Episode #29: Making a Marking Gauge

This is the first in a series of toolmaking episodes I’m going to be doing in the coming months. I’ve had a lot of requests for these topics, so I’m going to be doing a new toolmaking episode every month or so. I’m starting with the marking gauge as it requires the least amount of precision to make yourself. That’s not to say it’s a hack project. It still requires some precise fitting of the arm and wedge to the fence, but there is some room for error. The gauge I’m making is French in design and was inspired by an article written by Dean Jansa for Popular Woodworking a few years ago. It’s based on the gauges from the Seaton tool chest. It’s my favorite design, because it can be unlocked, adjusted and locked again all with one hand. You’ve seen me use these in almost every podcast to date. They’re fun to make, and a fantastic way to use up some of the small offcuts from the over flowing scrap bin.


 

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Episode #29: Making a Marking Gauge — 32 Comments

  1. Excellent video Bob, Even I could pull this off.

    I think the hardest part for me will be making the actual cutter. I want a double bevel knife cutter like my marking gauge.

  2. Awesome video Bob! Especially the heat treating, I think, even I can do that! ;)

    I actually made one of those gauges last weekend after seeing it in your videos, I looked up the plan in the Oct 2007 Pop Woodworking.

    It’s a really fun project when you only have an hour or two to spend in the shop.

  3. Another excellent and very helpful video, Bob. One note…I angle the pin slightly so that the pin forces the head against the edge of the stock as you draw it across the stock.

    Oh…and I held my breath as you were paring the round wedge…hoping the chisel would not slip into the holdfast. :o

  4. Great video, Bob!

    Have you found any difference between wood species in terms of how well they work with the wedging action of the marking gauges? I would guess that pine would be too soft, as the wedge would dent permanently over time, and maybe hard maple would be too hard to hold the beam in place without slipping?

    • Wilbur,
      I’ve made these gauges/wedges from oak, ash, walnut and maple, and I haven’t had any problems with the wedging ability of any of them. I think the angle of the wedge is more important than the species of wood. You want a long, shallow taper, like 6-8 degrees. A quick taper won’t hold as well. Any reasonably hard wood should work well. The maple I’ve used worked fine. I agree that I wouldn’t use pine though :).

  5. Bob,

    Outstanding work! I love these gauges and started to lay out some scrap for it when I saw your episode pop up in my que. Perfect timing and thanks for taking the next step and showing the hardening process. Once I leave the medium of wood, I’m an idiot so that was much appreciated.

  6. Hi Bob,

    Bob this is great, thank you very much for making this Pod Cast. Now that I have one of your gauges and seeing this Pod Cast I am going to make a few looks like a lot of fun. I really appreciate you taking the time to produce these Pod Casts and I watched everyone several times. Looking forward to your Square building episode. Nothing like good useful hand made tools.

    Thanks again!

  7. Thanks for this excellent video, Bob. The part about the shaping and hardening of the pin is particularly useful for me, I will try that. I have built a similar (but far from being so well built) gauge this summer, and I’m not at all happy with the pin that I have at the moment.

    In general, I find that you really deserve an award for your blog. Thank you so much for putting so much effort in your videos, and sharing your know how.

  8. Funny, I just noticed that you posted this on the same day that I put up my latest marking gauge post. I’ve added a link to this page from mine; good video.

  9. Very nice, Bob! Keep the gauge stubby, that way when it’s lying on the bench next to another gauge, the stubby gauge is the one set for thickness, and the other one is set for length.

  10. Bob,
    I know you are not taking requests. But, what are the chances “building a bowsaw” may be an episode or two? Or maybe “where the hell do you find good beech stock for tools?” That could also be a good episode.

    • Danny,
      Actually I do take requests. In fact, I’m always looking for suggestions for topics that folks want to see. It makes for a much better podcast if I’m covering stuff that interests the viewers, no ;)?

      I am actually planning a bowsaw build in the near future. I have a 24″ blade sitting on my desk right now just waiting to be turned into a saw. I have bolt of riven oak that I’ll probably end up using as quartered beech is kind of hard to find in my neck of the woods, unless you have your own trees you can cut down and mill yourself. And for the record, there are plenty of woods other than beech that make fine tools. In fact, the only tools I have that are made from beech are the antique ones I buy. I have not made any tools from beech because I can’t easily find it. Don’t let a lack of beech stop you from building your own tools. Just find whatever you have locally that has good characteristics for the tools you want to build.

      • What types of wood are you thinking. I have a stack of Mulberry that’s drying in the garage. Supposed to be closely related to osage orange in properties.

        • Danny,
          Mulberry would probably work very well. I like any relatively hard wood actually. I’ve used ash, oak, cherry, walnut, maple, bubinga, purpleheart, mahogany, hickory, beech, and probably several others as well, for making tools (though the beech is usually canibalized from wooden planes that I can’t rescue). Whatever you can get locally, inexpensively and relatively hard should make fine tools. Beech was mostly used historically because it was hard enough, easy enough to work, readily available locally, and it wasn’t desired for fine furniture for whatever reason (I actually like the looks of it). However, if you look at American made planes, you will also frequently find them made of maple and birch, for the same reasons. So use whatever you can get. It doesn’t have to be beech.

