The “Tickle Stick”
Here’s a layout tip for boat work, and it comes in handy for other things too. This technique is used to accurately pick up the edges of irregularly shaped areas or surfaces and transfer them to the material to be cut. The original purpose was in taking off (measuring) bulkheads to fit accurately against a curved boat hull. The idea can also be used laying out a seat for a bay window, a countertop notched around obstructions, chair bottoms and other things. The technique can be used vertically, horizontally, and all in between.
This is a small Tickle Stick I often use in small areas or sections
These little tools have been called ‘jiggle sticks’, ‘joggle sticks’, ‘tickle sticks’ and other things too. In concept it is a bit like the small profiler tool you can buy for fitting things against curved and notched moldings. But it is a much bigger, and more versatile version, and can be made on the spot if need be for the job at hand. We will call these ‘tickle sticks’ for this blog entry.
The tickle stick itself is a deliberately irregularly shaped tool made from thin stock, like 1/8” or 1/4” ply, or other stiff material. I have a number of these made from thin oak, ash, or mahogany pieces which were remnant drop offs from resawing something, and in a range of sizes from about 6” to nearly 4 feet long – mostly used for laying out boat bulkheads. The main requirements are to have them relatively thin, straight and stiff. It helps to have one long edge straight to help in aligning things when in use. The other edge is tapered with a number of irregular ‘saw teeth’ cut into it, each of which is numbered or lettered on both sides to match. The tip should be slender to reach into tight spots.
My ‘set’ of well-used Tickle Sticks!
Here is how they are used:
1. A length of temporary layout material (sometimes called a ‘story board’) is clamped, or otherwise secured in the same plane as the part you intend to make. The layout material should be wide enough – at least 6” – to enable you to make plentiful marks on it. If the intended part will have a straight side, try to align one edge of the layout material where that should be, or a set distance parallel to it;
2. The tickle stick is held firmly or clamped (spring clamps work great) to the face of the layout material so that its tip is in contact with a point on the material which you plan to fit to. It will sometimes be necessary to flip the tickle stick over to reach into a hard to reach spot, and the reason for marking on both sides. BE SURE to mark along the straight edge side, to help in later alignments;
3. Carefully and closely mark the straightedge side of the tickle stick, and several of the notches on the tapered side with your pencil. Remove the tickle stick and label the ‘teeth’ to match the tickle stick;
4. Do this the number of times needed to accurately mark everything you need. Check before you remove your layout material to be sure you have enough marks, to enough points;
Showing how the Tickle Stick is used in laying out a horizontal window box seat (left), and vertical, curving boat bulkhead to fit against the hull side (right). Sufficient points are ‘tickled off’on the story board to provide enough information for transfer to the stock to be cut. Sometimes marks will fall over an earlier mark, but because of the alignment it is easy to keep them in the right relationship;
5. Remove the story board and lay it on the material you need to cut, aligning the straight edge with the edge of your stock, or compensating for any offset. Check at the ends and edges to make sure you have sufficient stock to go beyond the furtherest reaches of the tickle stick at its extremes. Clamp or tack the layout material securely to your stock;
6. Now, take the tickle stick and lay it precisely in the same places you have marked on the story board, and either clamp it down, or place something heavy on it so it does not shift while you mark where the tip end is on your stock. If your layout material has much thickness, it is best to use a tri-square to square down from the tip of the tickle stick to your stock;
7. It is now time to ‘connect the dots’ as they say, which should provide a very accurate fit when everything is cut.
I hope you can use this little trick!
ADDENDUM – some people were a little confused by my graphic, so I will try to straighten things out here. The idea is to use the SAME tickle stick on a single layout in a number of different locations as needed. The only time it may be necessary to use more than one stick for a layout is if the region being measured is so different in size from one part to another that a single stick will not reach.
-- ''Woodworking has always been the best therapy for me!''