Chris Schwarz's Blog

Marking Gauges: The Clamps of the Hand Tool World

Really, I have enough clamps , a couple dozen , to do just about anything.

If I can’t clamp it, I can always use pinch dogs, drawboring or some other dodge to get the job done.

But I don’t think I have enough marking gauges. I always have at least three or four set up for a project at any given time. This week I have four unfinished projects on my bench, and I’m running out of gauges.

If you’re a regular here, you know that I like the Tite-Mark cutting gauge. It is a marvel of micro-adjustable engineering. Today, let me introduce you to my other favorite gauge: The Les Outils Cullen slitting gauge (it’s also a cutting gauge).

This gauge is made from Dymondwood, brass and steel. Dymondwood is a high-end plywood-like product that looks like an exotic wood and is durable and stable. The fit and finish of the Les Outils Cullen is superb. It’s one of those tools where they make all the screw heads line up (somewhere, there’s an engineer who is tingly all over right now).

Two features of this gauge make it stand out: The knife itself and the mechanism that locks the head to the beam. What I like about the knife is that you can easily reverse it in the beam. That means you can go to marking the baselines for your dovetails to slitting thin pieces of stock with just a simple turn of a thumbscrew. The knife comes quite sharp, is the proper shape and can score deeply if you ask it to, such as when defining the field of a raised panel.

The locking mechanism is the other standout. The bottom part of the beam is radiused and it drops into a matching cove in the head. A large thumbscrew locks everything in place. It is very solid all-in-all , I cannot detect any of the wiggling shimmy that plagues cheap gauges.

Les Outils Cullen Tools in Quebec makes a number of gauges that range in price from $39.95 to $79.95. The slitting gauge is $54.95 from TheBestThings.com. Highly recommended.

– Christopher Schwarz

You may also be interested in the “Mastering Hand Tools” DVD from Christopher Schwarz.

14 thoughts on “Marking Gauges: The Clamps of the Hand Tool World

  1. Steven

    No prob’s Mike, the Colen Clinton is not much more expensive and are the best IMHO, but at $200ish out of my price range.

  2. Mike

    Yeah, I only looked at the bottom picture. Sorry.

    Still, shortening the blade and or filing the brass for relief at the top would work, in conjunction with the relief for the blade on the headstock.

    Of course, there is also Chris Vesper’s gauges. Top notch. And he will make you a gauge to your spec.

    Mike

  3. Steven

    Mike, I’m afraid its not possible to cut brass with a chisel!Look at the picture the Blade would foul even if you turned it upside down . If the hole was in the center of the guide this would be possible.

  4. Mike

    "The blade does not fit inside the head…Very minor but important design flaw?"

    So if you already own this gauge, Steven, why not just take a smallish gouge or chisel and make a relief for the blade on the headstock? Seems a simple thing to do.

  5. SchreiberBike

    Plastic seems to be getting a lot of attention.

    "A highly engineered wood/plastic composite, DymondWood® has the physical and mechanical properties of high density hardwood, acrylic and polycarbonate plastics, and brass. Here, brightly dyed northern hardwood veneers are combined with engineering grade resins, heat and pressure to create a product that has the best characteristics of each. DymondWood® is distinguished by its unique strength, durability, dimensional stability, weather and moisture resistance as compared to regular wood."

    I guess I don’t object to the brass in a brass marking gauge. Why should plastic bother me? I think it’s because I don’t like one thing masquerading as another. It takes away the "realness" of the product.

  6. Steven

    Been looking for an alternative to the very expensive Clenton gauge for some time and thought that this would be it! but no, the same problem in design here:( The blade does not fit inside the head ala Clenton which means that it cannot be used to remove a tiny sq on an edge to fit stringing as the blades honed angle would determine the smallest cut it could make. Reversing the blade would leave a sloped cut! Very minor but important design flaw?

  7. Jonathan Crone

    Baaaahhh…
    Thats me being sheepish… I never thought
    of checking Lee Valley…
    and I live in Lee valley’s head office city…. Dooh.

    Thanks folks

  8. Hank Knight

    Chris,

    I, too, am very fond of my Les Outils Cullen cutting gauge, but I wasn’t when I first got it. There was 1/32" gap between the beam and the head on either side, so the beam was very loose and "floppy" when I loosened the thumb screw to adjust it. True, the rounded belly of the beam nestled into the matching profile in the head and snugged up tight when I tightened the thumb screw, but the flopping around when I was trying to adjust the gauge drove me nuts. I fixed the problem by gluing two very thin UHMW shims to the head, one on either cheek of the beam mortise. They’re not thick enough to bind, just thick enough to take up the "slop." Now it works like a dream; the beam slides smoothly and easily and still locks down tight. I love it. BTW, I lined up my screw slots when I put it back together.

    Jonathan Crone will be happy to know that the full line of Les Outils Cullen gauges are available from Lee Valley.

    Hank

  9. Michael Holden

    Chris,
    as an engineer, I do NOT get all tingly when I see screw heads lined up! Unless you mean that goosebumpy feeling you get when something is about to fall apart. Lined up screw heads indicate inconsistent torquing of the screws, some will be too tight and some too loose, neither is a good situation. It may look neat, but it is structurally unsound practice.
    Mike

    1. cbf123

      While this is often true, it’s not always the case. The proper way to clock screw heads is to torque them down to the desired tension, mark the desired slot alignment, back out the screw, mill off the original slot head and cut a new slot that is aligned as desired.

      Where that’s too much work, you can often get close by just making sure that you start each screw aligned the same. Assuming consistent material and thickness you should end up with pretty close alignment.

  10. Jonathan Crone

    There’s something ironic that I live in Ottawa Canada, and a small tool company in Quebec, one province over from me, I can’t locate any information about other than an american website… For you Americans, it would be like wanting to order something from Lie Nielsen, but only able to get it from Brazil…

    Anyone have any contact information for Les Outils Cullen, OTHER than from "TheBestThings"? (I’m not begrudging TheBestThings… I’m just Canadian EH, and it seems crazy to have to mail order from the STATES to get a CANADIAN product…

  11. dvh

    Damn, why always your tools has to be so beautiful. It always make me think about mine, usually made in china 😉

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