  11. Bob, great video’s that provide a lot of inspiration. One question; when you make a mortise gauge this way, do you shape the pins the same way with a “football” shape and if so, does the oval shape face the inside of each pin (so they face each other)? Thanks and keep up the great work!

    • Bill,
      I actually put the flats of the two knives facing each other. I think of a mortise gauge more as a tenon gauge actually (thanks to Adam Cherubini!). For making mortises, you really can use a single pin gauge as the chisel defines the width of the mortise. So you only need to mark one side. However, when you make your matching tenon, you need both pins to accurately mark the thickness of the tenon to the width of the chisel. Therefore, i put the “bevels” of the knives on the gauge to the waste sides of the tenon cheeks. That way the “keep” sides of the line are defined on the tenon straight and square.

  12. Bob,

    Great video as usual. I’ll be building one of these. Do you have any suggestions for sourcing the blade steel locally…say at a big box store? Just thinking that might be a better route for small quantities.

    • Dustin,
      You can use anything really. Pieces of old broken drill bits ground to shape work particularly well. You can even use a finish nail. You can’t harden the nail, so you’ll need to sharpen it a little more often, but it works well none the less.

    • A few minor changes to make a panel gauge (other than the longer beam and wider fence). First, the wedge is typically oriented parallel to the beam as opposed to across it as in the marking gauge. This makes it easier to make the wedge mortise (it can be done with a thin bladed saw), and also keeps the wedge short enough to be sturdy. A perpendicular wedge like the one used in the French marking gauge would have to be way too long. Second, the longer fence typically has a rabbet cut into it’s edge. The rabbet rides on the edge of the panel to help keep things square and riding smooth. Finally, the beam is typically thicker. I think the French marking gauge beam is about 5/8″. The panel gauge beam is 3/4″-7/8″ square to be a little stiffer since it typically spans a wider distance. I also like to include the option to have a pencil in the panel gauge. Sometimes, especially with wide panels, the scribe/knife will tend to want to follow a grain line. It can be hard to fight this tendency with a wide span. A pencil eliminates this problem, and for the most part, with a panel, the knife line is unnecessary because you aren’t typically using the gauge line to reference a chisel or saw into.

  13. I loved this video and this is now on my short list of things to make. One question: what size drill bit do you use relative to the dimension of the round tool steel? Same size or slightly smaller? I’m planning to use an old drill bit but when I did a quick test it seemed like the bit was not too hard to push into the hole I had drilled, so I worry that in use the cutter will not stay firm and push down into the hole so it is flush with the wood. How do you keep the steel blade tight in the hole?

    –Dave

    • I use a drill bit one size smaller than the tool steel. The tool steel I use is about 5/64″ in diameter so I think I typically use a 1/16″ bit. It’s been awhile since I’ve made one so I’m not 100% on that, but I know it’s a tight friction fit that I have to worry into the hole using pliers. The only way to get that is with an undersized bit.

  14. Hi bob I recently just made a striking knife out of an old spade bit and I’m wondering if I could heat treat it, because I’m not sure if they treat the steel before they package and sell it and if heating it would ruin the steel or not.

    • Hi Homer,
      It depends on the bit. If it’s made from high speed steel, don’t worry about heat treating it. It’s hard enough already to take a fine edge for a striking knife. Just grind away and hone. If it’s plain old carbon tool steel, you can heat treat it if you like, but it would have already been heat treated when the bit was made. It wouldn’t hold a sharp edge through drilling abuse if it wasn’t. My guess is that it is likely HSS and already hardened. Most drill bits are these days because the heat that is generated from the abuse these bits take in the construction trade would render them useless the first time they were used if they weren’t. My advise would be to grind and sharpen the bit…er, knife, and see how it works. As long as it can be easily sharpened and hold its edge for a reasnable amount of time, then it’s probably fine as is. If it feels really soft and won’t hold an edge for more than a couple of scribes, then it probably needs to be hardened.

  15. I just watched your marking gauge video again. I want to make one. I just purchased the O1 tool steel from McMaster.

    I also got some 1/16 by1/8 tool steel thinking that it would make little cutters when sharpened like a knife. Two cutters could be stacked with a spacer to match a mortise chisel the this little cutter pack could be fastened to the beam of the gauge. I’ll work on this after the first several regular gauges are done.

    Now I am looking for some thick stock. I do not want to laminate from thinner pieces. Walnut with some figure would be ok for the body. The faces would need to be free of voids. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

    Thank you for the excellent work you do on your podcasts. You do a very good, understandable and interesting job. You really think things throught before you start the camera. Thanks

  16. On wood species choices. I actually did make a pair out of some southern yellow pine but I believe the beam was out of a soft pine. It actually works quite well except the beam gets dented by the wedge and the wedge will then want to follow a previous location when tightened again. But after a while, that problem went away as I have pretty much dented or compressed the entire beam. A harder wood will certainly last longer though.

    Oh, I made the wedge out of a hardwood.

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