How it works
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Photo 1: Position the plywood
Lay the tick stick across the scrap with the pointed end near the line
that marks the front edge of the window seat. Trace a line onto the
scrap along the side of the stick.
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Make the tick marks
Make two perfectly aligned tick
marks, one on the stick and one on the scrap. Label both tick marks “1.”
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Photo 2: Mark the other corners
Place the point
of the tick stick in
each corner, and
trace lines and
number tick marks
just as you did for
the first line
(Photo 1). When
you’ve traced a
line for each corner
and both front
edges of the seat,
remove the scrap.
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Photo 3: Transfer the marks
Clamp the scrap onto the workpiece
flush with the edge of the workpiece.
Lay the tick stick along each traced
line, aligning the numbered tick
marks. Each time you position
the stick, make an “X” at the
pointed end of the stick.
When you’re done, you’ll
have a pattern with
each corner of the
shape plotted. Then
you just have to
Every day, boat builders have to cut oddball shapes—ones that would give a typical
carpenter fits. But boat builders know an old trick most carpenters don’t. This
simple technique, called “tick sticking,” allows them to mark out even
the most complex shapes quickly and accurately.
In a nutshell, tick sticking is a way to plot the key points
of an odd shape (usually corners) and transfer them
onto a workpiece. Once the key points are
marked, you just connect the dots to
create a cutting pattern that
At first, tick sticking looks like an
exercise for geometry majors. But follow
this article and you’ll quickly see
how this simple technique works.
We used tick sticking here to fit a
plywood window seat into a bay, but
the same technique can be used to
pattern any flat shape onto any material.
You need only a few simple tools:
- A pencil. For accurate results,
sharpen it and keep it sharp.
- A straightedge such as a framing
square or metal yardstick.
- A scrap of plywood, drywall or
cardboard. The scrap should be as
large as possible but smaller than the
shape you want to cut.
- A tick stick: any long, narrow piece
of wood cut to a sharp point at one
end. We made a fancy, two-piece tick
stick by screwing a short, pointed
piece of 1x4 to a long 1x4. The short 1x4 piece compensates for the thickness of the 3/4-in. plywood
scrap and allows the point to sit flat on the workpiece, making
marking easier (Photo 3).
Scribing paper templates
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Detail A: Check for gaps
Use a straightedge to see if any part of the wall curves or has gaps that need to be scribed.
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Detail B: Scribe the wall
Tape heavy paper in place and then scribe the shape of the wall on the paper.
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Photo 4: Finish the outline
Connect the marks using a
scribed paper template, or a
straightedge where the wall was perfectly flat.
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Photo 5: Install the piece
Set the workpiece in place
and congratulate yourself on
a job well done. Now go build
Before you connect the marks you plotted with the tick stick, hold a straightedge
against each wall the workpiece will butt into (Detail A). Unless the walls are
perfectly flat (few are), you’ll see gaps between the walls and the straightedge.
If you connect the tick-stick marks using a straightedge, you’ll end up with
the same gaps between the walls and the finished workpiece. That’s not a problem
if you plan to install molding to cover the gaps. But if you need a perfect fit,
make paper templates to match the contours of each wall section.
Just tape a strip of heavy paper along the wall and use a compass to “scribe”
the contour of the wall onto the paper (Detail B). Then cut along the
scribed line with scissors and use the paper template to connect the tick-stick
marks on the workpiece (Photo 4).