Layout Sticks

Layout_Sticks_OpenerMany woodworkers head into their shops and just tear into a new project, but there are as many reasons not to dive right in as there are woodworkers who do. A little planning goes a long way to reduce wasted wood and hours of frustration. Sure, it’s often fun to puzzle your way through a problem with a project, but most of the time it’s just aggravating. For me, layout sticks are the answer.

I’ve used layout sticks for decades to work out the details of projects before I’ve even chosen the material. In fact, having one in hand can influence my lumber choice for a particular part of a project.  Because they are drawn full-size, I’m able to compare the proposed layout to lumber in my stash. Many times, after I’ve decided on a particular set of boards to use for a piece, I discover that the  panels aren’t wide enough, or the material length would yield minimum parts and maximum waste, so I dig deeper into the lumber pile to find a better alternative.

If I had jumped immediately into the project, I wouldn’t have known these things until the material had been rough-cut to size or even milled. At that point the material would have to be set aside and the lumber selection and milling processes would have to begin again – wasting both time and material.

To continue reading this article, you must purchase a 360 Fanatic Membership or a 360 Enthusiast Membership.

Posted on

13 thoughts on “Layout Sticks

  1. Chuck, great article. I will definitely use this. I notice that your template kept moving around on you, and have a suggestion to help this. A simple yoga mat. It is long enough to get 2-3 pads from. I use them as sanding mats so the material stays put.


    1. Charles,

      Normally, I clamp the stick to the bench using my tail vise, but that would have had me working way off to the edge of the camera frame. I suffered through the layout stick sliding around just so the members could see me properly framed.

      1. Jeff,

        I’ve been wanting to do a comprehensive layout stick video for years because people have a hard time envisioning how to draw, and discern, the different views when I talk about layout sticks. If you really want to avoid potential confusion with all those overlapping lines, draw the height on one side of the stick and the width and depth on the other. For complicated projects, I’ve occasionally created two sticks with different views and detail drawings on each. When the project is complete, string them together. Glad the video helped.

  2. Great vid Chuck, Thanks for clearing up the placement of the elevations for me. I’m not longer confused with all of the lines, I now use color. Duh! Best Regards, Sincerely, jt

  3. Chuck, the video helped a ton. Question though, how do you handle moldings, such as you would have on the base and top of a highboy? Do you just estimate them in, or do you keep sample of your molding profiles to trace in?

    1. Jim,

      For projects like highboys and chests I use a slightly wider stick (the W&M chest stick in the video is around 5″ – 6″ wide). If you pause the video at 3:28, you can see the base molding drawn in on the W&M chest stick. The top molding is also drawn, but is only partially in view on the camera. So, to answer your question, I tend to draw the molding profiles on the sticks. When I make the molding for the piece, I usually save a scrap of each molding and attach them to the layout stick. Keeping molding samples with the layout makes it a breeze the next time you want to build the piece.

      1. Eric,

        Glad the video helped clear things up and that you are enjoying 360WW. We have lots of great stuff on deck for the rest of the year.

  4. Really great video Chuck. It really came home when you put the stick up to the finished stand to show how things match up.
    I am going to start using these more.
    360 Woodworking is by far my best instructional woodworking investment.
    Thanks a bunch.

  5. Thanks for giving us this guidance. I’ve used relative dimensioning on portions of my builds but this is a nice way to enforce that for the entire project.

    A couple questions:
    1. It seems this is a useful tool only once you know all the details of a project. So you’ve probably done a full SketchUp or full-size drawing of each face anyway. Do you ever do your earlier design work with layout sticks?

    2. Many of the dimensions show up more than once on the layout stick. Seems like this is an opportunity for error. Has this ever caused problems (one part has two slightly different thicknesses on two views, etc.)?


    1. Dane,

      I actually do a fair amount of my design work right on the stick. I use the ratio method of scaling that Glen describes in, “3 Manageable Methods Used For Scaling Photos” from Issue #4 to get my major dimensions. I then draw things out on the stick and play with proportions until the various elements look good to me. I’ve only been using SketchUp for the last four years, and even at that only rarely. In fact, I really don’t like to work out design details in SketchUp because I find it limiting. I prefer the feel of pencil and paper/layout stick.

      When you double check the dimensions of the parts you’ve drawn, the hope is you’ll catch any variation in dimensions of parts that appear more than once. The more careful you are in drawing and double checking, the less likely you are to have problems. And just like using a tape measure, I try to use a single instance of a part to take the dimensions. For instance, the thickness of the legs on the Shaker stand shows up on all three views, but I’ll only use that information from the height view when milling my parts.

      Let me know if you have additional questions.

  6. Thanks Chuck, I’ve used story poles for siding & or DIY work but not for furniture builds, this appears to be a very useful tool that I’m going to try on my next build.
    If you are building a chest of drawers, would your layout stick show full height side or depth of the legs indicating rails locations. does your layout stick include info for dust shelves. Any advice for preventing information overload on one layout board.

    1. Kevin,

      Story poles are pretty common in construction work. In the end, the only difference for furniture is the scale.

      My layout sticks tend to show less interior detail – primarily because, by the time I get to the interior portion of the build, I’m not using the stick any longer. Early in my career my sticks were far more detailed. The more pieces I built, the more I standardized certain aspects of my construction. For drawer construction, for instance, I typically set the top of the drawer bottom 3/4″ from the bottom edge of the drawer sides. I run a 1/4″ groove and make the drawer bottoms between 1/2″ and 5/8″ thick. I typically make dust dividers about 1/2″ thick and either set them flush with the top of the runners & blades or just below their top surfaces. Because I have developed specific practices, I don’t need to draw in all those details on my sticks. That helps with the information overload problem. But you should draw ing whatever details you feel necessary.

      To help avoid confusion, you might use an additional color (or colors) of ink for interior details. For example, on the height drawing of the stand I did in the video, I could have easily drawn the mortise & tenon placement on the side rails as well as the drawer runner and guide dimensions had I used green (or some other color) ink. This way the exterior lines on the height view would have been in pencil, while the interior lines would have been drawn in green ink. This would differentiate the height view from the other views on the stick. And, as I mentioned in a previous comment, you could also draw the other two views on the back side of the stick. Doing so would allow you to draw more detailed information on each view without getting too jumbled.

      As to foot or leg layouts for chests and other larger pieces, I tend to draw only the part of those elements as would be visible in the sectional view. If you look at the tilt-top stand stick I showed in the video, I drew just the top of the leg, but I also attached full-size patterns to the stick (which is what I would do with ogee feet for a chest or cabriole legs for a highboy). The only reason I do it that way is to conserve space. Otherwise, the sticks can get pretty unwieldy.

  7. Thanks Chuck,
    An old timer showed me this method on Windsor chair legs a few years ago but
    I never thought about using them on tables and such. Great information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *