For me the answer is, at times yes and others no. Don’t get me wrong I am the worst person to ask for a measurement. I can remember many times when I still strapped on a tool belt framing and would call out measurements for a 2X4 cut 8′ 3 3/32″ only to receive blank stares. It’s just that if I need to take a measurement I like to be as close as possible but the fact is I rarely measure in my shop. Most of my project are built from an idea in my head and really only need to be the size that I think looks best. I tend to build projects from “the outside-in” meaning that I start with the outermost carcass first and everything else gets filled in. If and when I build something that needs to fix to an exact measurement then of coarse I want to measure as accurate as possible.
For measuring using fractions there are many options that you can work with. Many traditional woodworkers frown upon using tape measures but growing up in the construction field I am still fond of them. I know that they have their limitations and adjust accordingly. For instance, the hook on the end of a tape has a little play in it but this is intended to compensate for holding to tape against a wall or hooking it over something to measure. The only problem is that it is not perfect and the groove wears out over time. When measuring with a tape measure I normal “cut” an inch, meaning that I hold the one inch mark at the edge being measured and add an inch to the other end, the problem with this is you have to be very careful or you will cut all of your boards and inch too short!
For smaller projects I prefer to use a metal ruler, I keep a 2′ and a 6″ around me all the time for quick measurements. A good 6″ rulers has more uses than I will write about now but include marking and laying out mortise and tenons to spot checking board thickness.
There are many more instruments that can be used to accurately measures such as the dial caliper but for now I want to move on to alternate methods that do not require conventional scale systems. Often all that is needed is to transfer a dimension from either a pattern or opening, in instances such as this a story stick is a perfect choice. A story stick is simply a length of wood that is used to transfer dimensions by marking the story stick against the pattern and then using the markings made to transfer the dimension to your work.
Dividers can be used to transfer distances or layout in equal parts such as dovetail layout or even laying out drawers.
Marking gauges can be used for layout and transfer dimensions and are often used for layout of mortises, dados, or rabbets.