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25 November 2010

Marking gauge posse

I started wood working with a Stanley combo square and a pencil.  Not long into my journey, I decided to upgrade to a marking gauge.  Enter the made in India HF $7 mortise gauge.

I was at the top of the world.  All the marking gauge I would ever need.  I could mark cut lines and mortise lines, didn't cost much, life was great.  Then I got it home and brought it to a piece of wood.  Across grain the pins ripped the wood fibers, with the grain they grab and follow it, not exactly in a straight line.  So what now? 

Next trip to Wood Craft I drop $19 on a wheel marking gauge.  I also bought a marking knife on that trip.  It was better.  It sliced clean and did a good job.  But I don't care for it.  The blade bevel angle is too big, so it leaves a wide cut.  The locking knob needs pliers to get it tight enough to not move, and the fence doesn't work well for me either.  I had way too much of a tendency to rock it and not keep it straight against the reference face.  Then I read some magazine article somewhere (sorry I can't remember) that brings me to this beauty.

The straight blade, made from a jigsaw blade, cut like a dream.  The bearing surface of the fence was huge and easy to control.  Setting the gauge however was a bit of a pain.  The bolt dug into the wood when set tight enough to hold, and the mortise for the bar was a little too sloppy so the fence had a tendency to wiggle.  It didn't help that it was only about 5/8" thick.  Lastly, the wedge that holds the blade is installed so that the force down on the gauge to engage the cut pushes up on the wedge.  Does this seem wrong to anyone else?  I don't mean to say it was a huge design flaw, it held most of the time.  but occasionally it would slip.  By far my favorite at this point, but still had its issues. 

Then I read an article in Popular Woodworking by Dean Jansa, that covers the hot little French number pictured above.  With nothing to loose but a little scrap and some length off my 5/64" drill bit, I put her together.  Purely amazing.  Clean slicing with and across the grain, no grain following to speak of.  Lock it down solid with a quick push of the thumb and/ or rap on the bench top.  No wiggle, no tipping, no fuss, no frills.  Simple and easy.  I have used it for about a year or so.  It is my go to gauge.  So much so that I actually avoid using any of the other 3.  My wheel gauge lives in the bottom drawer of my tool box, (only because anywhere else seems to chip the blade) and the other 2 live on the bottom shelf of my bench.  This fine piece of craftsmanship however lives on the bench most of the time.  It was bad enough that I found myself laying out one side of a mortise and tennon and then the opposite face. Then one shoulder line then the other.  I would re-gauge a line because I didn't leave my sweet heart setup like I should have because I wanted to use her on something else.  So, with my new found desire toward learning to use hand tools better, I decided I needed to add a couple more French beauties to the crew.  

So with the plans to make a couple marking gauges starting this past weekend, what should appear at the Logan Cabinet Shoppe blog?  Why a podcast on this very subject, of course.  The wood working gods were smiling upon me.  In the video, which I highly recommend to everyone, (Bob is in the latest Popular Woodworking issue by the way), Bob shows a quick bit about how he uses a dowel, instead of a wedge, to "mass produce" the gauges.  Que the light bulb. 

Since I'm not a hand tool only shop, I opted to use the mortise attachment on the drill press, and start banging these babies out.  I planned for 11 (I may have a slight addiction) but got 10 good blanks.  I decided to stick with the original wedge design instead of Bob's ingenious dowel trick, just because I like the feel of the wedge I have.  So, how do you make multiple wedges?  Took me a few times to figure it out, but I ended up making one big wedge and cutting 1/4" slices off of it. 

So as of 1 minute into Thanksgiving, I have 4 complete except for the cutter, and 6 more to shape.  If you cant tell by the picture, I am playing around with the shapes of the top.  This is the fun part. I figure it may help distinguish one from the other in the future as well.  I may also plane down the thickness a little after I use them a while.  I left the stock beefy at about 1/2" thicker than my original. Only time will tell.  And just so you don't think I have a serious problem, I know another wood worker who might get a couple of these if he wants them, only a couple though.

As always feel free to put any questions or comments in the section below, or look me up on Twitter or Facebook.

Until next time....


  1. Beautyful approach, I think sooner or later woodworkers like to make some of their own tools
    best thoughts, great blog !!

  2. Jimmy - I bought one like shown in your first photo many, many years ago and never use it. I found it to be a problematic as well. The thing I hated about it the most was the two cutters that mark mortises are not the same length, so I have to really push down on it to get both cutters to make a mark.

    I was watching a video on yesterday and the guy was using one like in photo #2. I may get me a new one sometime since it can be useful.

    Good post.