My 3 Favorite Measuring Tools

If you’re going to do woodworking, you’ll 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 many 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 into the body. Although I’m past the point of learning how to read fractions on a ruler, I’ve taught many kids and adults who struggle with this. FastCap tapes have the dimensional fractions written on the ruler, so no one is measuring 1″ plus three little lines. And the price is right at $13.25.

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 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 to cross-reference to fractions. The next step was digital calipers that read in fractions, and I LOVE them. The Wixey Digital Calipers, $46, have earned their keep in my shop over and over again. My #1 application is when I’m thickness 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 straightforward for me to control my material thickness.

I also use digital calipers to set the cursor on my table saw 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. There’s a story as with many things in my life. 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.) As 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 the site is opening the first section or two, then opening the rest 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 $30. 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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40 Responses to “My 3 Favorite Measuring Tools”

  1. Brian

    I find all the little fractions on the tape measure to be confusing. It is much easier for me to read the marks by their length than try to figure which fraction is applying to which line. Maybe that's just me.


    I learned to use the fold up wood rule from my dad about 70 years ago. But I was introduced to a Lufkin tape a few years later, and never looked back. My only complaint with it is that they changed the body of the tape some years ago from a silver colored body to an orange colored body. When they did, they also changed the way the tape lock functions. I loved the original design, and hate the newer design. I have several lengths of this tape including 12 foot, 16 foot and 25 foot. I had several of the 12 foot versions, since that's what I use 90% of the time. I don't do large projects or construction projects. And I have replaced the tape in my 12 footer several times. The problem is that I lost one of my 12 foot tapes several years ago, and now only have one left. I have one of the orange versions that I rarely use only as a last resort. But my old silver one is past being worn out. I have patched it several times. But I'll probably have to change my ways sometime soon, when it will no longer be reparable.

  3. Lee Schelin

    I've owned a RrghtyLefty for many years and its also one of my favorites. Another one is Center Point, also a 16' tape.

  4. Frank

    Story poles are also a way to transfer the true dimension to work pieces.

  5. Michael Lawler

    For accurate inside measurements with a tape measure: measure from one side to a convenient number, say one foot or ten inches and make a mark (on masking tape if you want to remove the mark). Measure from the other side to the mark and add the two. No eyeballing the inside measurement on the tape measure and adding the case size...

  6. BOB

    I just finished building a garden serving cart for my daughter/son in law. One tool I used that was almost indispensable was the Veritas Sliding Square from Lee Valley. I found the wide ruler and slide great to grab a measurement and transfer it or to lay out a line. It is dead square as well. Try one and I’m sure you will reach for it again and again. Bob K. Calgary, Alberta

  7. Mike

    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.

  8. michael

    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.

  9. Kevin Snyder

    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.

  10. Larry Steinmetz

    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.