When you have an idea in your head, drawn on a plan/blueprint, or you just improvised, you need to transfer it into your material. You can get a lot done with just a tape measure, pencil, and square. To be accurate, fast and efficient, woodworking requires more than the basics. In this ultimate guide to woodworking measuring tools and marking tools, we discuss what you need. We also discuss the tools you want . And…we might mention those tools you can aspire to.
Table of contents
- Find the measuring and marking tools you want at the price you need
- spend wisely
- Must-Have Woodworking Marking and Measuring Tools
- Nice to have woodworking markers and measuring tools
- Luxury or Professional Woodworking Marking and Measuring Tools
- in conclusion
I've ordered the list below in order of importance – at least in my opinion. I start with the most important tools you must have and work your way up to luxury or professional tools. I have been carpentry for over 30 years. It has taken me decades to refine my collection of measuring and marking tools into the following items.
Be sure to check out our article on measuring and marking tips.
Woodworking measuring tools and marking tools can vary widely in price for tools that look the same. Some manufacturers like Woodpeckers can command top prices for their tools. This is because of the quality, materials and workmanship of their tools. On top of that, they charge more for accuracy. Other companies like iGaging offer you almost as good tools. The accuracy is the same as the woodpecker, but the price is 1/4 to 1/2 of the woodpecker. There are also plenty of companies that offer quality, accurate tools for any budget. Examples of these include Irwin, Empire, Milwaukee, DeWalt, and Stanley.
The following woodworking marking tools and measuring tools represent the basic tools every woodworker needs to own. Miss any of these, and you're wasting your own time—and possibly money.
0.5-0.9mm Mechanical Pencil or Wooden Pencil – Good|Better|Best – Mechanical pencils are great because they always produce sharp, crisp lines. A 0.7mm mechanical pencil has a lead thin enough to draw useful lines. At the same time, it's not so thin that it keeps breaking. 0.9mm lead works well on rough wood as the added thickness prevents the lead from breaking. The 0.5mm mechanical pencil can only be used on very smooth wood or paper without breaking.
Scratch Awl – Good|Better|Best – The awl is a woodworker's best friend due to its many useful features such as starting screws, accurate starting drilling and scoring.
Tape Measure – Good|Better|Best – This one is a bit obvious. Most woodworkers prefer a tape measure, but some prefer a folding ruler for most measurements. Many of the best tape measures come in metric, imperial (fractions), or a combination of both on the same tool. The story stick tape measure has a blank area where you can write with a pencil. You can label parts of your project on tape. This helps achieve better repeatability when laying out multiple parts of the same size. Check out our article on tape measure tips and tricks.
12″ Combo Square – Good|Better|Best – The Combo Square is one of the most useful woodworking measuring tools ever created. It is a triangle that measures 90 degrees and 45 degrees at the same time. It is also a depth gauge and a router Drill the height gauge and mark the line down the length of the board. Set of 4 includes a center find attachment for round stock and a protractor head. If you can only afford one, get the 12" combination square. 6" The model number is the one I work with the most. As such, I keep it in my workshop apron so I can always have it with me while I work.
Sliding T Bevel – Good|Better|Best – Most often used in conjunction with a protractor, the sliding T bevel allows you to mark angles. It is also known as a bevel gauge. The sliding T-bevel is great for transferring those angles to other tools, such as the blade of a table saw. Digital models do not require a protractor.
Protractor – Good | Better | Best – Protractor finds and draws angles. It's also the perfect companion for setting angles on sliding T-bevels.
Straight Edge – Good|Better|Best – Straight edge is used for drawing lines, checking the flatness of a board or planer. A straight edge is almost a must to adjust the depth of cut for the joint.
Adding these tools will give you more options, flexibility and power in your project work. You'll see variations of our "mandatory" carpentry measuring and marking tools as well as some new tools to improve your ability to take more precise measurements.
Extra Fine Point Markers – Good | Better | Best – Markers, also known as Sharpies, are used for a variety of purposes, from writing labels on paint cans and boxes, to drawing on tile, glass, metal, or logs. Extra fine points are about the thickness of a ballpoint pen line and are used when precision is important. Fine point markers are thicker than extra fine point markers. Fine point markers are best for taking permanent notes on your projects or marking objects around your shop.
