Woodworking Jig For Complex Shapes

Learn the ancient art of tick sticking

Need to reproduce a complex shape for your carpentry project? With a tick stick you can easily make perfect templates for cutting irregular angles and curves.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

How it works

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 perfectly matches the desired shape.

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).

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Scribing paper templates

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).

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Clamps
  • Cordless drill
  • Tape measure
  • Circular saw
  • Jigsaw
  • Straightedge

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • Sharp pencils
  • Plywood or cardboard
  • 1 x 4 or any long, narrow piece of wood