Buying or Making a Straightedge
A straight edge has many uses, especially testing the faces and edges of your boards for flatness when squaring them up with hand tools. You can see how to do this in my video on squaring lumber with hand tools.
I also use a straight edge a lot when I’m calibrating my machinery, especially the beds of my power jointer and thickness planer. Straight edges can be made in your shop out of wood, or purchased from a store. I have made about 12 wooden straight edges, mostly for my students to use, and I own two commercial straight edges.
The commercial straight edges are typically metal. I love both styles, and use both metal and wooden straight edges on a regular basis. And of course, both styles have their pros and cons:
Wooden straight edges are cheap to make, especially if you already have some stable, quartersawn hardwood lumber to make them out of. Quartersawn boards are characterized by vertical end grain, as you can see here:
Wooden straightedges are also easy to repair if dropped on the floor, or if the wood moves over time. You just run a jointer plane over the edge, or run it across your power jointer. The downside of a wooden straight edge is that the wood does move over time, and you need something to test it’s flatness on. The cast iron table of a table saw or power jointer are good surfaces to test them on.
The pros of metal straight edges are that they don’t have to be trued up, and you can count on them for always staying flat, because the good ones are precision ground to a tight tolerance. That is, unless you drop them. That’s the con. You can ruin a metal straight edge. But I’m always really careful so I’ve never dropped a metal straight edge yet…knock on wood.
Good metal straight edges can run anywhere from $35 for a good aluminum straight edge, all the way up to a couple hundred dollars for a steel straight edge. I’ve had excellent luck with a couple brands of aluminum straight edges, including this nice 38″ Veritas Aluminum Straightedge:
It runs about $43 + shipping from Canada. But I feel that a better value (which I got recently) is my my 38″ Anodized Aluminum straight edge, made by Taytools (pictured below), which you can find here. It is just as high quality, and runs about $37 + shipping from the United States.
My personal preference is to have a straight edge around 3 feet long. That’s kind of the sweet spot for me when I’m handplaning boards.
A while back, I made a video on making a wooden straight edge, so you can see that video and article (here) if you want to go the route of a wooden straight edge.