Marker Knife – Good|Better|Best – Too thick for a pencil line when precision is important. Score with a thin blade for ultimate precision. Scribing knife is a knife specially designed for scribing. Thanks to its flat design, it marks rulers or squares more precisely.
Center Punch – Good|Better|Best – The center punch punches a dimple in the metal. They can also be used with wood or plastic. The center punch starts the drill hole accurately without going off center. The jab is a sharper version of the center punch. They are more accurate, but hitting the harder metal too much can dull the point compared to a center punch. The automatic center punch has a spring-loaded mechanism so you don't need to use a hammer; just push it down by hand until the mechanism triggers.
Combined Metric and Imperial Tape Measures – Good | Better | Best – This one is a bit obvious. Most woodworkers prefer a tape measure, but some prefer a folding ruler for most measurements. They come in metric, imperial (fractions) or a combination of both on the same tape measure. The story stick tape measure has a blank area that you can draw on with a pencil so you can mark parts of your project on the tape. This helps achieve better repeatability when laying out multiple parts of the same size.
Hook Rules – Good|Better|Best – Hook rulers are just like regular rulers, except they have a hook on one end that you hook onto the edge of a board when measuring. This guarantees zero inches or zero millimeters from the edge of the board. They improve accuracy and speed when measuring from the edge of the board.
Triple Square – Good|Better|Best – The Triple Square is the preferred 90 degree reference tool in the shop. A good blade length is plus or minus 0.001 inch per inch or better blade length. Layout squares are triangles with a series of small holes designed to be used with mechanical pencils. The pencil allows you to draw lines along the length of the board by inserting the tip of a mechanical pencil into one of the holes and sliding the square down the board.
Speed Square – Good | Better | Best – While most commonly used in woodworking, speed squares do not deviate from square when treated roughly like other types. The main use of a speed gauge in a shop is as a saw guide for making straight cuts in lumber. When assembling my project, I used the 12" model as a guide to keep everything square while installing the fasteners. Check out our how to use speed cube article for more tips on using these handy tools.
6” Combo Square – Good | Better | Best – The Combo Square is one of the most useful woodworking measuring tools ever created. It is a triangle that measures both 90 and 45 degrees. It is also a depth gauge and a router Drill the height gauge and mark the line down the length of the board. Set of 4 includes a center find attachment for round stock and a protractor head. If you can only afford one, get the 12" combination square. 6" The model number is the one I work with the most. As such, I keep it in my workshop apron so I can always have it with me while I work.
Compass – Good | Better | Best – This type of compass has nothing to do with finding north. It is used to draw circles of various sizes. Circle stencils can also be used to draw circles, but only at a fixed size.
Dividers – Good|Better|Best – Dividers are like compasses, without a pencil on one leg. They are used to arrange spaces of equal size, for example when arranging dovetails.
Scale Gauge – Good|Better|Best – Marking gauges use their pegs to score lines along the length of the board. Better yet have a round wheel instead of nails for cutting wood. A mortise gauge is a marking gauge with two prongs or wheels that place both sides of a mortise or tenon at the same time.
After you've worked through enough projects, you'll find that adding a new tool here or there can give you some convenience you've been lacking for years. Over time, you may look to add the following woodworking measuring tools and marking tools to enhance your arsenal and bring more power, options, flexibility and precision to your work.
Carbide Scribes – Good | Better | Best – Most woodworkers have to use a metal carbide scribe for their projects like a metal marking knife. It cuts a precise line on all but the hardest metals.
Story Rod Tape Measure – Good | Best – The story rod tape measure has a blank area that you can draw on with a pencil so you can mark parts of your project on the tape. This helps achieve better repeatability when laying out multiple parts of the same size.
Four Piece Combination Square – Good|Better|Best – The Combination Square is one of the most useful woodworking measuring tools ever created. It is a triangle that measures both 90 and 45 degrees. It's also a depth gauge and a router bit height gauge, and marks lines along the length of the board. Set of 4 includes a center finder attachment for round stock and a protractor head. If you can only afford one, get the 12-inch combination cube. The 6" model is the one I've been working with the most. Therefore, I keep it in my workshop apron so I can always have it with me while I work.
Fine Point Marker – Good – Markers, also known as Sharpies, are used for a variety of purposes, from writing labels on paint cans and boxes, to drawing on tile, glass, metal, or logs. An extra fine point is about the thickness of a ballpoint pen line. Use it when accuracy is important. Fine point markers are thicker than super point markers and are best for taking permanent notes on your projects or marking objects around the store.
