In Techniques

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Sometimes a catalog has a piece of furniture that I’d love to build myself. How can I get the dimensions for a piece of furniture off a photograph?


Try this method for scaling from photos:

Start by taping the picture to a large piece of paper. Draw a vertical reference line through the piece so that it crosses the detailing you’d like to dimension, like drawers and doors. Use a triangle to mark out horizontal lines wherever you need dimensions. These lines should be 90 degrees to the vertical reference line (Photo 1).

To determine the scaled dimensions you need an architect’s rule. Architect’s rules are three sided with a total of six scales starting at 3⁄32 in. to 3 in. They are available at most office supply stores and cost only a few dollars. (Here we chose 80-in. for the height of our cabinet. We used the 3⁄32-in. scale and set the rule at an angle with the 0 on the top line and the 80 on the bottom.) Draw a line along the rule and measure each space along that line to determine the dimensions of each element.

For the horizontal dimensions, just repeat the process with a horizontal reference line and vertical measuring lines.

If the piece is too tall or too wide, simply change the angle of the ruler to correspond with your desired dimensions.


BuildingPeriodFurnitureFromPhotos For in-depth instruction on building from photos, check out the DVD “Building Period Furniture from Photos,” by Mike Siemsen.

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Showing 2 comments
  • badlandsbuzz

    Not to be fussy, but an architect’s rule has 10 scales 3/32″ = 1′ through 3″ = 1′ and if you count the 12″ rule in 1/16″ increments, it becomes 11.

  • mjeanson

    A second way to develop dimensions from a photograph is to load it into SktetchUp. Once you have it in SktechUp you can scale with the ruler tool the scale of the photograph to a desirable dimensions with in a couple of seconds. You are then able to directly measure any of the other dimensions that you need directly off of the image. I get request to build furniture or custom joinery from photos all the time. This is a quick method that I can then take to the next step in SketchUp to develop 2D and 3D drawings of the requested job. Saves a lot of time and waste that I use to have with the design on the fly method.

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