If you collect issues of The Scale Cabinetmaker, you’ll find that many of the projects’ dimensions are given in full scale measurements, and it’s up to us to translate that into the scale we want to work in.

You can either do math (divide everything by 12, or 24, or 48, for 1″, 1/2″, 1/4″ scale), or you can save yourself the trouble and purchase an architect’s scale.

An architect’s scale is a triangular ruler with six different scales listed in inches. (Note it is different from an engineering scale, which is metric–get the one with inches, or you’ll be doing a heck of a lot more math).

Photo of my scale from the top (Click pics for larger versions):

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Here it is, looking at the 1″ scale side (sorry it’s a little blurry):

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Closer:

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How does it work? See the 1 there to the right of the 20? (ignore the 20 for now). That’s the one inch mark–there’s exactly one inch, or one scale foot, between the zero and the 1. To the left of the zero is an inch (a scale foot) broken down into 12 scale inches. (3 inches, 6, 9, 12).

So, if I’m looking at plans for the deck chair, and it shows that one piece is 50″ long, I think, “How many feet is that?” (OK, so you have to do a tiny bit of math).

50 inches = 4 feet, 2 inches (right? I’m an English major).

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I place my scale ruler on my piece of wood, count over from zero to 4 (it’s four real inches, or four scale feet). Then I move the ruler to measure from the left of the zero mark the last two “inches” (scale inches), and there I have my measurement. I have no idea what the actual measurement is (4 1/6 inches I guess it would be), but I don’t need to know that. I know it’s 4 feet 2 scale inches.

It took some time before the lightbulb went off for me. Get a scale, find some projects with real-size dimensions, and practice figuring out how to translate the measurements into one-inch scale.

The great thing about learning how to do dimensions using the architect’s scale is that any project in the Scale Cabinetmaker can be resized for 1/2″ or 1/4″ scale as well! (If you want to do some of those things that small!)

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This is the half-inch side of the architect’s scale. The one scale foot mark is the 10 (because the ruler has six scales, some of the marks are from the scale going the other direction, which drove me nuts at first, until I learned to ignore it). The 2 is the 2 scale feet mark, the next mark is 3 scale feet, and so on.

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Here is the 1/4″ scale side. Ignore the 92, etc, and just use the 2, 4, etc.

Thus, if something is four inches on a side in real life, instead of trying to figure out how big is 1/3 of an inch, you can use the marks on the architect scale to count 3 scale inches and not worry about it.

Clear as mud? It’s clearer when you practice with it. One motivation in making the deck chair and the chest was to see if I could figure out how to mark the dimensions.

Last–The Scale Cabinetmaker does have some fairly easy projects. I look for ones that don’t need a lot of power tools, or have straight lines or rectangular carcasses. The projects contributed by Bill Miller can be done with hand tools and intermediate or even beginning woodworking skills (he also lists his dimensions in inches, so no need for the architect’s scale). I made a backgammon table and 1/2″ scale pool table he designed, and both turned out well!

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