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What is a Story Stick?

A Story Stick is a timeless tool used by carpenters and builders to record and transfer measurements with precision. It's a physical memory aid, ensuring consistency across their work without repeated measuring. This method not only saves time but also tells the tale of a project's dimensions. How might this ancient technique enhance modern craftsmanship? Join us to find out.
Cassie L. Damewood
Cassie L. Damewood

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

Although no cabinetmaker would approach a project without a measuring tape, story sticks are invaluable in supplying necessary information on the location, size, and functions of cabinetry. Unlike many other construction or remodeling projects, successful cabinet building depends more on how the angles related to each other than the measurements themselves. These angular relationships are better represented by markings on story sticks than by jotting down numbers obtained by using a measuring tape, especially numbers that are often repeated.


To build a story stick is simple. Any light wood can be used, but light colored hardwood varieties of plywood such as birch and maple are preferred because markings can be easily seen and easily erased so the story stick can be reused for other projects. For practical purposes, sturdiness and easy handling, the wood should be 1 1/2 inch (3.81 cm) to 2 inches (5.08 cm) wide.

Story sticks are invaluable when there are a lot of repetitive cuts to make or identical items to construct. This often applies to drawers and cabinets that have the same dimensions or identical lay outs in a room. The sticks can also be used to mark out the location of any doors, windows, or other obstacles, including pre-existing plumbing or wiring in the room.

Each marking recorded on the stick is used to accurately calculate the cuts and the raw materials needed for the project. When the project is done, the marks on the stick are erased, and the stick is ready to be reused. The story stick calculations can also be recorded elsewhere for future reference.

A common, practical companion to the traditional — and horizontal — story stick is the vertical story stick. It is used to record measurements for countertops, windowsills, outlet and switch plates, and other items for the next step of the project. Artisans regularly develop a variety of story sticks to match their specific needs and often include sticks for recording the interior widths and depths of drawers and doors, cabinet depths, and any other measurement that is expected to be repeatedly used in current and future projects.

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