What are your go-to setup and measurement tools?

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Forum topic by TheKingInYellow posted 08-31-2011 10:16 PM 2513 views 0 times favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View TheKingInYellow's profile


233 posts in 3555 days

08-31-2011 10:16 PM

I seem to be amassing a remarkable collection of squares, set up tools, measuring instruments and other little ‘shop helpers’ as I continue my woodworking journey.

Sometimes, I’ll by a tool for a job only to find out it’s perfect for something else entirely, or I’ll find something different that does the job better later, and the little pile of things grows.

So, for your shop, what do you use the most and what do you use it for?

In my case:

Veritas Straightedge – Great for jointer tables, checking for flatness on finished pieces, and machine/table setup.

Starret Combination Square – Great for marking 90 and 45 degree angles, short measurements and transfering measurements.

OneWay MultiGauge – Amazing for jointer knives, depth measurement and leveling things like extension tables. Also a very good engineering square for setting table saw blades and jointer fences.

Dial Caliper – Ideal for checking thickness and extremely precise measurements. Used with a mitre clamp it’s perfect for squaring table saw blades and fences.

Veritas Setup Blocks – The fastest way I know to accurately set a tablesaw fence for cuts of 4” or under.

I plan to add a digital tilt box for mitre cuts on my tablesaw as well since they seem to be the best tool for the job.

Any others that you swear by or other good uses for shop helpers that you have?

-- I'm just learning how to cut the stuff with some other stuff...

19 replies so far

View Murdock's profile


128 posts in 2509 days

#1 posted 08-31-2011 11:02 PM

My measurement tools are middle of the road models but I seem to do ok with them. I certainly learned the hard way about buying cheep tools, my first combination square cost me $7 and was worth about $2.

6” steel ruler – Detailed measurement because it has the finest scale of anything else I own. Also good for tight spaces.

framing square – Squaring up larger projects, verifying square on my miter gauge, even been known to use it for framing on occasion.

combination square – Use it for just about everything; marking gauge, verifying table saw setup, squaring projects, etc. Rarely out of reach, where did I put it…

Tape measure – Measuring anything longer than my 6” ruler or combination square can handle. I have several 16’ ones scattered around to be in easy reach.

Drafting compass – The kind with 2 points, not a pencil. Use it for measuring things most people probably use calipers for, set it to the width of the item I want to measure then move it over to the 6” ruler to read. I also use it the other way to set a particular measurement on a ruler, then move it to the workpiece to mark it.

I have other measuring tools in the toolbox and hanging on the walls but they are either special purpose so don’t get used often or just have not lived up to what I thought they would be.

-- "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." - Albert Einstein

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15369 posts in 2643 days

#2 posted 09-01-2011 12:16 AM

Of course, it has everything to do with how we each work and the kinds of projects we do, but at the workbench, building tables and other misc. casework, here’s my go-to stuff:

6” Craftsman Combination Square – Love it, couldn’t do without it, always sits in the rack at the back right of the workbench.

#197 / #198 Stanley Marking Gauges – Can’t beat the feel of rosewood. Accurate too. One end is a cutting wheel, the other is a pin. It’s all good.

Zig Zag Rule – Lufkin inside measure stick rule. Small nicks at the brass ends to hold the pencil lead when striking a long rip cut. If it’s longer than 72” a tape measure comes out, but otherwise…

Tape Measure – Craftsman 16’, 3/4” tape. All 1” rolls are too fat in my hand, love the 3/4” size this one has and I rarely need to measure anything longer.

Dividers – Four sizes, various makers, all old. Like Murdock, these tools set repeatable widths / measures and are all kinds of useful. Can’t say I’ve ever transfered a setting to inches. With good use of dividers, I don’t measure near as often to get results. And that’s fine with me.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2715 days

#3 posted 09-01-2011 04:45 AM

I use a steel rule,combination square, but I also use my fractional calipers A LOT. One of my most used tools for set ups. Mine is the non digital fractional caliper from HF [about $16]

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View Flyin636's profile


57 posts in 2519 days

#4 posted 09-01-2011 12:43 PM

For the most part we’re a Brown & Sharpe shop…’s a short list of precision handtools we use everyday in cabmet shop.

>Straight leg deviders,big and small,several of each

>Combo and try squares

>Dial calipres and sometimes spring leg OD calipres

>Surface gauge is an extremely quick hight setter for shapers and less so,but used on TS’s enough

View mikedddd's profile


147 posts in 3255 days

#5 posted 09-01-2011 04:13 PM

I’m surprised no else has mentioned a story stick, I use one a lot. I also use setup blocks for shaper and router table setups, the less measuring I do the less mistakes I make.

-- Mike

View brtech's profile


1029 posts in 2948 days

#6 posted 09-01-2011 04:17 PM

Ditto on the Starrett combination square, the Veritas straightedge and the caliper.

