Dear James: I am not the most accurate with projects. My measurements are often off just enough so things don’t fit. Do you have advice regarding which measurement tools/techniques to use? — Sal L.

Dear Sal: If you don’t make accurate measurements, even the best materials and power tools cannot salvage the job. It is not difficult to measure accurately, but it does take a little time and the proper measurement devices for the task at hand. The old saying, “Measure twice, cut once”, is still wise advice today.

A long tape measure is an indispensable tools for any project, but it is not the most accurate way to make precise measurements. It is ideal for rough cutting lumber, drywall, etc. and long noncritical measurements.

A good example is when laying out a patio or a deck which you want to have perfect 90-degree corners. Use a tape measure for the overall size and drive corner marking stakes in the ground. Next measure across the diagonals. If the corners are square, the diagonal lengths will be identical. Move the stakes accordingly until the diagonals are the same.

Another measuring tip is how to determine the area of an irregular shape. This could be important when determining how much concrete, mulch or paneling to buy. Break down the entire shape into smaller rectangular areas which you can easily measure with a tape measure. Add them together.

For more precise measurements, ones on angles or parallel ones, other specialty measuring tools are easier to use and more accurate than your tape measure. A long metal straight edge is a convenient tool to transfer long measurements on to one or more pieces. It is also useful to determine if a piece of lumber or concrete slab it actually flat.

Use your tape measure and mark the distance you desire on the straight edge. This can easily be done by sticking a piece of masking tape on the straight edge and making your measurement mark on it. The straight edge can also be used as guide when making cuts or score marks with a utility knife.

A bench rule is a long thinner flexible straight edge with dimension marks on it. This is ideal for measuring on curved surfaces. On tightly curved surfaces, the measuring tape is better to use.

You can also use a bench rule to divide a piece into parts of equal width. If you want to divide a seven-inch board into five parts, place the bench rule on the board at an angle with the one-inch and 11-inch marks at either edge of the board. Make marks at 3, 5, 7, and 9 inches for equal parts.

Using a carpenter’s square is the best method to mark a 90-degree line or check squareness of a cut. A large T-square also comes in handy for laying out cuts on large pieces such as plywood and drywall. When you are making angled measurements, use a sliding bevel. It allows you to select any angle and then tighten the edge at that position.

Although not a tool, don’t forget adequate lighting, preferably from above the work. When you are measuring in inadequate lighting, it is too easy to mark at shadow line instead of a real edge. When working with lumber, grain lines can be misleading and throw a measurement off.

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