Making Templates and Storysticks


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Do many of you make templates or storysticks for the projects you think you plan to build again in the future? Obviously some types of projects don’t make sense to use templates on, so for the sake of this post we will focus on applications where it is suitable.

Is 1/2” MDF the preferred material for templates?

If you have similar profile pieces but with different joinery, do you prefer to make separate template pieces for each? Or make one template piece and have markings for both sets of joinery?

Any other tips or thoughts on template making? 

(If you know of past threads on this, feel free to point me to them. I did a quick search but didn’t find general discussion on the topic.)

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I have a few templates around John for some of the more complicated things I make, some MDF some Baltic birch, I also have a notebook that I use to note particular measurements, procedures or assembly sequences on the things that I build more than one of but don’t build often enough to remember how things go together 

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All the chairs I've done have templates and they are useful in many ways. I do think they become more valuable if you are cutting curved pieces. If all cuts are straight 90 degree angles than something like a storystick will work. 

I use my templates for marking out joint location, marking lines for bandsaw cuts, and for pattern routing. If I'm locationing a joint with a template I'm still doing the details with a square, marking tool, and etc. 

Templates that I don't use for pattern routing are usually 1/4" plywood. There are some patterns I need to bend and conform to an irregular surface so having a template that can flex is really important. 

Templates I use for pattern routing are 1/2" plywood and I use doublesided tape to hold it to the piece being routed. MDF would do well here also but I would be concerned the doublesided tape would tear up the pattern. 

I have small pieces, like handles and knobs, that I've developed templates for. Heavy poster board will usually handle these smaller patterns.

Storage has become more of an issue for me as I'm running out of wall space to hang my chair patterns. I have a jar of knobs roughed out and just keep the patterns in those jars.

Finally, doing the Hank chair by Jory Brigham is interesting as he uses patterns for a lot, like making sleds and setting up cuts. 

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Thanks @Bmac, very helpful!

Watching your hank chair progress has made me want to buy the project, partly for the template info. I like how he (and a few others) build clamping surfaces into their templates when there are strange angles. 

A while back I made Marc’s Kids Kitchen Step Stool (not-a-kitchen-helper) for my daughter, and since have had many family/parent friends inquire about me making one for them. It’s a pretty simple build but I thought templates could really speed up the process of selecting stock to reduce waste and for cutting the curves. Maybe the best way to do this would be a story stick or poster board templates for laying out and rough cutting the parts, and then 1/2” MDF or ply templates for routing the curves. 

I am also interested in making chairs in the future, and can see how they would be helpful there. Especially when multiple will be made, but not necessarily all at once. 

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In cabinetry work I use 2 story poles. Each pole is unique the current job. One vertical and one horizontal. A very small project I use the actual material for the layout. I use a router to plow dado's on work that is too big for the table saw. I have a piece of 3/8" oak and the exact width from the edge of the base to the bit. It makes set ups easier. I think it is 2 plus inches.

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I've gravitated away from making templates as i hate template routing. If i do make a template to keep curves consistent I'll make them out of 1/4" mdf but i really only use them for a pencil line. Then i just saw close to the line and clean up with hand tools.

So it depends on how you work. I've never made nor used a story stick. I can see how they'd be useful but I usually just end up using project parts. Why use some other wood when the project material will work all the same and leaves less waste.

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22 minutes ago, Chestnut said:

Why use some other wood when the project material will work all the same and leaves less waste.

If you used a story pole once, you would not ask why. At some point you will sand what you are working on. Or you may want to transfer measurements without moving a large panel. Or a large panel on the bottom of the stack...

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I often use both on pieces I may only make one of.  Templates and piece-specific "setup" boards or sticks assure accuracy.  As Chestnut says, for ganged parts or mating joinery you can mark directly on the pieces.  Where to mark in the first place is where the value of the templates come in.

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