In Shop Blog, Techniques

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I’ve used the “ticking stick” method to fit countertops into odd spaces in a home, but I’ve never used it in the workshop. But then Indiana carpenter Carl Bilderback showed me how to use the method to fit a door to a face frame.

As soon as he mentioned it, I slapped my forehead and signed him up to write a short article about it for the November 2010 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine, which is heading out to subscribers now.

However, some people have a hard time visualizing the process, so Megan Fitzpatrick shot this short video this morning that shows how it’s done. Complete details are in the November issue.

And if you don’t know what a “ticking stick” is, you’re not alone. The video should clear things up for you.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 16 comments
  • Hoody

    Very helpful for me..!

    Thanks, Chris!


  • Being a carpenter myself, I find this "tip" not helpful at all. Typically when fitting a countertop, etc. to a wall, I would make a template of thin ply glued together with hot melt glue. We do this all the time for granite counter installation.

  • Brian

    So I’m sure you prolly already know this, but it’s something i was school’d on in a high school drafting class. And actually it may help you keep a more accurate pencil line over longer distances. When you start to drag your pencil, you want to roll the pencil in your grip as you draw the line. This keeps a very consistent line width all the way through the pencil path. 🙂 I know you weren’t looking for this, but i was just watching the video, which I learned a ton from. Chris you rock, keep up the awesomeness. 🙂

    Seattle, WA

  • Christopher Schwarz

    For those having trouble with the size of the video, go to our channel on

    That should help.

  • Beekeep

    Picture comes in very small. When you right click to zoom, it becomes either too large for the frame and you lose detail, or too small for the frame and difficult to view.

    How about transmitting the correct size to fit the frame?

  • Alan in little Washington (NC)

    I have a quick, easy, and precise way to trim the door after the ticking method on the tablesaw, even if no sides are parallel or it is truly an irregular polygon. Use a spacer the same thickness as your door to attach a 3" wide strip of hardboard or thin ply to your miter sled so it is above and slightly overhanging the kerf edge. Run the sled through and trim the excess- that gives you a perfect cut line. Slip the door under the hardboard, align the door line with the edge of the hardboard and trim the door. My tip was published in the Oct 2009 issue of Wood.

  • Tom Holloway

    Maybe if you made the face frame model for the demo a little more irregular, say clearly out of square or maybe with a notch in a corner where it had to meet another cabinet, the validity of the ticking stick method would appear more obvious. At first when I saw that the "top edge looks OK," I thought "of course–it is parallel to the template." But what if the frame were out of whack? That’s when it dawned on me that the ticking stick trick is somewhat analogous to scribing an irregular edge, say when fitting a countertop against an irregular wall surface, but for fitting one flat surface to another flat surface.

  • Christopher Schwarz


    I think the better way to look at this video is to see it as a way of fitting anything into an opening — not just that panel door into that detached face frame.

    There are face frames that don’t have a bottom rail and don’t become squarish until they are attached to the carcase. Or the face frame consists of stiles only, with a top and bottom piece acting as rails. Or you might have a frameless cabinet. The technique is not just for this narrow instance.

    Perhaps I should have gone into more detail on those above points in the video. My bad.

  • I think this is a perfectly good technique for placing new work in existing construction. We can’t always separate a face frame from the cabinet in order to fit a new door.

  • Trevor Walsh

    Brilliant! I love this, I’ve not yet had to do something that requires this type of fitting but it’s one of those things that makes you go "duh" and smack your forehead. Thanks for taping and showing it

  • Steve

    If someone were to come up to me and ask me how to fit a panel to a door frame that was already installed in a cabinet, the first thing I’d do would be to give them my best "Are you kidding me?" look. The second thing I’d do would be to point them to a recently published article entitled "Build in the Right Order" in a certain other woodworking magazine…

    If it really were necessary to lay out the panel without removing the frame, I’d do the layout onto a template (say, a piece of 1/8" Baltic birch that I could easily tape to the frame). Then I’d cut out the template and transfer its outline to the real panel.

    If I wanted to trace an offset for a reveal, I’d put the pencil in a little block of wood that held the point the correct distance away from the frame.

    Don’t get me wrong–I think a ticking stick is the perfect technique for a lot of things. But it just seems like completely the wrong way to go for fitting a door panel.

  • David Cockey

    Cut or file a small V-notch in the side of the stick instead of the pencil mark. Then make a marks on the door at the base of the V-notch instead of trying to align the pencil by eye. Then no errors because the pencil wasn’t exactly aligned with the mark on the side of the stick.

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Yeah, we’re fixing the date. I’m already working on next year’s calendar and I have 2011 on the brain.

    And sometimes you can’t get the door behind the face frame. If the face frame is on the cabinet and there are shelves in the way, for example.

    Plus, if you try this technique once, I bet you’ll notice something about the method you might like – you can use shims with the ticking stick to set precise reveals.

    So I stand behind this technique.

  • Steve

    Also… I noticed that the date on the video is November 2011.

  • Steve

    I use this technique (or the similar "frog" technique) when I’m fitting a cabinet, countertop, flooring, etc., to an existing opening. But I truly can’t fathom why I would use it to fit a panel to a door frame. I’d just set the frame on top of the panel, use a pencil to trace the inside edge of the frame onto the panel, and I’d be done.

  • dave rodgers

    First – the video is too small. I had to right click my mouse to zoom to see it.

    Second – I used this method to fit a kitchen counter top against 3 walls of 6 feet, 2.5 feet, and 2 feet linear distance. Two of the walls were plaster and nothing was square. When I finished with this method, and dropped the top onto the counter, I could not put a single sheet of paper between the walls and the counter top. This is a very effective technique. dave rodgers

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