Tools for taking inside measurements

I’m looking for a tool for doing inside measurements, and am hoping to get some opinions on what works well for others. Available options I’ve found are:

  • Tape measure
    I don’t think I’d get the precision I’d want with this approach, although I do like the looks of this one by Exakta.
  • Folding wood rule
    I’ve always found these a little bulky and cumbersome, and it bothers me that the extension can’t be locked.
  • Laser measure
    Poor precision (at least in my price range)
  • Woodpecker Modular Bar Gauge System
    Wow! But I’m not spending $250.
  • Rockler 3-in-1 Bar Gauge
    This might be what I end up with, although I wish the tips weren’t plastic and that it had mushroom tips like the Woodpecker and Veritas. I guess
  • Veritas Bar Gauge
    This seems like it should be the best option, but I have two reservations: The way it sits low looks inconvenient for transferring measurements to a table saw. I’m also unsure about the ball tip. It seems to me it would be a lot easier to keep the gauge square with a flat tip like the Rockler gauge has. Can anybody comment on this?
  • EZ Story Stick
    Once again, I think the inability to lock is a deal breaker. They say it’s stiff, but I’m sure my table saw fence shifting when it looks into place could move it.
  • Veritas Bar Gauge Heads
    These look great for corner measurements, but I feel that the Rockler would be less hassle.

Does anybody have experience with any of these options? Are there any others that I’m missing? I’m especially interested in the Veritas Bar Gauge, and whether my reservations are misplaced.

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Excellent Question… Most work I do requiring inside measurements I use a tape, I measure “exact + a millionth” thats my term for using my gut. I also use only the same tape while I expect all tapes are made to be the same an inch is an inch right? Of note my work is more along the lines of framing and finish so some degree of error is taken into account. With the weather breaking I’ll soon be doing outdoor work ie roofs decks and siding so my margin of error gets a little bigger when working with those materials.

I probably didn’t give you the answer your looking for, but I’m sure someone else will soon give you a much better recommendation.

This is the one i use, I own 4, love the smallish size, duribility and the finger “lock”
Its funny they are only sold by Ace and not Sears

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I would get a stick rule with a depth gage to begin with, because I think every woodworker would benefit from having one anyway. Using the depth gage, you can open it up to the longest length that fits inside of the area you are measuring, and then extend the depth gage the rest of the way.

A very low tech way to do it is to make some measurement blocks in say 1" increments, then you can use that plus your tape measure, or stick rule to make inside measurements, that way you can measure to the edge of the black instead of having to bend you tape and guess.

I think beyond that, a decent set of calipers is a great investment for making accurate thickness, and depth measurements, and can make very accurate inside measurements up to its limits, depending on the size you get.

I like to remind myself sometimes that you can build without a tape measure at all with the right techniques.


Bar gauges and story sticks are more like go-no-go gauges than tape measures and rulers. I’ve been making the odd piece of furniture (desks, chairs, tables and the like) as a hobby and doing cabinetry and casework for years – and have acquired a preference not to measure with a tape when I’m looking for repeatability. For years what I used were 2 lengths of hardwood (I have a few different lengths – oak and maple) that I’ve tapered to a point at their ends. I’d slide them side-by-side to take the inside dimension, hold them together and then clamp them top and bottom with some binder clamps from the stationary store. In 2012 I bought the Veritas bar gauge set. I thought that I’d use it a lot – but instead I keep going back to my sticks.

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I have a wood folding rule, but rarely use it. Maybe I’m just not used to it, but I find it awkward to work with. Calipers, I use all the time.

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It definitely takes some getting used to, and is not right for everything, but the depth gage is very handy and I prefer it to a tape measure for any measurement where I’m butting against something.

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That’s interesting to hear. I thought that just using two stick would be far to sloppy and awkward. What about the Veritas set don’t you like?

The Rockler 3-in1 and the Woodpekcer Modular system both use 3/8" rods. Does anybody know if the Veritas does? That would open up some interesting possibilities to mix and match parts.

There is nothing really that I don’t like about the Veritas bar gauge set - but it sits in its box in a cabinet - while my “sticks” hang near one off my benches. Maybe if I put the Veritas set out - I might use it more. I hang other measuring tools - so maybe I should. emphasized text Regarding the homemade bars being sloppy - I also guess that I’m so used to using them that they have become second nature - I have a couple of loops of 14ga wire around them to hold them loosely together, I push them out end to end - then secure them with 3 or 4 binder clips. The inset drawers I make with this technique seem to come out square and consistent enough that I can interchange one with another with equal reveals.

@fred that’s very cool. I think shop made jigs and tools are some of the coolest things to have.

Right! The loops of wire is what I was missing. I was picturing trying to adjust and hold two bars straight. The advantage of the Veritas Bar Gauge Heads over the binder clip isn’t the thumb screw so much as the sheaths. In fact, the binder clip is probably quicker.

I just threw together a printable sheath in OpenSCAD. A pair of those, coupled with a binder clip, might be a pretty usable solution.

If it’s nothing too big you can use Telescoping Gauges and a Calipher/Micrometer for very precise measurement.

Telescoping gauges, calipers, cylinder bore gauges and the like are indeed great for measuring smaller items – and I can see them being used in woodworking for things like making jewelry boxes and music boxes. Where the longer bar gauges (homemade or store-bought) come in is for things like measuring drawers and cabinets for size, square and repeatability.

The venerable combination square can also be used for inside measurement – and so much else that I keep mine handy to the bench in an overhead rack:

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I agree, didn’t think about my combination square. I think it is a very underrted tool, although I don’t have as many as you!

I find them very useful. Mine are mostly old Starretts with blades of 6, 12 , 18, 24 and 36 inches. I also have 2 metric blades with heads - plus a miter-head, a center head, 3 depth gauge heads, 2 double squares and a builder’s square - plus a few other odds and ends - all hanging on this one small rack - and easy to grab.

Depending on the length I like to measure 10, 20, 30, etc. inches (something easy to add) from one side and make a mark. Then I measure to my line from the other direction and add the two measures together. I often use this technique for baseboard and shoe.

The most recent issue of Woodcraft magazine has a small article that does my 2-stick method one step better. They show 2 sticks that have a square groove routed down the center of the mating faces. A spline is then cut sized 2x the dimension of the grooves, to perfectly fit - glued into one of the sticks. The spline is slightly shorter than the 2 sticks so as not to interfere with the 2 15 degree tapered ends. The sticks can then slide one against the other - with the spline (better than my 2 loops of wire) keeping them in alignment. They show a spring clamp (instead of my binder clips) being used to secure the 2 sticks together.

The festool tape measure has an inside measurment scale on the top of the tool. Very handy and compact.

I was just about to suggest a loose tongue-and-groove arrangement. Or maybe even ripping some oak t&g flooring to make the sticks. You’d need to sand or plane the tongue section a little so it didn’t bind.