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Home > Hand Tools

Using a Story Pole

Have you ever been cutting out the parts to a project when you go to put things together you find a mistake that ruins a board?  Yes, we've all been there, alone in the shop, ready to spit nails!
Many of these mistakes come from a wrong measurement.  Many of these mishaps could have been prevented by using a simple story pole.

Story poles have been used for centuries by woodworkers, stone masons, brick layers, etc.  The reason is simple:  They're easier to use than a tape measure and more accurate. However; the true benefit in using a story pole is due to it's full scale representation of the project. Mistakes are easily made when you transfer measurements from a small scale drawing to a board.  With a story pole, mistakes on the original drawing are often times caught before a single board is cut.  Another huge advantage of using a full scale representation is it gives you a better feel for how the finished piece will fill up a space. 

Here's the requirements of a story pole: It needs to be longer than the longest measurement of your project, and the ends should be squared off. A simple, straight, smooth 1x2 will do the job. That's it.

Using a story pole is just as easy.  Let's use a small cabinet as an example. Thinking of the cabinet in it's 3-D form, all the measurements (height, width, and depth) need to be transfered to one face each of the story pole:  Starting at the bottom end of the story pole and using one of the 2" faces, transfer the height measurements to your pole.  Include all critical points such as where dadoes intersect the side pieces.  It also helps to mark anything associated with that joint such as thickness, angle, and depth.

Next, use the other 2" side of your story pole for the width measurements.  Work left to right or vise versa just pick one way, and stick with it.  Mark the same critical points as with the height measurements.  Lastly, transfer the depth measurements on one of the 1" sides of the story pole.  

When I first heard of using a story pole it sounded like extra work and too simple to be of much use.  I finally decided to use a story pole for a corner cabinet that I'd been commissioned to build.  My time table was tight and I couldn't afford to make any mistakes so  I decided to use a story pole.  I'm glad I did, it allowed me to catch an error I'd made in my drawings that could have cost me big.  Having used story poles for a while now, I always feel more confident in my measurements than when I'm just using a tape measure.  Using story poles doesn't mean mistakes are a thing in the past for me, but even if they can cut down on one mistake, in my book they're worth it.

-Craig Stevens

(c) Woodworkers Resource 2007