How To Get Precision

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Blog entry by NBeener posted 02-23-2010 02:31 AM 1531 reads 2 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I found this article, the other day, and keep coming back to it—both literally and in my mind.

Figured I’d share it. I plan to keep all of this in mind as I begin my 2nd night stand….

Maybe others have similar suggestions for increasing precision….

How to get Precision
by Bob Smalser

Make a story stick for each project. Record the measurements of L, W, H and internals on one, unchanging stick.

Your project stock should be kept on a cart with your cut list taped to the cart handle to move from station to station, whether machines or hand tools.

1) Rough stock is rough cut (overlong) to length from the cut list you prepared from your plan, along with one stick of extra stock for every major thickness.

I number each part on the cut list and mark the endgrain with a corresponding number in pencil to keep track of them, including the spares.

2) Flatten and thickness plane it together, using the same tool settings.

3) Joint and rip it to width all together using the same tool settings.

4) Cut it to finished lengths together, using stop blocks on your tools so you only have to measure once.

5) Lay out and cut your joints all together.

That’s how you get precision, not with measuring tapes or straight edges.

Make sure you also don’t mix tapes and measures. Use one tape or one rule for the entire project. Scribe your lines with knife (across grain) and awl (with grain), minimizing your use of sloppy pencils.

Personally, I just think you are gonna make a lot more, not less trouble for yourself with long T-squares.
The longer the square, the more one speck of sawdust will mess you up. Even when nicely square…they are still pretty sloppy because positioning the base is firmly is so critical and long bars will flex on you.

I don’t use a panel gage any longer than 10” for the same reason. Simply measure up from each end and use a straightedge to scribe… any aluminum yardstick will do.

Then monitor your diagonals as you fit each internal component to your squared-up square casework.

-- -- Neil

6 comments so far

View Bothus's profile


441 posts in 3171 days

#1 posted 02-23-2010 02:46 AM

Sounds good to me. Except in my garage I can’t move work from station to station… I have to move the stations out to the driveway where the work is!

Seriously though, it is a good list. Commit it to memory.

Hey on a positive note I finally made a 220V extension cord and ran it over to where my air compressor is wedged in between my rolling tool box and my Unisaw so I could test the compressor (I bought it off craigslist months ago and never even plugged it in, it works).

But enough about me, when are you going to post another video?


-- Jerry Boshear, Professional Kitchen Designer, amature woodworker.

View JonH's profile


82 posts in 4081 days

#2 posted 02-23-2010 02:59 AM

Excellent advice. I teach woodshop at a high school, and I love the idea of creating a story stick for a project. I have to tell kids 100 times how big this part is or how long that should be. If they create a story stick that they keep with their materials, it would eliminate that.


View Jim Bertelson's profile

Jim Bertelson

4173 posts in 3159 days

#3 posted 02-23-2010 03:57 AM

You know me, I am into precision. So I find this very interesting. He is doing some pretty logical things, such as stop blocks….........yesterday I cut the hardboard and the aluminum with my radial arm saw, with my special stop block ( you do remember that you do remember that…...right?) for my miter rails for the sled, all at the same time with the same stop block setting. Don’t measure at all, set the stop block to the affixed ruler. That is a habit I gained a long time ago.

But what sets this article apart is the down to earth basics like organization (labeling things) and…......simplicity. I really like that. Surgery is all about precision, and simplicity is one of the main contributors to precision. Every step you add contributes to errors in a logarithmic fashion.

His bit about long T squares…......I got one…....never use it. For the reasons he gave. Great article. I made a text copy and put in on my computer and placed your link into my favorites.

Thanks Neil…...........I may make you into a fellow OCD sufferer yet…........(-:

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4001 days

#4 posted 02-23-2010 04:29 AM

Its always been the secret to good and efficient woodworking. Be methodical and think 3 steps ahead.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3329 days

#5 posted 02-23-2010 04:23 PM

All good advice and I was surprised that I actually do most of them. I don’t make a story stick for every project and I certainly cannot use a cart in my narrow shop. I can however use only one measuring device for all the measurements, and I don’t think I have done that before, at least not purposely. Thanks Neil. This is the kind of thing that sharing is all about. I’m sure a lot of us learned something from this post.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View patron's profile


13603 posts in 3336 days

#6 posted 02-23-2010 04:40 PM

story poles rule !
side 1 – length
side 2 – width
side 3 – height
side 4 – all extras ( plugs , pipes , etc. )
( just mark start end , and all edges ) .

who cares what the .0001 ” is !

thanks neil .

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

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