No-Nonsense Measuring

Once upon a time, cabinetmakers used a story stick to record dimensions.  This practice is not used much anymore, but there are still carpenters who prefer not to use rulers for some operations.

In the bathroom job we just finished, I measured for the door trim and went out to cut the pieces.  When I brought them in the sides were 10″ short.  I should have realized how much I was cutting off of the 7′ pieces while I was doing it, but I didn’t.  My mind was elsewhere, apparently.  I usually cut the mitre and then measure down from the short point.  Since it’s not possible to hook the end of the tape measure on an obtuse angle, one way to do this is to hold the inch mark on the short point and measure from there.  Using this method, you have to remember to subtract that inch – hence the term “burn an inch”.

While I avoid rulers in the shop, I rely too heavily on them in the field.  Why were my pieces 10″ short?  Because of a bad habit – instead of “burning an inch”, I usually burn 10″. I found over time that I have a weird form of dyslexia specifically with numbers.  Instead of subtracting the inch, I’ll sometimes add it instead.  I found that adding 10″ to my measurement and setting the 10″ mark on the short point works well for me.

Except when it doesn’t, and I have to run to get more trim.

What I should have done was brought the pieces in, marked them against the door, and brought them out to cut them.  This eliminates measuring mistakes entirely.  And that, friends, is the moral of this story.


About Kinderhook88

Remodeling Contractor | Woodworker
This entry was posted in Carpentry, door, Trim and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to No-Nonsense Measuring

  1. Dan Antion says:

    I have made the 1″ mistake many times and almost always with the last board of that style/width.


  2. i try to use my rulers and tape measures as little as possible. I find in more accurate that way. I use relative dimensioning as much as I can as a rule.


  3. I agree. I use relative dimensioning as much as I can and my tape measures and rules as little as possible. I find I’m more accurate that way.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jeff Branch says:

    I’ve both frequently – burn an inch or 10 inches. Just don’t trust the hook on a tape measure.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m a hack as a carpenter, but I love working with wood and what I produce is always good enough for me. Can’t tell you how many times I build on the fly because of mis-measurements. It’s a relief to know the experts now and then waste a board too.

    Liked by 1 person

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