What’s a Story Stick?

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A story stick is a board or rod used to check repeated measurements in woodworking projects. It is marked in graduated increments and can be made from light-colored hardwood plywood. Story sticks are invaluable for repetitive cuts and can be used to mark the location of obstructions. They can be erased and reused for future projects. Vertical story sticks are also used for measuring countertops and other items. Craftsmen often develop a variety of story sticks to meet their specific needs.

A story stick is a very simple tool that is used to design complex cabinetry items. It is a board or rod used to check repeated measurements in a construction or woodworking project. The length of the story stick is marked in graduated increments relating to the current project and these marks are made with a pencil to allow for continued use of the story stick. While its exact origins are unknown, it has been used by stonemasons for centuries and is believed to have been invented by the Egyptians. Its name has changed over time, so it is also often referred to as the story post or story pole.

While no cabinetmaker would approach a project without a tape measure, story sticks are invaluable in providing much-needed information about the location, size, and functions of furniture. Unlike many other construction or remodeling projects, successful cabinet construction depends more on how the angles relate to each other than on the measurements themselves. These angular relationships are better represented by markings on story sticks than by noting the numbers obtained using a tape measure, especially often repeating numbers.

Building a story stick is simple. Any light wood can be used, but light colored hardwood plywood varieties such as birch and maple are preferred because the marks can be easily seen and erased easily so the story stick can be reused for other projects. For practicality, strength, and ease of handling, the wood should be 1 1/2 inches (3.81 cm) to 2 inches (5.08 cm) wide.

Story sticks are invaluable when there are many repetitive cuts to make or identical items to build. This often applies to drawers and cabinets that are the same size or layout in a room. The sticks can also be used to mark the location of any doors, windows or other obstructions, including pre-existing plumbing or wiring in the room.

Each mark recorded on the stick is used to accurately calculate the cuts and raw materials needed for the project. When the project is finished, the marks on the stick are erased and the stick is ready to be used again. Story stick calculations can also be recorded elsewhere for future reference.

A common and practical companion to the traditional, horizontal story stick is the vertical story stick. It is used to record measurements for countertops, window sills, socket and switch plates, and other items for the next stage of the project. Craftsmen regularly develop a variety of story sticks to meet their specific needs and often include sticks to record interior widths and depths of drawers and cabinet doors, cabinet depths, and any other measurements that are expected to be used repeatedly in current designs and future.

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