Right Techniques To Measure, Mark AND Cut Wood

“Measure Twice Cut Once” – How To Measure Your Wood Projects

how to measure and mark wood for cutting

Wrong with measurements is one of the most common reasons a wood project can go wrong. Hence the well known saying – “Measure twice, cut once.” It applies to all craftwork that involves cutting and assembling, eg. Sewing.  

In this post we will look at the different ways you can measure your wood projects and which method to use when for the most accurate results. 

Many start out with not allotting enough importance to this part of woodworking. But they soon realize that even small errors in measurements can sometimes lead to a discrepancy serious enough to be to be a major hassle. The measuring mistakes that are discovered during the assembling stage of the process, can be a bother to sort out. 

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In dire situations you might not have another option but to re-cut and reassemble the wood project! We do not want this happening. So let’s start by looking at all the wood measuring tools available to you.

Using A Measuring Tape.

Measuring tape is essential in a wood-shop. You have the option of a metal tape or a soft cloth version. A 12 inch retractable metal tape is the most commonly used measuring tape. It’s small, lightweight and makes measuring convenient. The stiff blade of the tape ensures that it does not bunch up during the measurements.

A single person can easily measure large boards since it has a hook at one end as well. A tape measure is versatile and can be used to measure both large and small projects. However, for very accurate small measurements, some wood workers swear by a ruler.

Measuring By A Ruler

Measuring small measures is more convenient with a ruler. It is also quicker. Rulers come in many sizes. The most widely used sizes range from 6 inches to 2 feet long. Get a set as its not expensive. Metal is good but avoid brass as its too soft and can bend out of shape very easily. 

Another option with measure with a ruler is to get a foldable 10ft ruler. It gives the accuracy of a ruler and is portable enough to wield and carry just like a folding niche tape. 

Measuring angles with Squares 

Apart from measuring length you will also need to measure angles. For example if you want to cut a rectangular piece, after marking one side for the cut you need to mark the other side at right angles. This can be done with the help of a tool called ‘squares.’ In this case you will use a ‘try square’ which measures 90° right angles. 

There are different kinds of squares that measure different angles. A ‘mitre square’ measure 45 degrees on one side and 135 degrees on another. 

A ‘sliding bevel square’ has an adjustable knob that allows you to set it at any angle. You can use a protractor to set it at any precise angle.

A ‘combination square’ can measure multiple angels of 45, 90, and 135 degrees.

You might be wondering why you need a ‘try square’ or a ‘mitre square’ when you can manage these angles with a combination square. For one thing, convenience. A try square is a simple tool with 2 blades attached to each other at 90 degrees. For another, readings for a 90 degree angle tend to be more accurate from a try square as compared to a combination square. At least that’s what many woodworkers will tell you.

When buying a square, buy one that is well made and sturdy. It’s even possible that a square you buy does not measure a correct 90 degree angle. There is a way to check it. We’ll get to that in a minute. 

You will find some beautiful squares made out of wood. But as we’ve been telling you in our post “All about Wood”, wood is not the most stable of materials. It can change shape according to its environment, mostly humidity. So go for squares made out of metal and heavy grade plastic for more accurate measurements. 

There is a simple way to tell if your square is accurate. Mark with it and then turn it over. See if the edges still match. If they don’t your square is not measuring a correct right angle. 

Marking The Wood

Once you are done measuring there is one more step before you can actually start anything, and that’s the step of marking.

Most woodworkers use a pen or a pencil and this seems to serve them just fine. But when it’s a question of very precise measurement, the thickness of the line drawn by the pen or the pencil can throw measurements off by 1/20th of an inch. This can create problems in the final assembling of the woodcraft. 

So the first thing you need to do is to always use a well sharpened pencil and a pen with a fine nib.

However, there may be a better way. You can use a marking knife. A marking knife is a retractable blade with a very fine edge, not very different than a paper cutter you must have used for art and craft work in school. It’s just stronger and sharper. 

Instead of making a line with a pen you can use the marking pen to cut a very fine and shallow groove on the surface of the wood. 

There is a useful variation of a marking knife that you can use to mark from the edge of a board. It has a build in measuring scale with a clamp that can slide along the length of the ruler and be tightened at any point. One edge of the ruler has a sharp pin. The clamp is placed along the edge of the wood and slid along, while the pin end is lightly pressed to mark the wood. 

Just remember to use marking knifes and blocks with a gentle pressure to avoid gouging the wood surface too deeply. In case you ever need to sand the mark, (most of the times you won’t if you cut accurately), a deep groove can be difficult to get rid of.

Cutting The Wood By Hand Saws

The Proper Technique of Using A Hand Saw

We have listed 7 handsaws for you to have in your wood shop. However, the technique of using any handsaws for the best and safest results is pretty much the same. Here is the 6-point system of how to properly use a handsaw. 

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  • Grip the handsaw on the handle with your index finger extended along the side of the blade. This technique will steady the blade and let you better control the direction of the cut. The exception is when using a scroll saw, frame saw, coping saw, and Japanese saw. Frame, coping and scroll saws are commonly gripped on top of the frame by the free hand. A Japanese saw is almost like a knife and pretty stiff. So you might not feel the need to steady the blade with your index finger. 
  • Make the cut by running the saw slowly in one (cutting) direction. Steady the blade with the other free hand. Start with the to and fro motion of the saw only once the teeth have properly and completely sunk into the wood.
  • Secure the wood properly. This is another reason why clamps are a necessary item in a woodshop. If the wood is moving during cutting, you can injure yourself or botch up the cut. 
  • Place your shoulder directly behind the saw and use even and rhythmic movements. This distributes the pressure evenly and leaves less room for fatigue, pain and injury.
  • Cut on the other side of the mark you have made, i.e. not the side you want to use. Otherwise you will reduce the size of the cut piece.
  • Support the wood. Make sure that there is no tug of gravity on either side of the piece you are cutting. Otherwise it may tear away before you are finished sawing, ruining the cut. 

That’s it for this article. We would love to hear from your comments and observations. Go ahead and post them below. As always, thank you for reading!

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