Trade education and workforce development are two initiatives we value highly here at Dunn Lumber, so it should come as no surprise that we have close ties with Seattle Central College's Wood Technology Center (WTC). With roots dating back to the early 1900s, WTC's history intersects with ours at Dunn Lumber at various points (our very own Ed Dunn Jr. took some classes at Edison), and we're proud to be connected with such an exemplary educational institution.

Throughout the episodes in this series, we'll be speaking with Dave Borgatti, a long-time faculty member at the WTC, about the center's history, program offering, and various topics in woodworking education. Dave got his start in woodworking as a boat builder in Portland, Oregon, for Schooner Creek Boat Works, and ended up at WTC as an instructor in 1992. Since then, Dave has helped countless students—from boat builders to carpenters and cabinetmakers—learn the woodworking craft.

In today's discussion with Dave, we learn about the value of story poles—not only in planning a project layout, but also as reference tools you can refer back to for years. Watch our conversation in the video above or read on for a detailed recap.

What is a story pole?

The idea behind a story pole is simple: It tells a story. Story poles (or story sticks) are simple layout tools that can help you design and record a repetitive layout element, like stairs, siding, or cabinetry. Rather than marking down measurements on a piece of paper, a story pole marks those measurements on a piece of narrow wood so you have the actual measurements represented physically forever.

How do you use a story pole?

Stairs are a great place to let a story pole work its magic. Use a story pole to record a stair carriage: Lay a long, narrow piece of wood horizontally below the carriage and mark where the risers, treads, and finished floor hit the stick. Rotate the stick to mark the same layout elements vertically.

With exterior siding, a story pole can help you figure out where to place exposure lines based on where the different window elements hit, like the sill, apron, and header. By marking these three elements on the stick, you can quickly figure out the best siding layout. 

Should you use story poles with factory-built product?

When it comes to components that come straight from the factory, like cabinets, story poles can still be helpful. When installing bathroom cabinetry, for example, a story pole can help ensure layout elements like plumbing are placed correctly. 

You can also create story poles as you sketch digital layouts, adjusting the pole as you tweak the layout. This ensures you have a measurement tool that lines up perfectly with your digital plans. 

Labeling best practices

Everyone has their own taxonomy for labeling story poles, and Dave recommends using whatever system works best for you—the most important thing is consistency, so you can come back later and understand your markings.

Interested in learning more from Dave and the Wood Technology Center? Check out the series introduction and Dave’s explanation of nominal versus actual lumber sizes.