I seem to use my Woodpecker 6” engineers square a whole lot.

I also reach for my framing square when the Starrett just isn’t big enough. Mine is very accurate, fortunately.

But I always have a small tape measure and a Lee Valley 4” double square in my pocket

View MrRon's profile


4795 posts in 3268 days

#7 posted 09-01-2011 06:19 PM

Any setup or alignment will only be as good as the tools used. They are the standards everything else is referenced to or from, so they need to be as accurate and precise as possible. This is not the place to cut corners with low cost (low quality) tools. My first tool would be the 12” Starrett combination square, followed by a Starrett straightedge and finally a 6” digital caliper, like a B&S or Mitutoyo. A set of feeler gauges also comes in handy. A good dial indicator and magnetic base is good for setting jointer blades. With these basic tools, you can setup and align just about anything in your shop. Remember: Don’t waste your money on low grade (Chinese) tools. To test them for accuracy, you need to compare them to the known precision tools, so they should be your first and only purchase. I speak from a machinist’s viewpoint, but it also applies to woodworking machines. The accuracy may not be as necessary, but you need a precise baseline to start from. There was an old saying back in my school days. It said “always strive for an A and you may end up with a B”. If you just try for a passing grade, you may end up failing. This is how I view accuracy in my woodworking; try for .015”(1/64”) and you may end up with 1/32” accuracy. Try for 1/32” and it may be too short.

View Bertha's profile


13529 posts in 2718 days

#8 posted 09-01-2011 06:49 PM

Mr. Ron, you mention B&S. What’s the general consensus on the quality? I don’t own any.

I use Starrett 12” combo
Starret mini machinist Square
Mitutoyo calipers
Master plane
Big box everything else

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View brtech's profile


1029 posts in 2948 days

#9 posted 09-01-2011 06:58 PM

Brown and Sharpe is a well known manufacturer of precision measurement equipment, on a par with Starrett I would think. I rather prefer the Starrett combo to the equivalent B&S, but I would trust any reasonably well maintained B&S tool to be rugged, accurate and very useful. Certainly their calipers are fine instruments.

View Peter Oxley's profile

Peter Oxley

1426 posts in 3900 days

#10 posted 09-01-2011 07:16 PM

I have a set of brass set-up bars that get a lot of use in my shop.

-- -- --

View ETwoodworks's profile


92 posts in 2718 days

#11 posted 09-01-2011 08:06 PM

I use a click rule because I have to but my friend uses it because it is far more accurate than a tape or ruler.

-- Building quality in a throw away world.

View rlrjr's profile


65 posts in 2864 days

#12 posted 09-01-2011 08:21 PM

I usually just try to eyeball and guesstimate…......

-- When I works, I works hard. When I sits, I sits loose. And when I thinks I falls asleep.--

View Bertha's profile


13529 posts in 2718 days

#13 posted 09-01-2011 08:23 PM

Thanks, BrTech. The B&S are usually much more reasonably priced used, which is why I asked. I thought they were on par with Lufkin maybe but from what you’re telling me, they might be quite a bit above. Thanks again, Al.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3184 days

#14 posted 09-01-2011 09:08 PM

For me, precision starts with my table saw fence and miter gauges…all Incra. I also have the 12” Incra T-rule, Veritas 38” straightedge, feeler gauge, combo square, try squares, brass setup bars, 123 setup blocks, 6” dial calipers, dial indicator with magnetic base and TS setup jig, Kreg router setup blocks…on and on and on.

I use a 12’ tape measure (don’t like or need anything larger), but I avoid its use as much as possible. I prefer to get my measurements relative to other things and use stop blocks for repeat cuts.

But really, in terms of “go to” tools, it’s all the Wixey stuff…angle measure tool…planer read-out…router read-out, etc. That, with the Incra positiioning fence for use on TS and router table extension, it takes a lot of talent to screw up my cuts…which is why I have yet to truly build anything square. :)

-- jay,

View Tedstor's profile


1643 posts in 2658 days

#15 posted 09-01-2011 09:15 PM

- A $3.50 Stanley Yardstick from walmart. I use a ruler stop I made from a stair gauge in tandem with the yardstick.

- An Empire 6” combo square

- a set of 1-2-3 blocks. These are just fantastic for soooo many functions. My set was ~$15 from amazon and as far as I can tell, they are demensionally perfect. Maybe not NASA perfect…..but definitely perfect enough for my garage LOL.

- Empire speed square. When efficiency matters more than flawless accuracy.

- Harbor Freight 6” digital calipers- I originally bought these to measure brake rotors and other automotive functions. I’ve had them for several years now. I’ve tested them numerous times using 1-2-3 blocks and feeler guages. They’ve always been dead-on accurate. I’d love to upgrade to a spendier model…..but its hard to justify benching a tool that works flawlessley.

showing 1 through 15 of 19 replies

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