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Measuring Tips and Techniques for DIYers

Use these clever tricks to work faster and better

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1-in. Stop Block for Multiple Cutoffs

1-in. Stop Block for Multiple Cutoffs

To get furniture-grade crosscuts, you have to use a table saw. When Senior Editor Travis Larson crosscuts a whole pile of short pieces to the same length, he clamps a specially dedicated block of wood to the table saw fence. It's an old standard trick, but the difference is that his block is laminated for easy sliding, and more important, it's exactly 1 in. thick. He clamps the block on the fence and adjusts the table saw fence gauge to the desired length, plus 1 in., and saws the pieces. The 1-in. thickness eliminates any head-scratching and mistakes from using any old scrap block. For safety, he positions the block so the workpiece he's cutting loses contact with the block before the cut begins. That all but eliminates any chance of kickback.

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Add Fractions Fast

Add Fractions Fast

Adding 1-13/16 in. to 3-3/8 in. (or any other fractions) doesn't have to hurt. Just line up two rulers or tape measures side by side and read the answer instantly, with complete accuracy. It works for subtraction, too—just read the numbers in the other direction.

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Circle Gets the Square

Circle Gets the Square

Here's a magical way to trace arcs and circles for project parts. Tap two finish nails at the ends of a desired diameter, then rotate a framing square against the nails while holding a pencil in the square's corner. Spray the underside of the square with silicone or rub on some paraffin so it'll glide smoother. Then practice a little to get the feel of the three-point contact technique. Square not square? We'll show you how to fix it.

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Copy Center Project Patterns

Copy Center Project Patterns

Enlarging scaled-down woodworking patterns to full scale is a lot of work, and the results are rarely very accurate. But you don't have to go through that exercise anymore. Just about any full-service copy center will do it for you in a couple of minutes for a couple of dollars.

Here's how: Cut the pattern to the actual length of the drawing—our magazine pattern measured 3-13/16 in. Ask to have it enlarged to the size called for in the dimensions. The copy center magician will spin a circular gauge to determine the expansion percentage and punch that info into the copier. In less than a minute, the full-size pattern will roll out. Our 35-3/4- in. Adirondack leg pattern cost less than $2. Stick the pattern directly to the wood with spray adhesive, double-faced tape or masking tape and cut out the part—that's it!

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Dead-Center Drawer Handles

Dead-Center Drawer Handles

Here's a quick and easy way to perfectly center drawer handles and pulls and mark them for drilling. Use a straightedge and light pencil lines to mark diagonals from the corners of the drawer face to pinpoint the center. That's all you'll need for a single screw handle.

For handles with two holes, adjust a try square to the center point and scribe the horizontal handle line. Divide the handle hole spacing (usually 3 or 4 in.) by two and mark the drill holes on the line on either side of the center.

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Improved Marking Gauge

Improved Marking Gauge

Marking gauges come with a little metal pin that scratches a line on the wood, but it's hard to see the fine line when you're working. So Family Handyman Editor in Chief Ken Collier drilled out the pinhole and stuck in a pencil. Now it works great for tracing cutting lines on rough boards and laying out screw hole positions along cabinet edges.

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Mark, Don't Measure

Mark, Don't Measure

Holding trim in place and marking it is always more accurate than measuring, often faster and it eliminates mistakes. This is good advice for other types of carpentry work too, like siding, laying shingles and sometimes even framing.

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Marking Gauge

Marking Gauge

Here's a nifty way to trace cutting or drilling lines on workpieces: First drill a 1/8-in. pencil hole 1 in. in from the ruler end of a combination square and adjust the square to the desired dimension. Then stick in the pencil and pull the square along the board edge to trace the line. Be careful to drill a hole that's only a smidgen larger than the pencil point. You'll be able to speedily produce straight, crisp lines for all kinds of jobs.

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Memory (or Lack Thereof) Trick

Memory (or Lack Thereof) Trick

Stick masking tape to your tape measure for jotting down shapes and numbers. That way you won't forget the length on the way to the saw.

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Perfect Keyhole Template

Perfect Keyhole Template

When you're installing a wall hanging that has keyhole slots on the back, create a template to help you position the wall screws. Lay a piece of paper over the slots and do a pencil rubbing a la Sherlock Holmes. Level and tape the guide to the wall. Mark the top of the keyholes with a nail and your screws will be in perfect position.

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Slant-Ruler Board Divider

Slant-Ruler Board Divider

Want to divide a board or sheet of plywood perfectly in half, thirds or any other equal fractions? Here's a great old tip that's worth revisiting. To halve the board, line up the end of a ruler or tape measure on one side, slant the tape to read 8 in. on the right edge and make your mark at 4 in. To divide it into thirds, slant the ruler to read 9 in. and mark the board at 3 and 6 in.

The key is to select a measurement that's easily divisible by the number of spaces you want. For example, if you want to cut a sheet of plywood into six sections, use the 60-in. mark on your tape measure.

Measure at a 90-degree angle from one side to each mark to get the real numbers to transfer them wherever you need them.

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Testing Table Saw Miter Cuts

Testing Table Saw Miter Cuts

An easy way to test whether your table saw is set to 45 degrees is to cut off a short length of your trim, then hold it to a square. A gap means your angle is off.

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Set the Blade Depth Before Cutting

Set the Blade Depth Before Cutting

Determine the blade depth by unplugging the saw and holding it alongside your board with the blade guard retracted. Then loosen the depth-adjusting lever or knob and pivot the saw's base until the blade extends about 1/4 to 1/2 in. below the board. Tighten the lever or knob and you're ready to saw.

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Easy Framing Formula

Easy Framing Formula

You don't need a math degree to estimate framing materials for walls. Here's a formula that works every time, no matter how many doors, windows or corners your walls have:

  • One stud per linear foot of wall.
  • Five linear feet of plate material (bottoms, tops and ties) per linear foot of wall.

It'll look like too much lumber when it arrives, but you'll need the extra stuff for corners, window and door frames, blocking and braces. Set aside the crooked stuff for short pieces.