Page 1 of 5 12345 LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 73

Thread: How important are rulers in cabinet making?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2020
    Location
    Redwood City, CA
    Posts
    55

    How important are rulers in cabinet making?

    My dad is a hobbyist woodworker that primarily makes furniture for around the house and I recently decided I want to join in the hobby with him. As our first project I decided I want us to build cabinetry for my laundry area (selfish, I know) and in spending time on the forums and youtube to do research I'm experiencing a bit of information overload. As I'm gearing up on this project I've been upgrading and investing in tools to work on the project but I need to pump the brakes a bit as it's adding up quickly and I'm trying to figure out what's actually necessary.

    One part I'm stuck on is measuring instruments, and what I actually need for the job. I'm a bit pedantic with details and don't want to slop something together. I've got a fastcap tape measure that I like, a 6" machinist square and a 12" incra ruler which I thought would be fine until I started doing some research. So in reading up on measuring it sounds like a lot of people are just using the tape measure for rough cuts and then rulers and story boards for everything else? Can I get by with what I have, or should I invest in rulers. If so, what sizes would I need? I think my skillset will be a greater margin of error than any measuring device but I probably don't need to compound things.

    Apologies for the very basic question, the amount of information we have at our disposal these days makes for a ton of consideration.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2016
    Location
    Seattle, WA
    Posts
    71
    If you're just getting started then a quality combination square (https://www.amazon.com/iGaging-Combi...dp/B01MRAANT9/) and tape measure will do 99% of what you need. Maybe 99.9%.

    I use a Milwaukee tape measure for almost all of my measurement work in my shop, even through I have decades of accumulated measuring/layout devices. Get a cheap layout knife too, although for cabinet making it's even better to plan out all of your cuts, set the fence once and then just plow through material. Being 1/32 off isn't that big of a deal if ALL of the boards/sheets at that length are 1/32 off.

    Layout tools are the kind of thing you can use forever. They *shouldn't* go bad (tape measures do get beat up, but squares/guides/etc shouldn't). Buy a quality one and use it, don't go wild before figuring out what styles you like.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2017
    Location
    Austria
    Posts
    137
    To be honest you can get away with just a Tape Measure for the vast majority of things though a Steel Ruler is very handy to have in many applications. Same thing goes with Squares a regular one will do most things fine though a Combination Square is one tool i definetly wouldnt want to miss anymore.

    Personally, Tape Measure, Steel Rule(300mm) and a Combination Square is all i use and so far i never needed anything else.

    Whats far more important is that you use one tool and stick with it i.e. dont use 3 different tape measures or rulers, 100mm on one Tape measure/ruler might read as 101 or 99,5 on others.

    Marking Gauge, Knife and Mechnical Pencil are something you want to get aswell, the latter saving on having to resharpen Pencils all the time.
    Last edited by Philipp Jaindl; 05-06-2020 at 4:52 PM.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2019
    Location
    Los Angeles, California
    Posts
    246
    Not very.

    I use a 16’ Stanley Tape measure because it doesn’t have 32nd markings. I use a a 6 and 12” Starrett combination square. That’s pretty much it. If I need a ruler function, the square does the trick. Oh, and a whole bunch of sharp pencils.
    Regards,

    Tom

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Location
    SE PA - Central Bucks County
    Posts
    52,869
    I work exclusively with metal rules unless the need is longer than 1000mm/40" which represents my longest rule. I only us a tape for longer stuff or for quick and dirty checks. Squares, including combo and fixed also play an important role and I have them in various sizes including a little tiny one I got off a flea market table that sometimes is just the thing in a tight space.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Location
    Peoria, IL
    Posts
    1,718
    Technically speaking, you don't need any measuring device to build a cabinet. You can take a piece of wood and make a story stick. That can define all the major dimensions of the box to fit in the location. After that you just need to be consistent. If you mix different measuring devices, make sure they all match. I also prefer a 3/4 x16' tape. I hate the 1" tapes with the large crown. You have to tip those darned things over so much to get accurate.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Piedmont Triad, NC
    Posts
    680
    Quote Originally Posted by Philipp Jaindl View Post
    Whats far more important is that you use one tool and stick with it i.e. don't use 3 different tape measures or rulers, 100mm on one Tape measure/ruler might read as 101 or 99,5 on others.
    This is very sage advice.
    "Only those who have the patience to do simple things perfectly will acquire the skill to do difficult things easily.” Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805)

    Woodworking since 1972

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Location
    Cincinnati, OH
    Posts
    714
    I posted on the error I made by using a 24" drafting ruler for 30+ years. When I was putting a 2nd tape on my sawstop, the one I had ordered did not line up well with the existing one. It varied +/- 1/32 . When I checked the tapes with my go-to drafting rule, it did not agree with either of the two tapes. I then did interval measures along its length and it was off by more than 1/32" in a couple of places.

    Of note, I would read the rule in widely different ways during actual use. Sometimes I would start well away from the end and even at times reading it backwards. Lesson learned: check all your measuring devices against each other. I learned my lesson 30+ years too late.
    Rustic? Well, no. That was not my intention!

  9. #9
    It doesn't matter what you use to measure. Just be sure to use the same instrument through out. As you can see from the above comments, various manufactured scales vary. As long as you stick with one device you will have no real issues. I normally use a Stanley 30 foot tape measure for any measurement over 12". For smaller more precise dimensions I use a 12" stainless steel rule which I have checked for agreement with my Stanley tape for 12". When measuring drill bits and other small objects I use my 6" HF digital calipers. Your can't go wrong for $17.99 unless you are a machinist.
    Lee Schierer
    Captain USNR(Ret)

    My advice, comments and suggestions are free, but it costs money to run the site. If you found something of value here please give a little something back by becoming a contributor! Please Contribute

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Location
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Posts
    793
    Quote Originally Posted by Richard Coers View Post
    Technically speaking, you don't need any measuring device to build a cabinet. You can take a piece of wood and make a story stick. That can define all the major dimensions of the box to fit in the location. After that you just need to be consistent. If you mix different measuring devices, make sure they all match. I also prefer a 3/4 x16' tape. I hate the 1" tapes with the large crown. You have to tip those darned things over so much to get accurate.
    This^^^

    When I want things to be exactly the same I cut a standard length piece for each dimension and use that as my reference when cutting all the pieces I need.