Wood Crayons – Good|Better|Best – When writing on bark or rough wood, use a wood crayon. They are available in a variety of colors to contrast with the color of your markings. For finer markings, use an oil-based pencil, also known as a china marker.
Mortise Gauge – Good|Better|Best – The marking gauge uses its pegs to score lines along the length of the board. Better yet have a round wheel instead of nails for cutting wood. A mortise gauge is a marking gauge with two prongs or wheels. They are used to arrange both sides of a mortise or tenon at the same time.
Centering Ruler – Good|Better|Best – The Center Finder ruler is a ruler that starts at zero in the middle. When measuring the center of the board, set the same measurement on both sides, with the zero point in the middle.
Calipers – Good|Better|Best – For maximum accuracy when measuring in the workshop, there is nothing like a good caliper. I prefer the numbers to the ones with dials as they are easier to read without wearing reading glasses. Good accuracy to 0.0005 or better. Use these to measure the thickness of objects. They are also used as depth gauges to measure the internal dimensions of holes or pipes. If you can't read the size of the drill, the caliper will tell you the diameter of the drill.
Feeler Gauge – Good|Better|Best – Generally considered a mechanical tool, a feeler gauge measures the thickness of a thin gap, such as between two plates. If your plunge router doesn't have a micro-depth adjustment, use a feeler gauge to shim the stops on the router during setup to get a precise depth of cut.
Brass Rod Gauge Blocks – Good|Better|Best – A set of gauge blocks is very useful for setting small known sizes, less than 1/2 inch. For example, when you need to set your router or table saw blade to an exact 1/4 inch. Place the block next to the drill or blade and raise it until it is the same height as the block. A set of 1-2-3 blocks does the same thing, but is exactly 1″ x 2″ x 3″. They are machined at 90 degree angles, so they can also set the angle of the table saw blade at 90 degrees. When you need For measurements such as 3-1/2", use 1-2-3 blocks in conjunction with gauge blocks. Most gauge blocks and 1-2-3 blocks are accurate to 0.0001".
Levels – Good | Better | Best – Cabinet builders must use a level when hanging cabinets. In order to use the laser level more effectively. They project a horizontal and/or vertical line around the room where you are installing the cabinet. They're more user-friendly than the watermarks of yesteryear. The only advantage of water level is turning. You need a laser level, not a sight level. A few small digital levels are used to set the angle of the saw blade. This only works if your table saw is level.
Chalk Lines – Good|Better|Best – Just like carpenters, woodworkers use chalk lines to draw long lines. A classic example is breaking a chalk layout line along the length of a longboard or large board before tearing it in two.
Laser Levels – Good | Better | Best – Cabinet builders must use a level when hanging cabinets. In order to use the laser level more effectively. They project a horizontal and/or vertical line around the room where you are installing the cabinet. They're more user-friendly than the watermarks of yesteryear.
Miter Saw Angle Gauge – Good | Better | Best – Miter Saw Angle Gauge is specifically designed to help you transfer angles from your project or plan to your miter saw. A sliding T-bevel and protractor can do the same thing, but a miter saw angle gauge can help you with the math associated with miter cuts.
Shop Apron – Good|Better|Best – In my opinion, the best way to carry the most commonly used woodworking measuring and marking tools is with a good apron. This way, your tools are always with you. Without an apron, I tend to leave my tools lying around. Then after a few minutes I can't find them.
While you certainly don't need all the tools on this list to be a woodworker, I've found uses for all of them. In my cabinet making class, one of our projects was to make a tool box. We get a letter grade for every 1/64 inch reduction in our overall size in the finished toolbox. This level of precision is difficult to achieve with just a tape measure. Instead, it requires a lot of carpentry measuring and marking tools.
I once helped build a pole barn. All we need is a tape measure, a level, wood crayons, and chalk lines. In a typical pole barn, if you deviate by 1/2 inch, in most cases no one will notice. If you are building a grand piano, accuracy is paramount and it requires many specialized measuring tools that are not on this list. The type of work you do determines the importance of each tool on this list. In all cases, you can never go wrong building the highest quality tool you can afford.
Do you have a favorite measuring or marking tool? Tell us in the comments section below.