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Tips on How to Use a Tape Measure and Other Measuring Device for Woodworking


What could be more frustrating than being on the few final steps of your work and finds out there is a little discrepancy on the measurements when you cut the wood? Little as it might be, but that may basically cost you to redo few processes or make necessary adjustments that could only mean additional work and time to spare. This is basically the reason why precise and proper use of measuring tools are an essential step of woodworking. Hence, we can use these tips on how to use a tape measure and other measuring device for woodworking for a continuous and productive work.

What you will need for this tutorial:

There are several kinds of measuring tools and devices used in woodworking. We might be only familiar with the tape measure, but other than that, there is also the use of the following:

  • folding ruler
  • carpenter’s level
  • calipers

Perhaps, there are still a few more of these kinds of measuring devices used with different uses and purpose. There are even traditional methods or you can get fancy and go digital and automatic using innovated designs and models. You can use whichever you find comfortable to work with, it will not matter at all.

When measuring, you will need to of course make a line on the sizes and lengths you want. Thus, measuring and markings always go hand in hand. And in this case, a pencil or a marking knife can be also added in your measuring essentials.

Measuring is a basic and an important aspect in woodworking. And it is not only measuring per se, but taking the exact and precise fit and measurement, as it is considered as the very foundation of the success and accuracy of the finish output. Not getting the right measurement the first time will cost you a big waste on the materials, not to mention your time, effort and money.

While many thinks it is easy, there are actually more to it that just positioning the ruler, tape measure or other measuring tools, and marking the designed length or width. You will be overwhelmed from the different shapes, sizes, and materials, to the vaious kinds of cuts to make, angles, joints and the list goes on. The good news is, you don’t necessarily need to be a math whiz, as with the proper techniques and practice, mastering the basic and the rest will just be a walk in the park.

Part of the process is knowing the technical language of woodworking such as:

  • Know what the perfect fit is, as it does not necessarily mean cutting on the exact measure as there are times when certain half or quarter-inch adjustments and extra are required to execute the succeeding steps and get the right length or width desired for the project.
  • When to use the “gap” and how much can be tolerable and needed in order to chieve the desired outcome.
  • Choosing the right size of tape measure. Apparently thre are different sizes of tape measure you can use depending on your need and ease of use. Standard tape measure has the length of 6 feet up to 30 feet. For small DIY projects for example, you may just opt for one that is the right size for your need, because the large size may be heavy and big enough to hold, hence making it difficult and uncomfortable for you to use. The 16-foot tape measure is normally preferred.
  • There is a difference when you use a mechanical or carpenter’s pencil than using the ordinary ones when taking and marking the right measurements.
  • Proper care of you measuring tools is part of the steps in how to use it.

Step by Step Instructions:

Knowing how to properly use your measuring devices and getting the right measurement everytime is also essential for a productive and efficient work. While there may be times that few discrepancies cannot be avoided, knowing these few basic tips and steps of the trade may not hurt:

Know the different parts of tape measure and its uses

The tape measure consists of these three parts and elements, namely, the lock, blade and the clip. When measuring, the lock is moved downward, after extending the blade to the desired measurement to hold it and keep it steady. There are other tape measure however that automatically locks itself once you extend the blade, which is pretty awesome and convenient.


The clip found at the end of the blade is hooked on the edge of the board when taking measurements to help hold it in place and get the exact dimension. Note that the clip can be easily bended or tampered when you are not being careful with handling and using your tape measure. You have to therefore let it recoil slowly when pulling back to avoid damaging it. Because when it does, it will be difficult for you to have accurate measurements.

Don’t be confuse when reading the measurements. The foot can be seen with the black arrow and somewhat highlighted, while the inches are determined with lines all throughout the blade and has the number in inches.

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Use the Folding Ruler like the Tape Measure

A folding ruler is pretty much can be used alternatively with the tape measure. It is typically about 6 to 8 feet long, and sometimes referred to as the zigzag rule.


When using it, you simply have to unfold it one section at a time, first. And then extend and lay it flat on the surface of the wood or any object you want to measure. Of course, you have to check that you start with the smaller number. Folding ruler with a sliding extension is usually used with taking inside measurements.

Reading the ruler is pretty much the same as how you do it with other measuring devices. The imperial ruler normally uses feet then inches and then the fractions of inches. The metric ruler, however, employs the standard metric measurements of millimeters and centimeters, wherein it has 10 millimeters to every centimeter.

Check Accuracy of Level Before Using

Woodworkers also use levels when taking measurements. This fancy tool is very effective in getting the right and exact quantities as well. The vial is the important determinant of the accuracy and functionality of the level.

To use it in order to find the “true horizontal or vertical” of the object, simply place the level on the surface of the wood wherein the spirit tube should run parallel to it. Let the bubble in the tube float. When checking the measurement, put your eyes on the level of the spirit tube and focus on the bubbles. Close your one eye to be able to read it accurately. The bubble should be centered between the lines.


But before taking the measurement, it is apparent to check the level first if it is working properly or not. Dropping it may misalign the frame or cause inaccuracies or dismount the vial. To check, place it in a flat board. Mark or put shims uder the board to center the bubble in the vial. Rotate the level 180 degrees end to end and check the vial. If the bubble is in the same position as prior, level is accurate. Though some high end brands may still be rectified, replacing it may be the better alternative and cure. Hence to avoid, put it to safety by storing it in a protective case.

Calipers are used when taking basic length measurements

It comes in three kinds namely, Vernier, dial or digital, all of which can be used flexibly whether working in your shop or work place or doint DIY projects at home, when measureing lengths. However, certain skill is required in order to get the precise measurement, something that is developed when gradually getting the hang of it.

When used, the jaw of the caliper must be held firmly and against the part, which should be as close as possible to the caliper’s frame.


It is important to check for a good zero condition before using it. You can do that by opening and closing the jaw couple of times checking for repeat of the zero setting. If there are difference, re-zero and try again.

When measuring the part or object, be sure that the caliper is positioned parallel with the line of measurement. You open the jaw and grip the object in it. You can check zero repeats a couple of times to ensure you get the exact measurement.


Digital calipers can be used to make compound measurements, thus many opts for its kind. And like any other tool, proper care is required not only to extend its life but for efficiency, reliability and accuracy. Wipe it clean and don’t just toss it in the work bench after use, or when not in used. And store it always in its case. It needs to be calibrated once a year, too.


So what do you think of this article? Proper and precise use of these measuring devices when working on any project, big or small, is essential for the success of the finish product. And just like your other powertools, proper care is needed to ensure the reliability and accuracy of use.

If you any questions and other tips and techniques on your sleeve that you want to share, please feel free to comment it below. And hope you can share this article if you like it.

  • October 2, 2017
  • DIY