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I've always used a simple tape measure when prepping wood and building projects like new kitchen cabinets and everything around the house and now around the ranch. But everything I've done has been using the "TLAR" method…"That Looks About Right"... but now in retirement, I'd like to tune things up a bit and build to more exacting tolerances. All that being said, in welding and metalwork, I use digital calipers. Is there a more exact method beyond the old Stanley tape measure that would yield more accurate measurements when it comes to woodworking?
 

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You can use digital calipers to make smaller woodworking measurements. A quality combination square is also nice.
Woodpeckers and Incra both make some hyper-precise measuring product that are woodworking-specific.
 

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I have digital calipers, but I prefer the dial caliper 'cause it doesn't need batteries.

Hear! Hear!

Just remember, the batteries never die when you are not using it! They always quit in the middle of a project when you just need that last measurement to finish!

I agree with your steel rule comment - some of the attempts to get 10 thou accuracy in wood that moves more than that with humidity crack me up! Buuuut… calipers do come in handy when you are trying to get that last 10 thou for a flush fit on a router rabbet cut for a plywood face!
 

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Digital calipers are good for some things. I use mine the most when planing wood and want it to be very close to 0.750 to use for face frames. For most things, a good steel rule and tape measure are sufficient. With a tape measure, it is worth checking it once in awhile to make certain that it is still accurate. You can use the steel rule to make certain the end part has not been damaged. I have a couple of tape measures. One I use on rough cutting where accuracy to an 1/8" is good enough. I have another that I use only for cabinet work. And, my last one is a flat back one that I use for cabinets.

I also will use sticks to make or copy measurements. Story sticks are great for copying measurements and avoid the possibility of not measuring correctly.
 

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I prefer digital calipers and digital marking gauge. I have the analog versions as backups, but spare batteries are in the drawer. I can see the numbers much easier, and the zero reset makes some things quick and easy. By no means are the digital tools necessary, just better and easier. Other uses around the shop make them indispensible for me.

Something that helps with "more exacting measurement" - the process. I complete the design of something before starting, whether a pencil drawing or 3D cad. I make a parts list and determine how pieces will be made, and all pieces are made with the same machine set up. That way if I'm off by a 1/16", all pieces are off the same and can usually be built as is. Sometimes the design gets tweaked to build in some flexibility for parts not being perfect.
 

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I would add to the excellent suggestions above that a couple 123 blocks, an adjustable story stick and lengths of keyway stock (mine go from 1/8" to 3/4" in 1/16" increments) will be of enormous help in machine settings.
My digital calipers and Wixy's height gauge are also very handy.
Except for gross measurements like cutting to workable lengths, tape measures are useless….in my shop.
 

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I use quality Woodpecker 6", 12", 18", and 24" rulers, squares, etc. for layout and measurement.

I use the tapes for crude measurements\rough cuts.

My digital calipers are solar powered. No battery worries. The Wixey digital angle gauge is also a great addition to the work shop.
 

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The batteries in cheaper digital calipers will run down even with the tool turned off. Working with hard woods is almost like working with metal. In that case, more precise measurements can be made using calipers or micrometers. With soft woods, a steel rule or tape is all you need. Most people with metalworking backgrounds, usually prefer using precision tools for their measuring. Maybe that's because they already have the precision tools. If you don't work metals, don't go out and buy expensive precision tools other than a cheap digital caliper. They do come in handy. Really the only precision tool a woodworker needs is an accurate combination square.
 

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Steel rules at least make you feel like you're being more precise. I use a 12" and 24". Any cut on the table saw or the miter saw under 24" is set with one. I use a caliper for thickness planing and dadoes. The digital caliper I bought 3 years ago at the auto parts store for 20 bucks is still on it's original batteries and I prefer it to my old dial caliper for it's ease of reading.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I'm just a guy who's detail-oriented. In metal, I have all the tools for precision but for wood it's usually been a speed square, framing square and waffle head framing hammer. Now that I'm getting into the more creative aspects of the two disciplines and commingling them, I'd like to have the same potential for accuracy in wood that I have in metal so your comments are tremendously helpful for someone like me at my age.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
I'm building a CNC plasma cutter with router capability now after getting comfortable with the process on a loaner system. There's just something about how metals go together with wood that is difficult to match, especially when working in copper. The colors that pair up in a piece, when you get it right, there's simply nothing so visually stunning as the right color and figuring of wood against the heat-induces color spectrum that you can create with a torch.
 

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I think over time you'll find that your blade cutting accuracy in woodworking is not quite as precise as say, taking .002 off a block of steel on a mill.

With that, you will find that decent steel rules are good for almost all applications. I build about 8-12 guitars a year, and I use Starrett rules in MM, and a longer offbrand rule, also in MM. That's about 1/26th of an inch, and I can easily divide up by eye a MM, so at that point I am at 1/52th of an inch, way accurate enough for woodworking. I have four sizes of rules that read in both inches and MM, 6", 12", 18", and 36". I keep a couple of each. Only the 36" is not hardened steel.
About the only time I use a tape measure is when I am cutting off stock from a large piece, like needing about 19" off say, an eight foot piece.
 

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When you are satisfied with your measuring methods and instruments, the next thing to consider is your marking tool. A sharp marking knife makes a finer line than almost any type of pencil. And, the use of the knife will reduce the fuzzies and/or tear out on figured woods.
 
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