not the outside face.

How Do You Measure Up?

Those are my faves. Let us know how you measure up in your shop!

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21 Responses to “My 3 Favorite Measuring Tools”
  1. Edward W

    I remember long, long, long ago, like many years ago, I had a tape measure that stayed in place when measuring a long object. It had small pin indents in the tab that goes onto the end of the wood and stayed till you finished the measure. I have about 4 tapes now and they no longer have that feature.
    I have a digital caliper I just bought, then found a Pittsburg for a good price and ordered it, I have long wanted a good caliper.
    Wood working would be a lot more fun if me wife would stop hitting me with the 2 x 4’s she moves around in my shop.

  2. Sylvia Hingle

    Thanks for the info. I have the first two tools, but I will definitely buy a Folding Ruler the next time I’m at Home Depot.

  3. George Kay

    My father was a cabnit maker/ woodworker and always used a folding 6 foot ruler, with the numbers on inside. He referred to it as a “left hand Ruler”. More than a few times when I have encountered something new in woodwork, I have wished he was there to show me. He passed in Feb 1965.

  4. Ray De Rosear

    I believe the 8 foot folding rule pictured with your article is 72 inches in length. I can remember using only 6 foot length folding rules over the last 50+ years.

  5. bianchise

    I’m with you on numbers one and two… I just recently purchased my righty lefty and love it. Can’t live without my fractional caliper, but my other go to is my Incra rulers. I have several sizes and styles for measuring as well as setup. You just can’t beat them for accuracy and ease of use.

    My folding roller is still in my bag, but doesn’t see much use these days.

  6. James

    Favorite measuring tools nothwithstanding, the old adage “Measure twice, cut once”, still applies.

  7. william barrie wettergreen

    i cant go to your premeiom because of south africa why is that. i want to purchase your sketchup essentials set cant no south african

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  8. Harold C

    I’ve had a folding wooden ruler for years and it had a very “revered” spot in my toolbox. After attending the Wood2017 session you led on cabinet building, I learned how to use it and now it goes with me all over the shop. Thanks for the lesson.

  9. Yukoneric

    I’m 70 years old and still use the folding rule my dad used when he was in high school.

  10. Joe

    I have and use all three. The folding ruler with the 10th’s is the handiest. It’s my “cheater” survey rod when site and other plans aren’t in inches. No calculations, just turn the ruler over for the correct measurement.

  11. Phil Humphries

    Couldn’t get along without my Incra rules (with and without the T attachment). Also the Wixey digital angle gauge — I keep finding new uses for it, but most frequent use is setting the table tilt angles on my bandsaw and Ridgid oscillating edge belt/spindle sander.

  12. Lou B

    I have an older Stanley folding rule, 72″, that has a brass slide out. For inside measurement it is simple and very accurate. Found it at a Habitat ReStore for just a few $s.

  13. Greenford W. Mafuleka

    Your Comment here…Education of tools and how to use them is very good.

  14. Raymond

    Are there any folding rules with the numbers on the inside as described in the article AND with a sliding brass extension? I love my outside rule with the extension but there are times that an inside rule would make things easier. I understand that the “button” that helps slide the extension would be an issue, but I can think of a couple of ways to work around that.

  15. Mikhail

    Two things astonish me in my American colleagues: Fahrenheit temperature and especially Imperial measurements. There is an legislation in US that the country should go to the world totally accepted system of measurements but the people apparently are so inert that do not want to make a simple effort to switch to the easiest possible system. Some people used to make even more dramatical moves overnight, say Swedes turned from left side to right side driving overnight, Russians switched from old measures to Metric within one day, even UK is within Metric system. Why not you?

  16. Steven Armstrong

    I have used the X46F wood ruler for over 35 years. Measures 1/1 both sides so you can lay flat. They are expensive but well woth it. I own 7-8 and are all put in my individual work bags, truck door panel, on side of my table saw and would be lost. Metal tapes are fine, i have several, but as my dad always said “you can’t bend and measure around or inside a corner!” He was a cabinet maker and craftsman for over 70 years.