Tools For Marking and Measuring Wood

Accurate and precise marking out is always the first step in successful woodworking jobs.

Low quality measuring and marking devices will very quickly lose their accuracy. This will not only spoil your hard work but you will not even be aware of this until it’s too late.

Make sure you check your equipment frequently. If you suspect that any item is suspect in any way, put it aside or dispose of it completely. It’s false economy to set this tool aside as a spare. You owe it to yourself not to work with damaged kit. Take a try square as an example. This should form a perfect 90 degree angle. Any variation on that renders it completely useless.

Units of Measurement

t square

When you are buying measuring or checking devices, always make sure what units are used on the scale. Although metrification of the woodworking trade has been underway for many years, there are no signs at all of the imperial system dying out. It’s still particularly prevalent in the US.

A metric rule will be marked in millimeters or centimeters, sometimes both.

Imperial scales will be marked in feet and inches.

The most useful rules have one scale on either side. Be sure to check out that they are accurate, though. A cheap and inaccurate scale is money wasted not money saved.

Suppliers, toolmakers and timber yards seem to manage to work to both systems in parallel. If you are a woodworker, you need to be able to do the same. Don’t panic, it’s not really very confusing once you get used to it. Just be certain to double check all specifications when you buy them.

Remember, too, this handy phrase: Measure twice, cut once!

We will look now as some of the most common and useful pieces of measuring equipment. You don’t need to go out and buy everything at once but the following list has many items that you can add to your toolkit over a period of time.



This is used as a measure and also as a guide for both scoring and cutting.

A large handle allows you to get a firm grip. It also ensures that your fingers are kept well away from the blade of a marking knife.

A good straightedge will have thin friction pads on the underside to stop it from slipping.

Bench Rule

bench rule


This is a long wooden rule. It’s less accurate for very fine detail but great for bench joinery or general cabinet making. Look for one with brass tips to prevent damage to the ends.

Miter Square

Miter SquareDon’t be confused by the name. This is not actually a square at all. A miter square is actually an accurately machined blade. It’s stock set at 45 degrees to gauge perfectly mitered corners.

Steel Rule

Steel RuleIf you want to set out joints and small dimensions precisely, you’ll want a steel rule with etched divisions.

They are often up to 1m long but, for most marking-out tasks, a 300mm rule is the smart choice.

Combination Square

Combination Square

With a sliding scale and a well-designed stock, this handy piece of kit can be used as a try square, a miter square or as an adjustable depth gauge.

As you can see from the picture, there is also often a small spirit level mounted in the stock and a small pin for highly accurate marking.

Try Square

Try Square

This is the classic woodworker’s square.

The stock is usually made from rosewood with brass facings for accuracy and reliability.

try square should be one of the very first items in the toolbox of any carpenter or woodworker.



This is a small, pointed blade. You use it for either starting holes or for pricking out a mark accurately.


BradawlThe bradawl is very similar to an awl but the blade has a small flat end.

The key purpose of this tool is to mark hole positions. It can also act as a starter for screws and can be twisted into the wood without splitting the grain.

Adjustable Bevel Gauge/Sliding Bevel

Sliding Bevel

The adjustable steel blade with locking lever can be swiftly adjusted for measuring and transferring angles.

This is a particularly valuable and versatile piece of kit.

Craft Knife

Craft KnifeThe trusty craft knife has a very wide range of uses.

It’s particularly valuable for scoring and scribing the workpiece as well as, of course, general cutting.

Make sure that you choose a model with a retractable blade for safety.

Retractable Tape

retractable tape for measuring woodEvery woodworker needs a good quality, all-purpose tape in a rigid case.

Look out for a strong locking action, clear markings on the blade and a well-formed, hooked end. This will allow for both internal and external measurements.

Buy the best quality tape you can afford and consider it an investment.

Spirit Level

Spirit LevelAlthough a spirit level is not vital for bench carpentry, it’s during the process of installation that it comes into its own.

If you want something more portable for your toolbox, hunt down a small torpedo level.

Vernier Gauge

Vernier Gauge

The Vernier gauge is used for measuring both the inner and outer diameters of circular objects.

These calipers are also used to measure the widths of a mortise and tenon joint.

Mortise Gauge

mortise gaugeThis tool is used to mark out consistently accurate, parallel lines for cutting a mortise.

The two brass pins are independently adjustable and housed on brass slides. The sliding stock runs against the face of the work.

There is a single pin on the opposite side of the shaft for marking a single scribed line.

Chalk Line

Chalk LineThe final piece of equipment we’ll cover today is a chalk line.

This offers a quick method of marking out straight lines.

Fill the reservoir with colored  chalk powder, clip the hook over one end of the work, pull the string tight and snap it lightly. This will leave a perfectly straight, temporary cutting line.


Take the time to assemble a great selection of high quality tools. Don’t rush into it or cut corners.

They say a bad workman blames his tools which is true. A good workman, though has top-notch tools and looks after them well.

Happy woodworking!

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5 thoughts on “Tools For Marking and Measuring Wood

  1. i own a workzone 1500w double bevel sliand turnedding mitre saw with laser .its locked in upright position ,i have pulled out and turned the locking pin and turned it , with no joy .can anyone advise

  2. I really like the combination square tool. Can you recommend me any good one or do I not need it (one month of doing woodworking as a hobby)?

  3. If there is any way in which I can protect the measurements on my wooden rule from fading out please tell me!


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