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Marking and Measuring

by Curtis Turner
Round Rock, TX

Note: Click on any picture to see a larger version.

My most recent project is a Windsor style stool based on plans found in the Chairmaker's Notebook , by Peter Galbert. This project requires turning several matching parts. While portions could be turned by eye, there are elements that should be turned to precise proportions. Measuring tools are critical to the success of this and similar projects.

Chairmaking often requires following a set of plans. Plans typically call for specific sized tenons, shapes, lengths and diameters. If a turner simply "eyeballs" these dimensions to save time, he or she will certainly pay the price at assembly time. The parts will likely not align properly, requiring more short cuts and sacrifices to force the parts together.

Even when using informal plans, turners are often faced with turning duplicate parts. This might be as simple as replacing a broken chair leg where a printed pattern is not available nor worth the effort to create. In this case, it is faster to take measurements from one leg and transfer the information directly on the new part. The exactness may not be as critical as say, balusters for stairs, or spindles on a flat backed bench. In these cases, the eye can easily detect deviations. However, if precision is a priority, the overall project will have a symmetry that is pleasing to the eye.

Turners often say, "Turning the first one is easy. It is turning the second to match that's difficult." I think most turners that do not do production work find repeating numerous measurements and shapes intimidating.

Achieving Accuracy

This plan called for turning four legs with a slight variation in the length between the front and back legs. Since my project is a stool; all legs are the same length. I also wanted the stool to sit slightly higher than a standard chair. The stool legs are slightly longer than those illustrated in the plan.

I used outside spring calipers to capture major diameters on the plans. I like to set a caliper to a diameter and leave it set until all pieces requiring that dimension are turned.

This helps to reduce the risk of errors. It also saves time by avoiding setting and resetting the calipers. However, I must still keep track of which caliper is associated with which element.

As you can see, I used several outside spring calipers. These use a thread rod and nut to adjust the calipers.

A new type of caliper is the Galbert Woodturner's Caliper , by Peter Galbert. While I have not used this caliper, the videos look compelling.

Another option for sizing spindles is the Arc Gauge or the Sizing Tool just to mention a few. More tools for sizing can be found here .

The Story Stick

Another very handy tool is the simple story stick. This is a thin piece of wood used to mark out transitions, lengths, shapes and other notes.

The story stick is a huge time saver. I can carefully layout transitions once and transfer that same data to the next part over and over again. This helps to ensure accuracy. The simplest form of a story stick marks for length. A better use of the story stick is to use it as a record of the part/project. Notes, dates, names as well as dimensions can be recorded and saved.

These techniques were helpful to me while working on my Windsor stool project. I hope you found a few tips that may be helpful to you.

Curtis is a former President of Central Texas Woodturners , a member of the American Association of Woodturners , and a member of Fine Woodworkers of Austin . Curtis teaches and demonstrates nationally for Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. He also teaches for TechShop. He owns a studio where he teaches and works. Curtis lives in Central Texas with his wife and four young children. Take a look at his website at .

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