How to mark wooden strips

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Robert LowdonGetty Images

The first step in installing attractive wood paneling is accurately marking the length. With a little practice and patience, you’ll be able to get a clean cut every time. Here are best practices for getting it right—some of them are centuries old.

1️⃣ Put the rule away. Instead, mark directly.

Illustration of a ruler with an x ​​above it

Jess Southland

Using a ruler or tape measure will almost always result in inaccuracies. There are times when you need to use one, but what you’re looking for isn’t to cut the trim to an integer and a fraction, just adjust its length to fit the wall, window, or door. If possible, attach the fairing and mark directly. For short trim lengths (e.g. under 4ft), especially for baseboards, use something called a tick stick (more on this below) to transfer the length.

2️⃣ Use a tick pen.

A tick stick is a piece of scrap wood on which you record dimensions. Its key features are that it’s straight and wide enough (and thick enough) for you to mark accurately. Erase the markers when you’re done and start over.

To use the tick stick on a baseboard, poke the stick against an inside corner and mark the length of the wall from the inside corner to the outside, or hold it in place and span two outside corners. Make your marks on the stick and make a small tick on its edge to indicate the miter direction. (The illustration makes it clear.) You can also make a small sketch on the stick to help you match up the wall sections with the moldings to be cut.

The stick is particularly useful when you are finicky about marking short trimming distances, e.g. B. when dealing with multiple wall peninsulas or trimming around built-in closets. Marking a single stick and recording the data on it can help avoid bending, kneeling, and standing. It simplifies marking these complex trimming paths.

Now take the stick and your trim piece to the miter saw. Transfer the markings on the stick to the molding and then cut them off. With practice, the process becomes automatic: mark stock, mark trim, cut trim, nail trim. Repeat.

Illustration shows how to measure and mark the trim with a tick

Jess Southland

3️⃣ Use a sharp marking tool.

Use a good quality pencil such as this one from Mitsubishia marking knife, or a pocket knife. When I have a lot to cut, I even take an electric pencil sharpener to work and use it often. Mark a blurred line, make a blurred cut. Mark a sharp line, make a sharp cut.

4️⃣ Mark the vertical door panel miter up or miter down.

Years ago Neal Barrett – one of the best woodworkers in the country and a PopMech Contributing Editor – showed us a neat trick for marking door panels. You can mark the trim length miter up (the miter point points toward the ceiling) or miter down (the miter point points toward the floor). Both techniques accomplish the same task – that is, marking a piece of door panel and then cutting it to the correct length. Really, it depends on how you like to work. I generally prefer the miter method because the length of the trim is established using a simple cross-section rather than a miter cut.

But knowing the technique helps when it comes to marking trim with highly curved or complex edges. It is difficult both to mark an exact miter position on these and even more difficult to get the blade perfectly aligned. It is easier to miter cut and then mark the cross section using the miter method.

Illustration visually showing trimming being cut using the Up Miter and Down Miter techniques

Jess Southland

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