Pinch Sticks -- An uncommon but useful tool


One of my goals this year has been to acquire some of the tools I often find myself needing. Instead of just working around the problem or "making do" with what I have I decided to invest the time in making the tool if practical, or buying one if I could afford it. To this end I recently found myself reaching for the tape measure to check that a cabinet frame was square. "Ok," I thought, "now is the time to make those pinch sticks that have been on your wish list for some time."

What are pinch sticks, you ask? The name sounds a bit painful, but these are really nothing more than an adjustable length rod, usually two sticks that slide with some way of fixing the desired length. They have a number of uses, mainly focused on limiting the number of times information is transferred, thereby limiting the opportunity for errors. They increase accuracy and speed up the process.

I made three sets of pinch sticks, each with a different range. The shortest covers from 10" - 15", the medium from 13" - 21" and the longest from 18" - 30". This gives a full range of 10" - 30" and should cover most of the work I do.


Each is composed of two sticks that slide in a fixed groove. I began with cherry strips and cut a shallow groove down the length of these. One stick gets a maple insert into the groove that provides a track for the other to slide. The tips are purple heart, both for contrast and durability. When closed the points slide back over the cherry end of the opposing stick to protect the points. The sticks are bound together with brass fittings made from plumbing couplings. One of these has a thumb screw that can be tightened to lock the pair in place. Both rings have a small screw that fixes their position on a stick. What this means is the sticks slide through the rings but the rings never actually move relative to the stick where they are attached.

As for their use, I show a couple of examples. For me the most common use will be to check squareness by comparing the diagonals. Once the points of the stick just touch on the inside corners of the frame you know it's square. I set the length at the time I'm dry fitting a case, then check this during glue up to make sure I remain square.

Another common use is to "measure" an inside length in order to transfer this distance. For example, you could capture the distance from side to side of the frame and then use the stick to set the table saw to this length. Faster, more accurate and less error-prone than measuring.

In case you're wondering the cabinet is the frame of a spice box I'm making. So far, this little project has prompted me to make two dado saws, panel gauges and now pinch sticks. I've spent more time on the tools than on the cabinet, but I don't mind. It's all enjoyable.

Stay safe and Happy New Year!

Mike Davis

Corporate Member
That is something I need from time to time and have thought about making. Just never took the time. Most of the tools I make are fast and dirty out of necessity rather than fine finished lifetime tools. I finally broke down bought a Lee Valley set of binders to use with 3/8 inch dowels or aluminum rods.


Corporate Member
Those are some nice pinch sticks/rods. I should make another set, or two.

I made my first set with ¼" poplar and binder clips – a little fiddly to adjust, but they work. A couple of months ago, I made a set with cherry and Crucible Tools hardware.


Corporate Member
I have a set of inexpensive but well-made Lee Valley Veritas Bar Gauge Heads that I use with pointed hardwood sticks for this same purpose -- I use hard maple sticks for mine and they are really useful for any square or rectangular glue-up. Sadly, they are out of stock for a while.


Corporate Member
These kinds of Threads are so inappropriate and dangerous ! ......... Jim knows most of us have no will power and these kinds of postings are just like like eating a happy meal in front of a starving person and saying "do not let your urges control your life" ........... :D

Like Mike iterated, I have looked at these before and thought I should make some of these......... nice addition !

Mike Davis

Corporate Member
I must have misremembered. The Lee Valley that Rob posted is not what I bought.
I’ll have to find them tomorrow and see what brand they are.
I think they may have been a disappointment and tossed in a drawer never to be finished.

Meanwhile thinking Jim’s version is so much nicer than anything commercially available on the market and they would make a fine addition to any kit. Oka is probably right, we shouldn’t allow such tool porn on the forums. But, since it’s here I’m going back to look again.

Very good design and construction as we have come to expect from Jim.

edit- this is what I bought...regrets, I have many.
Last edited:

Phil S

Board of Directors, President
Phil Soper
Staff member
Corporate Member
I have a set with Veritas connectors, I use them often and they work ok.
They are not even close to what Jim made. Very nice

I do hope we get to see more of the Pennsylvania spice box Jim is making. With his expertise and attention to detail, I am sure it will be stunning.


I do hope we get to see more of the Pennsylvania spice box Jim is making. With his expertise and attention to detail, I am sure it will be stunning.
Thanks, Phil. It was after looking at the spice boxes you and others on the forum have made that I was inspired to try making one (a good reason for us to post our projects). Hats off to those who have completed one of these. It's like making a full size cabinet, only in miniature. One of my goals is to do most of the work using hand tools. So far, I've only used the "big" tools (table saw, band saw and planer) for sizing the rough stock, and am using hand tools for the rest of the project. I'll start a separate thread to track the progress.

Hopefully I have all the tools I need to finish it. Not anticipating needing to make or buy any others, but we'll see. For @Mike Davis, @Oka and the rest of us who have a tool addiction here's another fix. I couldn't resist posting this photo of the Stanley 45 I restored a few years ago and just finished using to cut the grooves for the back. Enjoy! (Note, the dados were cut using the dado saws I recently made and then cleaned out with a router plane.)



Senior User
I use two scraps from my table saw cut-off box that I cut points on with two black, spring-steel file clips.


And if the box is not square according to your sticks during glue up, what do you do?
The diagonals being equal will tell you that you either have a rectangle or (if two opposite sides are not quite the same length) an equilateral trapezoid. Let's assume the sides are all the correct length. If not that's a different problem.

When I dry fit a case like this I go ahead and put it in the clamps just as I will once the glue is applied. This does a couple of things. First, I'll know which clamps I'm going to use and they will all be adjusted and ready when I apply the glue. Second, the dry fit with the clamps serves as a practice run. It's a way to find surprises before the glue countdown clock starts ticking.

If the case isn't square there are a number of remedies. It may be as simple as giving the longer diagonal a nudge. Next up for me is to offset the clamps on one side slightly so they pull slightly more in one direction. It's amazing how much you can shift a box with just a 1/4" to 1/2" offset between where the two ends of a clamp are positioned relative to each other. In the more extreme cases I will put a clamp across the longer diagonal and squeeze it into alignment.

The real key to making any case is to start square and stay square. This means that you focus on making sure your parts are all square when they're cut, that all joints are square, and so forth. This applies to the surface you're working on as well. A flat, stable work table is necessary. Otherwise, you risk putting a twist in the case which can be worse than being off square. If you work carefully when making the parts, then getting them square at glue-up is pretty easy since everything "wants" to be square and is working with you instead of against you.

Long-winded answer, but hope that's helpful.

Our Sponsors