Marking hacks every DIYer should know
Before we get too far into the hacks and tricks, let’s pause a moment to make sure we all understand the basics of marking for a cut. It’s always best practice to mark the board where the saw will make its first contact. For a circular saw, that’s usually at the edge of the board, while a mitre saw cut should be marked in the middle of the board. When possible, mark with a ‘V’ to reduce the chances of favouring one side of the line or the other.
It’s notoriously difficult to mark cuts on curved surfaces. Dropping a straight edge or a measuring tape on a length of tubing or PVC will give you a line to mark against, but it’s very simple to roll or shift your edge when trying to pull a mark. Instead, try this hack: use a length of angle iron to create multiple touch points on the cylinder, stabilising the line and making it easy to draw a mark with a pencil or marker. If you need to pull a measurement on the surface, just put a tape measure or ruler on the flat surface of the angle iron. It’s a great way to make a tricky job simple!
There’s no shortage of specialised tools on the market, and many of them make marking quick and easy. But that doesn’t change the fact that it always seems like the right tool for your specific job is back home or still sitting on the shelf at the hardware store. That’s why it’s important to learn to not fear adapting your tools on hand to complete your project. A perfect example is this clothespin scribing tool sent in by reader Bruce Kieffer.
One of the easiest places to make a mistake when laying trim is when transferring measurements from wall to saw station. Eliminate that risk with this simple hack! Set the trim in place and make your mark directly on the wall where it will be installed. If the trim piece has too much wobble to hold in place, set it with a temporary brad nail. Pop the brad out the back when you remove the trim piece, and you’ll only have a tiny hole to fill during installation.
We’ve all been there: you’re working with a stack of fresh boards or plywood panels when you realise you need to draw a straight line to mark a cut. If you don’t have a straight-edge close at hand, you’ll likely be tempted to simply use one of the fresh boards. After all, the factory edge is straight, right?
Not so fast! While some factory edges may be straight and true, that’s far from universal. If you need a straight edge, use one that you know is accurate. It may take a little more time than simply grabbing another board, but it may save a lot of aggravation in the long run.
One of the most important job site skills to learn is how to mark out projects with a chalk line. Used for everything from determining plum to laying out floor patterns for tile and hardwood, this amazingly useful tool is a must have for any DIY tool belt. Maybe our favourite chalk line hack is an easy tip for marking angle cuts on drywall. A slight slit in the direction of the cut is all you need to hook or wrap the chalk line around, giving you enough tension to mark your cut.
Skip the repetitive measuring and remeasuring when installing cabinet drawer pulls. Your factory drawer faces should be square (but double-check per the earlier tip!) so just mark a pair of lines from opposite corners. The lines will intersect at the centre of the drawer face. And with that simple hack, you’re ready to drill!
In theory, much of woodworking and drywall installation is straightforward, simply setting flat against flat end. The reality is that flat surfaces are rare and you need to use a combination of precision cuts and the occasional artful hack in order to make uneven surfaces fit together flush. Part of that skill set is knowing not only how to scribe, but what tool to use when it’s time to do so. This might mean pulling out a specialised tool or a customised solution (like the clothespin scribe mentioned earlier) or using a standard tool for an unusual purpose, as with the compass shown here.
If you’ve ever struggled to mark accurate arcs and circles, then this is the hack for you! Using a standard ruler or yardstick, carefully centre a 3mm hole at every 25mm mark. Place a pin or auger through the first hole (at the 25mm mark) where you’d like the circle or arc to be centred. Add 25mm to the radius you want to lay out, and insert a pencil into that modified number. Use the pin as a pivot and rotate the pencil to mark the arc or full circle.
That last tip was great, but if you need an odd sized or uneven curve, you’ll need to push your marking game to the next level. Create much larger arcs with this hack: lay out the plan for your arc by figuring the bottom corners and peak, setting a nail or dowel at those points and at least one of the top corners. Then set two pieces of flat stock on the plan, one angled from the bottom to the peak, and the other from the peak to the opposite top corner. Fasten the two pieces of flat stock, then set a pencil in the juncture. Slide the stock pieces across the peak and bottom corner markers, and your pencil will mark a perfect arc.
