So you need to match a counter top to the chaotic contours of a nook with janky juts, crazy crannies and wildly out-of-whack corners, huh? Or maybe you’re building a project with mating irregular lines as an artistic choice. Either way, we feel your pain! You may be familiar with the use of a scribe for matching the contours of a wall. But when you introduce corners and other obstacles, it’s time for a ticking stick. We’ll show you how this simple homemade tool can quickly recreate more complex shapes than you can shake a stick at. A ticking stick, that is!
Don’t Be A Dipstick – Use A Tick Stick!
The “ticking stick” – also known as a “tick stick” – is a simple homemade tool used to copy contours in situations where you can’t easily trace the shape you want to reproduce and a contour gauge won’t cut the mustard. The “ticking” part of the name derives from making “tick marks”, or “ticking off” measurements. (Not to be confused with ticking off one’s significant other, which may have consequences far beyond measure.)
We don’t want to derail the topic, but it should mentioned that there exists a very similar layout tool often referred to as a “joggle stick”, “toggle stick” and “tickle stick” (We’re not joggling your tickle stick; those are real names.). That iteration is usually wedge shaped with numbered saw-toothed notches along one edge. The joggle stick is commonly used for larger fitments, like bay window benches and bulkheads in the curved hulls of boats.
Make A Ticking Stick – Dancing The Easiest Jig Ever
The ticking stick is one of the simplest layout tools you could ever make. You can practically phone it in with no loss of performance. Size doesn’t matter, as long as it’s large enough to do the job. Shape doesn’t matter, as long as it has a point and you can unambiguously index it to its own silhouette. Really, all but the most sloppily made ticking stick can yield surprisingly accurate, more than good enough results.
The crudest possible ticking stick may be a piece of pointed scrap material with a pencil mark on one edge (a basic “story pole”). But to avoid confusion later in the process, it’s best to have a distinct curve and a notch or two along one edge. We aren’t including a pattern because, frankly, you don’t need one!
Our tickers were made out of free paint stirs from the local home center. But you can use whatever flat, relatively ridged material you have on hand. Slightly wider may be preferred, but usually not necessary.
Create A Story Board – The Tick Stick Makes It Quick
Tick sticking is a 2-stage process. First, the stick is used to create what we’ll call a “story board”. Then, the story board and ticking stick are used together to reconstruct the original contours. To demonstrate how easy the technique really is, a friend let me use two of the craziest corners we could find in his store (an old enclosed pole barn).
Using Your Ticking Stick
A good story board should capture all of the dips, bumps and direction changes you want to reproduce. Start at one end and work your way towards the other, documenting the location of each key point, or “landmark” (any point at which the line changes direction). Landmarks and other locations are documented by placing the point of your ticking stick against the wall and tracing the shape of the stick onto the story board.
Make a tracing every so often on the straightaways and at each landmark you encounter. Curves will require more frequent ticks to accurately reproduce. By now, you may be wondering how to know what direction the ticking stick should be angled. That’s easy: it literally does not matter!
As long as the point is in the right place and the stick is on the story board, you can angle it any direction you’d like. You may choose varying angles to help avoid any possible confusion later on (especially in areas of tighter clustering). But it genuinely does not matter.
A Road Map To Nowhere? – Controlled Chaos
Your story board will now be a disastrous cluster-f. Congratulations; you’ve done it right! No really; a rat’s nest of wayward lines is absolutely normal. With your story board and trusty ticking stick in hand, you can confidently reconstruct the original shape – even off site – knowing that when you return for the install the part is going to fit the space, first time every time. (At most, you may need to tweak a small spot with a file or sander.)
Remember when we said that it doesn’t really matter how you angle your ticking stick, as long as you poke the point in all of the special places? (Enough with the chuckles. We’re trying to have a serious conversation here!) Well, that means the same set of contours can yield a virtually infinite variety of completely different story boards, all of which will translate back to the exact same original contours!
Now Tick That Stick In Reverse – Translating Your Story Board
Reproducing the original contour is just a matter of reverse engineering your story board. Lay it on the material you want to cut. Align the ticking stick with all of the traced outlines to make sure the point never extends beyond the edge of the material.
When your story board is where you want it, tape or otherwise hold it as still as possible. Any movement will spoil the final result.
The Moment Of Truth – Tick Sticking It To The Man (Or, You Know, Your Project)
Ticking sticks are traditionally one-off items. But they don’t have to be. If you have access to a CNC machine, consider churning out a handful of the same pattern. Distribute them to every crew member, use one as a back scratcher, keep one in each work vehicle, several in the shop and so on. That way everyone on the team has the same point of reference and you never suffer the painful prick of a missing tick stick.
Crack-a-lackin’ On The Ol’ Tick Stick
In case it’s not obvious, ticking sticks aren’t limited to copying the horizontal contours of walls and corners. They can be used to recreate just about any 2-dimensional shape. For example, to patch an odd shaped drywall cutout or make some other out-of-square panel to fill a unique space. With a little creativity, you’ll find the technique can be adapted to a wide variety of projects.
So, what do we think of ticking sticks? Well, as renowned philosopher and cereal aficionado, Tony The Tiger famously pontificated: “They’re Gr-r-reat!”. Not trying to sugar coat the topic, but we’re pretty sure the first time you use one you’ll agree with the bandana-ed mascot just as much as we do.