I’ve had a vintage panel gauge for many years, and I’ve hated every minute of our relationship.
The beam flops around in the head, no matter how Conan you go on the thumbscrew. And so the gauge’s pin tends to move around as you make your marks. While this defect doesn’t hurt the accuracy of your line to a fault, it’s as annoying as using a workbench that wobbles a bit.
A few weeks ago I bought one of the new panel gauges from Lie-Nielsen for $85 and have been on a few dates with it in the shop. So far, I’m quite impressed.
The locking mechanism is totally solid. The thumb screw pushes down on one corner of the 18″-long beam, forcing it into a triangular trough in the head. Thomas Lie-Nielsen got the inspiration for this from David Charlesworth‘s modified marking gauges (covered in his landmark “Furniture-Making Techniques Vol. I.” on page 13). And then Lie-Nielsen made some further refinements.
Instead of a pin, the panel gauge uses a V-shaped knife, which slices cleanly. And it doesn’t seem to follow the grain much, which is sometimes a concern when marking with the grain with a knife.
Also, you can turn the beam around and use the panel gauge as a pencil gauge. This is a sweet function that I added to several of my own marking gauges. To insert a pencil in the beam you simply loosen a screw, drop a pencil in the provided hole and tighten the screw. I prefer a pencil gauge when rough-sizing boards because it’s so much easier to see than a scratch line.
As with everything from Lie-Nielsen, the fit and finish is great. And the details make the tool a pleasure to use, including the brass wear plate on the fence of the head, and the medallion inset into the head.
And my old panel gauge? I think I’m going to nail the head to the beam and let my youngest daughter use it like a sword.
– Christopher Schwarz
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