Most people have a Speed square in their tool kit, but very few use them to their full potential when it comes to marking cuts. One example of a quick hack: hook the notch at the end of a Speed square on a nail, and use a pencil to mark small circles. Or to mark angles, tilt the square until the angle on the square’s blade matches the angle you want.
We’ve talked a lot about the tools that help us find our marks, but now it’s time to turn our eyes to the things that literally mark our projects. A simple hack to make life easier is to keep a variety of instruments on hand.
Pencils are great for many purposes, but depending on the softness and shade of the lead, they can be too faint to see on some material. Sharpie markers work great and are easy to see, but while they may be tempting to use on surfaces such as drywall, keep in mind that if you plan to paint over the marks, you’ll likely need to seal with a special primer and possibly paint multiple coats in order to cover up those marks. Pens have a nice, narrow line and don’t need to be sharpened, but they can’t take abuse the way a trusty pencil can, and (like a marker) they can’t be easily erased. Lastly, if you are working with a gloss-finish material such as PVC or ceramic tile, consider keeping a grease pencil around so that your marking will be clear and easily removed.
Learn how to use plumbs, bobs and levels in order to make the most of your marking process. By using these tools effectively, you’ll be able to mark out your project quickly and get to the real work of assembly. And sometimes a simple hack can make things even easier! An inexpensive keychain laser can be modified into a plumb bob with a bit of sturdy string, and just like that, you’re ready to make your mark!
One of the best ways to make sure you have your design clear, especially if you have to convey your concept to someone else, is to draw it out. But it can be hard to transfer a three-dimensional concept onto a two-dimensional surface, even with graph paper and drawing aides. Luckily, this hack makes the planning stage go much smoother! Isometric drawing pads supplement standard graph paper grids with diagonal lines. This makes it much easier to represent the true form of your project on paper, and you don’t need an art degree to do it.
This product is especially useful when planning out a large or complicated project like a whole house remodel.
A common mistake for beginner DIYers is to fail to account for the width of the blade when factoring in cuts. An easy hack to avoid this is to trim your carpenter’s pencil to match the width of your saw blade. Make your marks on the cutoff side of your measure, and you’ll be able to see exactly how much material you’ll have left – a huge time saver when planning multiple cuts from a single board or panel.
When it comes time to work on your landscaping, it can be tempting to grab a shovel or hoe and break ground without adequately measuring and marking out your plan. Instead, take the time to do the equivalent of a “dry fit” that you’d do if assembling a piece of furniture. Use landscape paint to spray the outlines of your project onto the grass. It’s not permanent and will wash away with the next rain, or you can scrub or mow it out.
If your budget is extra tight, save a few bucks and use a length of hose to create a flexible boundary that can be adjusted and tweaked as you see fit. This kind of temporary marking will let you proceed with confidence and save time on your project.
Part of the tool-modification family of tricks, this quick and easy hack will let you convert an inexpensive combination square into an efficient marking gauge.
Start by drilling a 3mm hole at the 25mm mark of the combination square. Centre it exactly on the 25mm mark, and be sure to make your hole perpendicular to the square (use a drill press if you have one). Once that’s done, you’re through the hardest part of the hack! Next, set the combination square to 25mm beyond your intended measurement, then place a pencil in your 3mm hole. Simply slide your square along the edge of your material, your pencil will mark a nice crisp line at the distance you need.
Finding the true centre of a board can be a bit finicky, but this hack makes it a snap to find and mark dead centre. Using a simple piece of 20mm plywood and a pair of 12mm dowels, you essentially create a U shape, then drill a hole the exact size of your pencil precisely through the middle of the board. To mark the centre of a board, put one dowel on either side of your workpiece and rotate until the dowels contact the workpiece. With your pencil in the centre hole, slide the centre finder along your workpiece. This is a great little tool that gets a lot of use. Make several of them in different sizes to accommodate large and small boards.
This marking hack is part of a three-piece crown moulding installation that makes the whole project simpler. By installing the centre of the crown using two pieces of preset flat trim, you’ll have greater flexibility to deal with irregular walls and corners. And to get there, you’ll use a marking gauge. Measure the run and drop of the crown moulding, then join two blocks to make a backward L-shape. Place this against the preset trim to position the central crown.
Sign up here to have Handyman’s favourite stories straight to your inbox.
Source: Family Handyman