Measuring Tools

SquaresRulesTape Measures


Levels are available in many sizes and shapes, the most common being 24" long in the style shown above. They can be made of wood, aluminium or plastic, some have fixed vials, others are adjustable. All levels have one or more vials for vertical and horizontal use, some have 45 degree vials. Inside the vial is a fluid with an air bubble, when the bubble is centered between the two indicator lines the surface is level.

Longer levels 48" or 72" give a more accurate reading and are used in construction projects, if a board is bowed shorter levels will be resting on the curve as shown in the exaggerated sketch below



Toppedo levels have narrow ends to fit into confined spaces and are handy for mounting cabinets.

To check a level for accuracy, place it upon a surface that the level indicates to be level, turn the level end for end, if it still indicates the surface is level it is accurate.

Bubbles always run uphill so raise the end of the level you want the bubble to run to.

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Framing Square

With this tool it is possible to layout and measure just about everything in the construction of a house from the basement stairs on up to the attic rafters. It may also be refered to as a steel square or a carpenters square. The most common size has a 24" blade and a 16" tongue, however there are smaller sizes available but like some cheaper versions of the larger style they do not have the framing tables stamped on them.

Checking for Accuracy
To check a square for accuracy draw a line on a board, invert the square, if the square blade is parallel to the line the square is accurate. Use a sharp pencil, or lay a strip of masking tape on the board and cut the tape with a utility knife against the blade of the square.
Check both the inside and outside arms of the square,
sometimes the blades are not parallel.

Framing squares can be adjusted

If the square is less than 90 strike the inside of the corner with a center punch, if it is more than 90 strike the outside of the corner.

Try Square

These squares have a steel tongue fixed into a wooden handle, they range in size from 3" to 12", some have inch scales on them others are blank. They are very handy for furniture and cabinet making as they are small enough to fit in confined spaces.


Combination Square

WOODCRAFT Squares at

This is a two peice unit with a head that slides along a steel blade, it measures both 45 and 90. Many models come with a level built into the head. This is an excellent first tool for anyone starting out.

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1880 Starrett Patent Print from Vintage Internet



These are available in in many shapes and sizes in various materials, the two shown above, a double 45 and a 30 - 60 are the two shapes used most in laying out patterns.

Sliding Bevel


This tool has a adjustable blade which can be used to transfer angles to mark on a board to be cut or be used to set-up a power saw. It can also replace a try square but caution must be used so that the blade is not accidentally knocked out of square.


Measuring Devices

Steel Rules

A good quality steel rule has many uses, drawing plans, measuring material, checking if glue ups are flat, aligning table saw wings, and any other application where accuracy is necessary. They are available in various lengths, some have the markings starting from the edge, others are indented, these are better for precise measurment since damage to the end will not affect the reading.

Folding Rule


I would like to say that this old wood and brass 24" folding rule had been handed down to me, the truth is I bought it at a garage sale recently for 25 cents.

Some craftsmen still rely on these rules today, however they have been mostly replaced by the tape measure.

 Tape Measures

tape measure

Tape measures come in a variety of widths and lengths, I would not recomend anything less than 3/4" wide for a tape over 6 feet long as they can not be extended out and remain rigid. For small projects in the shop 1/2" wide ones are adequate. Some have highlighted indicators at each foot, others have them at 16 inch intervals which is handier in construction for stud layout, whereas the foot indicators are more useful in the shop. Special tapes are available for lefties as well as ones with digital read-outs.

On a standard tape measure with inch and foot markings the scale between the inch markings is divided into 1/16" divisions, the longest lines represent 1/2", the next longest 1/4", then 1/8" and finally 1/16". The red numbers at the top indicate the number of inches past the last foot mark.


The hook on the end is meant to be loose so that it will give an accurate measurement whether it is hooked over the edge or butted up to an edge. Check if the hook has been bent if measurments are not accurate.

Why Most Tape Measures Read From Left To Right

The graphics on the blade were designed for a right-handed person to measure, so consequently it is awkward use it to mark with. To measure the user hooks the blade to his left and pulls the tape to his right with his right hand, the numbers are right side up. To measure and mark it is necessary to either hold the tape case in the left hand and cross-over with the right to mark, or measure from right to left putting the numbers upside-down.

Years ago Stanley attempted to remedy this situation by putting the numbers on both sides of the tape so they read right-side up from either edge. Due to an enormous amount of complaints from users saying it was too confusing and caused errors they discontinued the idea.

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