    Works for me...generally I just use a standard measure to get close but do not trust myself to be repeatable that way. I also use a knife edge rather than a pencil to mark the cut point, but prefer to use my “standards” to set stops to position the pieces I will be cutting.
    Too much to do...Not enough time...life is too short!

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Location
    Perth, Australia
    Posts
    7,342
    Quote Originally Posted by Gabriel Marusic View Post
    My dad is a hobbyist woodworker that primarily makes furniture for around the house and I recently decided I want to join in the hobby with him. As our first project I decided I want us to build cabinetry for my laundry area (selfish, I know) and in spending time on the forums and youtube to do research I'm experiencing a bit of information overload. As I'm gearing up on this project I've been upgrading and investing in tools to work on the project but I need to pump the brakes a bit as it's adding up quickly and I'm trying to figure out what's actually necessary.

    One part I'm stuck on is measuring instruments, and what I actually need for the job. I'm a bit pedantic with details and don't want to slop something together. I've got a fastcap tape measure that I like, a 6" machinist square and a 12" incra ruler which I thought would be fine until I started doing some research. So in reading up on measuring it sounds like a lot of people are just using the tape measure for rough cuts and then rulers and story boards for everything else? Can I get by with what I have, or should I invest in rulers. If so, what sizes would I need? I think my skillset will be a greater margin of error than any measuring device but I probably don't need to compound things.

    Apologies for the very basic question, the amount of information we have at our disposal these days makes for a ton of consideration.
    Gabriel, this is an important topic. Many use their machines to dimension parts. That can work well, if the machines measure accurately and the same setting is used for all parts. The wrong way to go about dimensioning is to measure each part individually. Error will creep in inevitably. In hand tool woodworking, one learns to transfer measurement with a marking/cutting gauge, always do so from a reference side, and monitor this process. When you get into this type of thinking, you realise that tape measures are only for rough setting out, and steel rulers for fine tuning. The real measurements are generally made using the parts, themselves.

    Regards from Perth

    Derek
    Last edited by Derek Cohen; 05-07-2020 at 4:36 AM.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    SoCal
    Posts
    20,251
    These conversations are always valuable since we all tend to do things a little bit differently than each other. I returned the iGaging combination squares because the quality just wasn't that much better than something like a Swanson or an Empire from the BORG. PEC's hit the mark for me at about the same price point. The only Starrett's I have were gifted .

    I put a small amount of effort into getting a set of rules and a tape that all matched and were consistent along their length. I certainly wouldn't want to fudge through with only a tape measure. As you noted, the tape is for roughing out things and rules and squares are for specifics. That doesn't mean you need to spend a ton. A set of these for $35 (although some folks like them double sided and square ended at both ends) and one of these for $7 (right to left because I am right handed) meet most of my needs during a build even though I have (Three Amigos reference) a plethora of other measuring and marking tools.

    Trust me, everyone else's answers are right too. The best measuring tool for you is the one that let's you make accurate parts and saves you from do-overs and force-fits.
    "What kind of chump do you take me for?"
    "First class."

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
    Stone Mountain, GA
    Posts
    594
    I have 12" rules with fine graduations that get used for anything they are large enough for. For larger stuff I use a tape measure. The rule is more convenient and probably more accurate.

    But rulers and tapes are for what I call nominal dimensions, meaning a number off of a plan or that I pulled out of my head. These don't have to be incredibly accurate because they are just setting a baseline that other parts get fit to. There is a limit to how accurately you can mark from a ruler or tape, and some aspects of fine work require more precision.

    Tools like marking gauges and techniques like transfer marking offer much more precision when required. Story sticks work great as well. These are low tech ways to get really accurate.

    I also use dial indicators, calipers, and feeler gauges to measure small relative distances, like how much fatter is a tenon than the mortise I'm trying to fit it into, and after measuring I can use the same tools to adjust the machine setup to compensate.

    Other times I just fit by trial and error, trimming a bit at a time and test fitting. This is inefficient but still effective.

    So I really don't find the need for many rulers and tapes or for particularly fancy ones. I wouldn't at all mind having a 24" and 36" rule just to avoid wrangling the tape measure as often, but it's not been a priority.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Location
    Austin Texas
    Posts
    1,846
    Even house build/remodel/repair projects that feature more power equipment use than hand tools do better when using stop blocks rather than measuring each individual piece. As for story stick use - "the new cabinet needs to be about waist high, right here (mark the vertical stick), it has to fit between the chair and the window, about this wide (mark the horizontal stick), the top shelf will hold books and the tallest book is this high (mark the stick for the top of the highest shelf), the shelf will be made with this thick material (mark the stick using a piece of the shelf material as a guide for marking the location of the bottom of the top shelf)", etc. Never used a tape for the entire thing, just set up two story sticks. The guys above are talking about marking the stick with a very thin "knife" cut rather than a pencil line. That thin knife cut line can always be found and transferred exactly to the material to be cut by use of a square and marking knife.
    David

  15. #15
    I can go days without using anything but a combination square and a tape measure. The rest of my measuring implements are luxuries.
    Last edited by johnny means; 05-07-2020 at 12:15 AM.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •