15 Carpenter Tools for Measuring and Marking
If you do any amount of carpentry or woodworking in your professional life, you’re practically guaranteed to have a use for at least one of these tips and tools.
Cool New Chalk Lines
DeWalt recently jumped into the chalk line business, and these two stood out for obvious reasons. The big honker has a string as thick as a bootlace and holds 1 lb. of chalk, perfect for long lines, and a lot of them. The tiny fellow is the smallest we've seen while still having a 3-to-1 rewind ratio, just the thing for you pros who only snap an occasional line and don't want to sacrifice a lot of space in your pouch. The compact chalk reel comes with a 30-ft. line and a bottle of blue chalk. The large capacity chalk reel has a 100-ft. line. Find them both online or tool suppliers.
Wheel of Fortune
Most jobs start with an estimate, and precise measuring is crucial to a profitable job. Sometimes a tape measure is just not the right tool, especially outdoors. When bidding on a fence or retaining wall, you're not going to impress customers by having them hold the end of your tape measure—and first impressions are important.
Use a measuring wheel like this one from Calculated Industries. This lightweight Wheel Master Classic 12 has a 12-1/2-in. wheel and folds in half for easy storage.
Divide a Board
When you want to cut a board into equal widths, you can do some tricky math—or do a simple trick. Let’s say you want four strips: Pick a number that’s easy to divide by four (12, for example) and measure that distance diagonally across the board. Then mark the board at 3-in. increments (3, 6 and 9 in.) and your marks will divide the board into equal widths.
A Durable Innovative Tape Measure
We’ve been using a new Lufkin “Control Series” 25-ft. tape measure in our projects for a while now, and it looks like a winner. The all-important hook is excellent: a little wider than traditional ones, which means you can hook sideways and twist the tape without the hook coming off. At the same time, the hook isn’t so enormous that it’s hard to get the tape in a pouch. It’s also riveted on like there’s no tomorrow, so we expect it to hold up for a long time.
We also like the blaze orange so the tape is harder to lose, and the rubber grip on the outside, which makes it both slip-proof and more drop-resistant. The “control” in the name refers to a little window in the bottom, which allows you to control the rate of retraction with your finger. Some of us like that feature, some of us just shrug, but the tape overall seems like a tough and handy tool.
Many electricians don’t like tape measures, so that’s why they use their hammers to position outlet boxes. A hammer’s length from the floor to the bottom of the box is about right. It’s not so important how high the boxes are, just that they’re all the same height.
Fat Tapes Need a Fat Holster
A wide-blade, long-reach tape is an very useful tool, but most don't fit into a standard tape holder and super-sized holsters are often not available at home centers. You'll find hosters designed for the larger tapes online but even some of those just aren't big enough. Here's a holder that comfortably handles every 25-ft. fat tape we know of except the Husky and Kobalt models. Buy a CLC 464 holster online.
Remove the Belt Clip
Lots of pros immediately unscrew the clip when they get a new tape. A clipless tape slips smoothly in and out of your tool belt.
How Dry is the Wood?
For woodworking projects, we make just about everything out of rough-sawn wood. Before flattening it and making it into finished boards and then furniture, you have to know the wood is dry enough to stay stable.
That’s where the Timber Check Moisture Meter comes in. Just jab the pins into the wood and turn the knob until the red light comes on. Look at the dial, and you’ll know the moisture content instantly and whether the wood is ready or not. A little chart that comes with the gadget helps fine-tune the reading depending on the wood species.
What's the Best Chalk Color for Outdoor Projects?
“Choose your marking chalk color based on two things,” says Lisa Hunter of Irwin Tools. “First, think about what sort of permanency you need. How long will the chalk lines be exposed to the elements? Second, decide what color will give the best contrast on the surface.”
Marking chalk permanency ratings run on a scale of 0 to 4 (look for the rating on the chalk container). Carpenters who work on a variety of projects generally carry two colors—red and blue—in separate chalk boxes. (It’s a bad idea to mix chalks.) They use blue when they need a chalk line that will disappear, such as when they’re shingling. The blue chalk will wash right off after the first rain. Red, on the other hand, is pretty permanent. Use it on a roof and it might take years for it to disappear. But if you’re laying out walls and you want the lines to stay there even if it rains, red is the way to go.
Indoors, if you’re snapping lines on a blue painted wall, consider using violet or white chalk. The chalk will stand out and then dust right off the wall with no residue.
Southpaws, We Feel Your Pain
Dozens of our southpaw readers let us know we left them out of our best tape measure story. OK, lefties, here you go. You can pull out this Right-to-Left Read Retractable Left-Handed Tape Measure and read numbers just as easily as right-handers do. Buy it and lots of other lefty-centric tools from leftyslefthanded.com.
A Favorite Rafter Square Improved!
You won’t find too many serious carpenters without a rafter square in their tool pouch. Think of it as a multi-tool—it’s great for measuring angles, drawing cutting lines, and doing layout work and light prying. You can even use it as a nail set. A favorite of ours is the steel Empire with black with white gauge marks that make it a cinch to read.
We think you'll really like the e2992 7-in. HI-VIS Rafter Square. It’s not steel anymore; it’s thick anodized aluminum and the numbers are still easy to see. What we really like is that all four edges of the square have a ruler. You'll use them all the time—the old black model only had one, which was our only complaint about it.
There’s a little gimmicky QR code you can shoot with your smartphone to take you to a 48(!)-page instruction manual on roof framing. But if you really want to study up, go to empirelevel.com and do it on your computer at home.
Perfect Handrail Position
Building codes usually require that a handrail be 34 to 38 in. above the nosing (front edge) of the stair treads. But how do you figure that out and also get the handrail brackets over a stud? You can draw all sorts of lines all over your wall, or use the method shown. Mark a vertical line where your studs are, lay a 1x2 on the stairs, and slide a framing square along the 1x2 until the end of the 2-ft. leg of the square hits the stud line. For a little more height, use a 1x3 or 1x4 instead.
Make a Circle With a Square
Here’s a tip for laying out small circles or parts of circles. Tack two nails to set the diameter you want, then rotate a framing square against the nails while you hold a pencil in the corner of the square. You might need to rub a little wax or some other lubricant on the bottom of the square so it slides easily. Don’t ask us why this process works; all we know is that it does.
When you install paver patios and driveways, you focus on top-quality workmanship in the most efficient way possible, right? For pros like you, this giant triangle is perfect because it allows you to quickly and accurately chalk square layout lines. You could do the same thing using the 3-4-5 triangle method, but this is faster. Just align the chalk line with the edge of the triangle and snap the line. The triangle folds to take up less room in your truck.
The A-Square folding triangle is available online.
Caliper for the Common Man
Slide calipers are typically graduated in decimals. That’s perfect for engineering, but most of us are wired for fractions, so converting measurements is always a struggle. That’s why you need a fractional caliper, which reads in fractions instead of decimals.
The dial is clearly marked in 1/64-in. increments, and finer measurements are possible as well. One complete revolution equals 1 in. (Digital fractional calipers are also available.) A thumbscrew operates the mechanism. Separate jaws allow you to measure both inside and outside dimensions. A plunge bar extends from the bottom to measure depths. By the way, this caliper reads in decimals, too, for measuring such things as paper-thin shims and fine veneers.
You can buy this Oshlun 6-in. caliper (No. 36575) from Rockler Woodworking.