Layout Tools


Whether you do hand or machine work, these layout tools are indespensable.
By Michael Dunbar
Pages: 52-57

From the October 2008 issue #171
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Layout tools are woodworking’s widows and orphans. The work they do seems pretty mundane, so we woodworkers tend to focus our attention and our expenditures on the fancy stuff. The shift in focus from hand work and hand joinery to workworking machines played a part in the demotion of layout tools, as a lot of layout is now built into the fences and guides on machines.

Just as no shop doing quality woodworking will ever get completely away from hand work, we are unlikely to ever eliminate the need for layout tools. If you are a woodworker you do need to own and know how to use layout tools. Fortunately, they are not hard to figure out. They are just a bit foreign to some of us.

Layout tools usually come into play early in the furniture-making process. Generally, the only work you do before layout is stock preparation. Before any joining or shaping is done, your stock will have to be laid out.

There are two broad categories of woodworking: joinery and shaping. Likewise, there are two broad categories of layout tools: those used for laying out joints and those that layout shapes. However, there is some overlap between the two types and frequently, more than one tool is used in a single operation.

I counsel against skimping when buying tools. Quality tools cost money. Inexpensive tools do not work well – if at all. However, layout tools are exceptions. Some companies make very pretty and very expensive layout tools. Some companies make very accurate and precise layout tools. But, woodworking is not done to three decimal places. If yo uwant to work with really pretty or extremely accurate tools, that is you choice. You’ll pay more and your woodworking won’t be any better for it. Often, the basic equivalents available in a hardware store, in woodworking catelogs, or at home centers will work just fine.

That said, I do prefer my layout tools to have some features, and others features I avoid. Rather than appearance and cost, my criteria are ease of set up and fine adjustment. As I discuss these tools, I will mention features and explain why I prefer some over others.


From the October 2008 issue #171
Buy this issue now