There is an old adage in the woodworking and really, all the trades that everyone has heard:

That adage is: “Measure twice, Cut once.”

If you are new to woodworking and you follow this are destined to screw up EVERY project you work on! Let me share with you a better adage to keep tucked in the pocket of your mind. I've never heard anyone say it, but after 26 total years of woodworking (13 hobby, 13 professional) the following words will be a much better guide for you in the woodshop. Those words are: Plan, Measure, Mark, Cut...Repeat Indefinitely!

Plan, Measure, Mark, Then Cut...Repeat IndefinitelyThe biggest difference between woodworking and the other modern trades is that our materials come in a raw or near-raw state...and our final product goes directly to the end user.

If I were to lay out the whole process of building a piece of custom hardwood furniture, it starts something like this:

• Receive Material
• Measure and Assess warp and defects
• Measure around defects to figure where each part can come from
• Measure and layout rough cuts to length
• Rough cut oversize to accommodate for snipe
• Measure rough thickness
• Joint face and 1 edge
• Check squareness
• Measure width at minimum
• Measure center thickness and end thickness to determine planer setups
• Plane board incrementally to keep maximum thickness
• Measure boards at first clean planing, or when boards are clean enough to work around any hollows on one side.
         ♦ If thickness is greater than needed-plane to thickness
         ♦ If thickness is less than needed, evaluate and account for differences on the plan
• Measure minimum width
• Square second edge on the tablesaw to minimum width of board, or consistently oversize of parts
• Remeasure width
• Check plans

All of this just got us through the milling process. That means we now have useable boards: flat, square and co-planar.

How many times did we measure? I count 9. And here is the place I will defer to the old adage...each time I say “measure,” I assume it's being done in multiple locations and on the board and that each measurement is either “done twice” or “double checked” to avoid error.

So figure it like this: measure twice in 3 places (6 times)...then do that 9 times during different operations. That's 54 measurements to get yourself workable material.

Now again...all of this is simply stated with the purpose of helping the new woodworker to grasp the bigger scope of flexibility in process. I'm not looking to trash the “measure twice, cut once” philosophy...because truly, it's simply an adage about making sure of something before you perform an irrevocable action. It's a philosophy about decision-making and to that end it has great merit not just in the trades, but in all facets of life. It is wise to be certain of your decision before acting.

To those of you who are still working to achieve this moment in your work...I wish you all the best. Plan, Measure, Mark, Cut...Repeat Indefinitely. I hope that these words stick in your mind at every moment of the day that you aren't sure what to do next. May your boards be straight, your tools be sharp, and your splinters be few!

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