As you assemble a collection of tools for remodeling work, remember that you don’t have to purchase everything at once. Start by purchasing only those tools you need for the job at hand, then add to your collection as the scope of your work expands. As a do-it-yourselfer, you probably do not need top-of-the-line tools. But buying high-quality tools from the start ensures many years of service from your purchase.
Tools for measuring Carpenters live by three rules: plumb (pieces are vertically straight), square (pieces are 90 degrees perpendicular), and level (pieces are horizontally straight). The need for these rules starts from the ground up. A foundation that isn’t level and square inevitably leads to trouble throughout a house as construction progresses. Learn to adhere to these standards, and your work will look professional and create fewer problems as you go.
Working on an older home, however, teaches you that plumb, square, and level are often ideals rather than realities. In an older structure, you may have to compromise between what is right and what looks right. The two are often quite different.
The tools shown here come in handy as you plan, lay out, and build. A tape measure provides a compact ruler for all measuring tasks. A 25-foot model is the most common, although a 16-footer proves adequate for most jobs. A combination square allows you to draw square lines across boards for crosscutting. It is also handy for marking layout lines a specific distance in from the edge of a board. A layout square does many of the same tasks and can serve as a guide when crosscutting with a circular saw or jigsaw. A framing square (also called a carpenter’s square) can be used for larger layouts. A T-bevel transfers angles from one place to another.
To check for level, you’ll need a good level or two. They come in many lengths; a 3- or 4-foot model is a good first purchase. A plumb bob is simply a heavy, pointed weight. When dangled from a string, a plumb bob and the string provide a vertical reference. A chalk line is used to mark long, straight lines. Many chalk lines have cases that can serve as plumb bobs. A stud finder is used to find framing studs in walls. Electronic and magnetic finders detect the nails in a wall but can be fooled by wires and pipes. New models sense the density of the studs.
Checking a square for square: Step 1
A framing square that is truly square is a valuable tool; one that is almost square is next to worthless. To check the accuracy of a framing square, hold the square along the edge of a straight board and draw a line.
Checking a square for square: Step 2
Flip over the square and draw a second line right over the first. If the lines coincide, the square is square.
Checking a square for square: Step 3
You can adjust a framing square by striking it with a center punch and hammer. Punch the square near the outside corner to close the angle. Punch it near the inside corner to open it up.
Using a tape measure
The hook on the end of a tape measure is loose for a reason. When taking an inside measurement, it slips up tight to the end of the tape, its thickness becoming part of the measurement. When hooked over the end of a board, it slides out to compensate for the missing thickness.
Use chalk lines for long, straight marks
Snapping a line: Mark the ends of the line. Hook the chalk line at one mark, stretch it taut, and hold it at the other mark. Lift the line straight up and then let it go to make your mark. Chalk for chalk lines comes in a variety of colors. For marking complex layouts, use two or more lines, each with its own color.