When to stop measuring

You know I’m in favor of layout sticks because you’ve probably read my previous two posts on the subject (Proper Planning and Sticking to the Plan). The hard part to admit is I don’t use them. That’s right, you heard me. I don’t use layout sticks 100% of the time. Oh, I start with one nearly 100% of the time but there’s always a point where the layout stick becomes useless.

When do you reach the point where you no longer use a layout stick you ask? It’s at the point where theory meets reality.

Using the layout stick to mark shelf placement.

Using a layout stick on the initial construction of a case, for instance, is a great idea. I advocate using it for directly dimensioning the parts. The minute you have something concrete put together, either dry fit or glued up, it’s time to let the layout stick gather dust. In other words, I’ll use it to dimension my case parts and get my thicknesses and widths of my face frame parts but I won’t cut my stiles and rails to final length using ONLY the layout stick.

Once I get the case together, whether a dry fit or glued up (glued up preferably), I’ll take my dimensions off the case itself. I still won’t use a ruler or tape measure because that allows room for me to make calculation errors. I know, just do the math. I’ve been through school and did the math. Why should I EVER have to do it again (and I’m a HUGE math fan, by the way)?

Marking the shelf to final size using the actual case.

The answer is, I shouldn’t. No matter what I’m working on, I try very hard to avoid measuring and calculating dimensions. Every time you put a rule to a piece of wood or a pencil to a piece of paper (or usually scrap wood in my shop) you stand a chance of making a calculation error. So, use the ruler to create the layout stick then put it away and don’t bring it out until you absolutely need it.

All of this is predicated on the concept that you are coherently thinking about what you are doing and what steps follow. In the case of the project in the photos, I made a design change in process. I made all the case parts thinner because they looked too heavy once I started milling. I wasn’t about to go back and redraw my layout stick but there was still a ton of useful information on it (such as the location of my shelf). I just needed to make the appropriate adjustments when needed.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I’m an advocate of woodworkers fully engaging their thinking machines before ever touching a piece of wood. The key is to keep it turned on and functioning throughout every single step of the process. Know when to use theory and when reality supersedes.

Want to be a better woodworker? Think about it.




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