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Episode 013: Shop-Sized Layout Tools

By: Chris Fitch
When it’s time to lay out curves in my shop, my choices are typically a drawer full of undersized drafting templates, a selection of paint cans and buckets, or contorting my rulers into arcs. Well, enough of that... It's time to make some useful layout tools!

In this episode of CNC Basecamp we’re going to create a series of right-sized layout tools for furniture work. So up your game by downloading the DXF files and creating your own set of custom shop-sized layout tools.

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The layout tools in this set include three French curves, two circle templates, and two trammels, as well as a protractor and a compass. These layout tools are simple and direct to make and can be completed in an easy afternoon in the shop. Any stable flat material can be used. Cabinet grade plywood will look awesome, hardboard is the most economical, and clear acrylic is the easiest to use with its clarity. The compass takes just a small amount of hardwood that you’re sure to have on hand.

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The French curves are going to see a lot of use, so plan on making several sizes. I think a set that includes med, large, and extra-large is best. Skip the small sizes and make them shop sized. French curves come in all sorts of shapes. I chose three styles that I think will suit most needs. You might want to look online and see if there are any additional shapes that suits your work - capture the screen and trace over the image in your design software.

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The fixed circle template gives you options from 8” to 22” inch increments - a lot more choices than a quart and gallon paint can offer. Fixed circle templates have the advantage of not needing a center point to create the arc like a compass, so no setup and no holes in the surface of your workpiece. Use clear acrylic, if possible, for these templates. The visibility of the acrylic makes locating the template fast and easy.

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Another way to layout circles is with a trammel. The radius values are fixed as with the circle templates. An awl or small finishing nail anchors one end and allows you to pivot the trammel with a pencil in one of the measured holes leaving a smooth and easy to follow radius. Plan on making both sizes so that you’re covered.

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Compasses are an indispensable layout tool because they can adjust to an infinite number of radii. A large compass can be difficult to purchase, but that’s okay. With a little CNC router help it is an easy tool to make. I’d make two - one with a 12” leg and one with an 18” leg.

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The last of our layout tools is a protractor. Cabinet sized angles are difficult to accurately layout with small grade-school sized protractors. A protractor with a base of 12” or 16” is a shop sized tool that gets the job done.

Make one of the tools, or all of them, and enjoy easier layouts in your shop!

Episode Downloads

Project PDF and DXF Files

Published: Oct. 4, 2022
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Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.


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