12 Must-Have Layout Tools for Under 20 Bucks

Mark and measure your way to a merry holiday

Whether complicated or simple, every project deserves an accurate layout. But you don’t have to spend a lot of cash for on-the-money tools. Here are 12 (one for each day of Christmas) trustworthy marking and measuring tools for under 20 bucks.

This is by no means a complete list of layout tools. You’ll need a dependable combination square – the heart of an accurate layout. But this selection will start a beginner off right, or bolster a veteran woodworker’s arsenal with a reliable backup set. For the woodworkers in your life, give the gift of precision.

Make your mark

This tool is imperative to accurate joinery layout. The wheel cutting gauge has a disc cutter on the end that can slice a clean line with and across the grain, creating a definitive guide for chisels and saws. 

WoodRiver Wheel Marking Gauge
#153490, $18.25

Circling the point

There’s no way around it: You need a compass if you want to incorporate circles and arcs into your work. A compass can also be used as a divider for stepping off dovetails, for example.

General Tools Pencil Compass
#13G3A, $7.50

Mechanically inclined

A mechanical pencil gives you a consistent line weight, unlike its wooden counterpart that dulls as you use it, widening your line and reducing your accuracy. I use 0.5mm lead for precise marking. Get colorful bodies for easy spotting in your dusty shop. Check your local office supply store. 


Pointing the way

Awls are perfect for punching indents in your work to position fasteners precisely. And you can use them with a straightedge to scribe a line.

Socket Awl
#156739, $18.99

Multi-purpose knife

My craft knife gets a lot of use in the shop. I use it to trim paper shims, to cut double-stick or painter’s tape (for masking and layout), and as a marking knife. 

WoodRiver Precision Craft Knife
#159343, $7.99

Right down the middle

Center finders like this one are just the ticket for quickly and accurately creating crosshairs to pinpoint the center of cylindrical or multi-sided turning stock up to 8" in diameter. Use the 90° flange for circles, squares, and octagons. The 60° flange on the flip side finds centers for circles and hexagons. 

ZeroZero Center Finder
#02J14, $9.99

Gauging the angle

A sliding T-bevel is the best tool for determining and transferring angles. This stainless steel gauge is hefty despite its thin profile and sleek design. The knurled brass knob reliably holds the blade at your desired angle.

Shinwa 61⁄4" Sliding T-Bevel
#156735, $18.69

Saddle up to this square

Wrapping layout lines around a board is a whole lot easier with a tool designed for the job. This anodized aluminum square turns a two-step process into one step.

Veritas Large Saddle Square
#833749, $18.99

Not all cheap plastic is bad

Triangles serve you at the bench, and at the board, when you’re designing projects. I also use them for machine setups like adjusting my table saw blade or miter gauge for making precise angled cuts. Buy various sizes (6", 8", 10") and angles (30°/60°, 90°/45°) for versatility. Office supply stores.


Perfect dovetail layout

Like the saddle square at far left, but for dovetails. Genius. I don’t cut a lot of dovetails by hand, which is exactly why I need a marker like this. Veritas offers various angle degrees and ratios, making layout fast, foolproof, and precise.

Veritas 14° Dovetail Saddle Marker (Other angles available.)
#153361, $14.99

Shop mainstay

Tape measures are indispensable in the shop. But not so fast; not any tape will do. Three rivets in the tang are better than two, and the marks should be easy to read. Also, most woodworkers don’t need the typical, bulky 25' tape in the shop. Most of the time, a compact 12-footer like this one does the job. Plus, FastCap tapes feature a dry-erase surface for jotting down dims as you go. 

FastCap Metric/Standard 12' Tape Measure
#834529, $9.99

Livin’ on the edge

A reliable 6" rule is a must-have in the pocket of your shop apron, but this handy tool is a saddle square and rule rolled into one. You can mark an exact dimension on the edge and face of a board at the same time. And it’s made in the USA.

Woodpeckers 6" Woodworkers Edge Rule
#166083, $12.99

Bonus gift ideas

They say all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. So spread some good cheer and stuff a stocking with these fun items.

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