Woodworking Tools: Right Selection And Care Will Save You
Money, Part 3
Woodworking: Tools Of The Trade, Part 3 - Tools For
Measuring & Marking
A civilization's maturity and intelligence is judged, in part,
by the diversity and sophistication of its tools. When it comes
to woodworking, the human race is quite advanced. There are
general tools that work well in many situations, and there are
specialty tools made for one specific purpose. There are tools
that require only manpower and a rudimentary knowledge, and
others that utilize computer programs, a wide range of knowledge,
and a powerful motor. We have even learned how to harness power
for our tools and package it in a small battery component, giving
us the freedom to take our tools wherever we need them.
It is truly amazing and wonderful to contemplate the vast
number of tools and all that woodworkers are capable of doing and
creating with the help of these tools. And for many people,
working with tools is one of the thrills, or even obsessions, of
Woodworking and related tools have become so popular that
there are numerous companies that manufacture these tools and
thousands of places to purchase them. Combine that with the vast
numbers of different types of tools and it can get overwhelming,
especially if you are new to woodworking. Our experts helped us
focus on the basics to develop an overview of those tools needed
to get a good start in woodworking.
In the most basic terms, a woodworker needs four kinds of
tools. They need a place to work, tools for cutting and shaping,
tools for assembly, and finishing equipment. This simple
statement provides the basis for the following discussion of
The tools listed and described here represent just the tip of
the iceberg. In keeping with the philosophy that it is best to
learn the basics first, and to not invest large sums of money
until a person is certain that they have an ongoing interest in
woodworking, the emphasis is on hand tools, with a few basic
power tools thrown in. These tools should prepare you for a
variety of beginner projects and give you a solid foundation of
equipment and knowledge to build upon.
Tools For Measuring & Marking
Most basic measuring tools are not complicated instruments that
require special care. Yet making proper cuts is a key component
of basic woodworking skills. It is important to have an accurate
rule, a means of marking angles, and something to mark with.
There are several types of rulers, but the most common are a
metal tape measure, a 24-inch wooden folding rule and a wooden
zigzag rule, which can be as long as eight feet. Tape measures
have a long tape wound up inside the case and are especially
handy for jobs with long pieces of wood. They also have a lock to
hold the tape at the desired length.
When buying wooden rulers, look for sturdy material with both
standard and metric markings and a catch or pin for holding the
rule closed when folded. Tape measures should also have both
types of measurements and a sturdy tape. You should be able to
find quality rulers for under $10. If buying used, be sure that
all the numbers and markings are legible and that the spring to
retract the tape measure and the lock to hold the tape are in
Care & Maintenance
Most rulers simply need to be wiped down from time to time,
especially the metal rulers that are susceptible to rust. Also
with a metal tape measure, it is a good idea to hold the blade
and let it return slowly back into the case. Simply releasing the
lock and letting the blade whiz back inside can result in the
tape coming unsprung.
A square is used to make angles and check for true and square
joinings. It also has measurement markings. There are many
different types and as with other tools, certain squares work
best for certain types of tasks.
A miter square is for marking 45-degree angles. A try square
is shaped like an "L" for marking 90-degree angles and checking
for true squareness, and a sliding bevel is adjustable and is
used with a protractor to mark angles up to 180 degrees. A
combination square has settings for both 45 and 90-degree
Generally these three items will provide what you need for
marking angles with reasonable accuracy. Those made from wood and
metal are usually less expensive and slightly less accurate, but
are fine for most general projects. You can purchase wood and
metal squares at hardware stores or home centers for $10 to $15,
although a good combination square may be quite a bit more.
Care & Maintenance
Squares are low maintenance tools. They need to be wiped down
after use and the material should be checked periodically for
rust or rot. The rivets or locking nuts should be checked for
tightness and function. Beyond that, they don't require much
A sharp pencil can be used for marking, however many woodworkers
feel that a marking knife is a better choice due to its superior
accuracy. Unlike a pocketknife, a marking knife is beveled on one
side and flat on the other to allow for a thin, straight mark. In
addition, the small cut can help guide the cutting tool. A
marking knife is one of the most inexpensive tools to
An awl, which is a sharp, pointed piece of metal attached to a
round wooden handle, looks similar to an ice pick. It is
typically used to mark or start nails and screws. Its sharp point
can also be used to scratch a marking in a softer wood. Awls
typically sell for under $10.
Some woodworkers use a marking gauge, which has a fence to
keep it flush to the board and a writing tool on the other end to
mark the cut as the tool slides along the edge of the board.
Other measuring tools include a compass or divider for drawing
circles and marking increments and plane gauges or other tools
used to determine if a piece of wood is flat and true. A quality
woodworking compass can be expensive to purchase, often costing
over $30. Most gauges are under $20.
Care & Maintenance
The care and maintenance for these marking tools depends on the
tool and the material from which it's made. The main
consideration is that the tool be sharp. Most can be sharpened
with regular sharpening methods, either by you or the hardware
Accurate measurements, correct angles and true joins are the
basic elements of good woodworking projects. In addition to the
items listed above, there are many gadgets and specialty tools
for measuring and marking. Beware of fad gadgets and stick to the
essential tools you will need to get started. As you gain a
better understanding of different measuring and marking
situations, you will be able to determine which tools you need to
This completes part 3 of the condensed overview of some of the
tools that are commonly used in beginning woodworking projects.
As you can see, this topic could and has provided the content for
entire volumes of books and in order to fully understand the
possibilities in woodworking and create quality projects, it is
critical that you develop a more in-depth knowledge of the tools
you plan to use.
It is also important to note again that each type of tool has
its own care and maintenance needs that are often more specific
than what has been touched on here. The details have been left
out of this book to avoid overwhelming someone who is brand new
to woodworking. However, their omission does not mean they aren't
"Failing to care for your tools is ridiculous from a financial
standpoint," stated shop teacher, Kevin Warner. "Why spend $20 on
a good quality handsaw or clamp and then allow it to go dull or
rust? Not only will you loose money, your work will suffer
because your tools won't perform as intended. And it will take
you more time in the long run. Taking good care of your tools is
one of the first steps in becoming a serious woodworker."
Copyright © 2005 by Ferhat Gul. All rights reserved. You
may redistribute this article in its unedited entirety, including
this resource box, with all hyperlinked URLs kept intact.
Ferhat Gul is the publisher of the brand-new "Woodworking
Beginner's Guide - Tips From Experienced Woodworkers to Help You
Get Started", made just for people who love woodworking.
This comprehensive, yet compact woodworking introduction for
beginners is easy to read and helps to save time, money and
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