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!
Photos By Author
Just ordered two FastCaps, one for me one for a buddy. Thanks. He in exchange is giving me his folding ruler. As for other good tools, I bought a caulking gun that had a hole for the nozzle that you could cut with the handle and a pin attache don a rivet that you could open up to pierce the tube. Presto everything you need in one tool. Sadly it was poorly made and the weld on the push rod broke. Should hav had it welded but I thought I could just as easily pick a new one up. No such luck and have never seen it again.
Got the Lefty/Righty tape. Been looking for something like that for a long time.
Also love wooden folding rules but broke a lot of my father’s when I was a kid. Still have one I broke 60 years ago.
I too use a fold out ruler for inside measurements. My dad taught me how to use it when I was 5 helping him do woodworking on his house. It not only works great but also brings me fond memories of my dad training me.
I can certainly see the utility of a folding rule but have always wondered how accurate they were given multiple hinge points, is the rule unfolded squarely, getting a good measurement right at the hinge, etc. Still, may have to reconsider and add one of these to my tool collection.
Hi love you’re web site
In Australia we use the metric system so for all you people who struggle with fractions give it a try all in units of tens
I have found that the Fastcap tape housings develop very oily surface when left in a drawer for a while. The side with the belt clip almost looks and feels like silicone lube leaked through it from inside the tape measure. Also, I got rid of my lefty-righty because 86 and 68 are easily mixed up. Fortunately my mistake went to the long side so all I had to do was have the blinds trimmed……..
Just wondering where you can buy that tape measure because there website doesn’t show it?
Hi Rob. It looks like Walmart has it https://www.walmart.com/ip/FASTCAP-Lefty-Righty-16-Tape-Measure/14971804?wmlspartner=wlpa&selectedSellerId=897&adid=22222222227000000000&wl0=&wl1=g&wl2=t&wl3=42423897272&wl4=pla-51320962143&wl5=9023624&wl6=&wl7=&wl8=&wl9=pla&wl10=112354565&wl11=online&wl12=14971804&veh=sem&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIuqOIz5_-5QIVB7zACh1dKQOpEAQYBSABEgJMFvD_BwE
Paul-Woodworkers Guild of America
I use a folding rule which has a short, pull-out brass segment embedded into the first section. When taking inside measurements, you simply unfold enough sections to fit into the space being measured then extend the pull-out portion, which is graduated in 1/16″, take the reading, and add it to that on the rule. For example, since each section of the rule measures 7″, unfolding 3 sections and extending the brass measure to fill the remainder of the space to be measured. By reading, in this example, 4 1/2″ then adding the 21″ (3×7″), you get 25 1/2″. Used thusly, it can then be used as a “story stick”.
The 8’ folding rule was a staple of my youth, my father always had one. He was an mechanical engineer, who was the son of a military carpenter and that tool was a staple in his toolbox as we did many projects around the house. I learned by observing how to use this “contraption” and I always said dad, please get a tape measure. He finally did but he always used both. Consequently, I know how to use both although I have not used a folding rule in years. I think I am going to go get one this afternoon. A great tool with great memories!
I use the FastCap Flatback. It doesn’t hold rigid, but it lies flat on your work, there’s no need to roll over the tape to read exactly. Mine, the story-pole version, has one edge blank so that you can mark the tape for quick repeat measures.
I have been using the same three tools for the last 75 years, they were also my father’s favorite tools to use
My father taught me woodworking skills in our basement shop when I was 8 years old. I strayed since then becoming a doctor, husband and father myself. Now, 56 years later I am coming full circle by building a woodshop in the garage of a new home my wife and I have just completed. I am eager to “re-learn” some of those lost skills and pass them down to my next two generations. I am going to dig through the basement of the old homestead to find my dad’s old folding wooden rule. It is what I was taught to use and will be a cherished bit of nostalgia in my new shop.
Thank you for bringing back that memory.
I don’t have a FastCap tape, but do have one with fractions on it and use it whenever I’m outdoors, away from my white board. I have an older generation battery calipers that sold me on buying the new-gen Wixey Digital model which, I’m ashamed to admit, I haven’t used yet. And my old standby folding rule from high school shop days (which is well over half a century ago) that, like you and your ex-GI friend, I use pretty much anytime I’m at a project in the shop (or outdoors with my metal working tools). Excellent article, George! Thanks!!
My number one measuring tool is my 6″ Woodpeckers stainless steel hook rule that I carry in my apron. I also have the 12″ model. I also use digital calipers, and a tape and after watching George’s videos started carrying a folding rule in my apron but the markings are just not as precise as my stainless steel hook rules.
Finding a 12-18″ ruler that is flush/zero offset is getting to be really difficult. The plastic ones will get chipped if dropped and their marking lines easily rub off! Where can you find decent rulers?
The cheap, mechanical blue calipers from HF are useful when checking wood thickness prior and after sending them through the planer. It can go up to 6 inches. It also has a nice depth gauge.
Digital calipers are especially useful when turning wooden spokes that have to fit into dowel holes. A 3/4″ dowel won’t fit into a 3/4″ hole! You need to be able to measure at least to the thousandths of an inch.
A digital protractor is very useful when drilling complicated, angled holes, which is difficult even on a drill press.
A 24 inch combination square is very valuable when attempting long, accurate miter cuts. The good ones are relatively expensive.
A thin, metal ruler comes in handy when setting the zero/starting height on a bit in a router table. As you raise the bit, you slide the ruler back and forth over the opening and when the ruler just touches the bit edge, you have your starting height.
A graduated cylinder is necessary when thinning finishes (polyurethanes and acrylics) for spraying.
Now, what I don’t have is an accurate way to measure the distance to the router table’s fence. I can get as close as 1/2 mm, but sometimes that just isn’t good enough.
Add to this a hook ruler. Its the handiest thing on my bench.
I agree with thr stick ruler, no matter how dated. What was not mentioned was that it should be the type with the sliding section on the outside section. That’d the key to inside measurements. The picture did not show that feature.
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.
Have the Wixey digital caliper. Like the fast cap lefty/righty and need a new folding rule. So will be buying the last two. Have several other measuring tools from Woodpeckers which are great but these 3 are a must as well.
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?
Why? What we have works well for us. Besides we Americans like being different? It’s worked out well for us over the years, so why conform? We have a saying here … “If it works, don’t fix it.” and for us, the imperial system works just fine.
My question is why does everyone else want to “fix” us. It’s not like we have the largest economy in the world by far … oh wait … 8-P
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.
Hi Raymond. My Lufkin X46F https://amzn.to/2GZw7gU measures from 1”– 72” on the inside and outside faces, and has a brass extension.
Your Comment here…Education of tools and how to use them is very good.
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.
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.
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.
I’m 70 years old and still use the folding rule my dad used when he was in high school.
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.
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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Favorite measuring tools nothwithstanding, the old adage “Measure twice, cut once”, still applies.
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.
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.
I thought there are 96 inches in 8 feet…… Don’t get it
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.
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.
Going to buy all three this weekend!
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.