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.
# 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.
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.
# 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.
# 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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