In Chris Schwarz Blog, Joinery

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Some tools are like high school girlfriends. It’s all hot and heavy and kissy-kissy for the first few weeks, and then things cool off and you wonder what you were thinking. Other tools are like good spouses. The relationship gets better with time, even when you are both a little worn around the edges.

I’m happy to say that the Veritas Bevel Setter is more like a spouse than a girlfriend. (I don’t expect that blurb will show up in any advertisements.) When I first reviewed the tool, I was quite taken with it and its cleverness. The Bevel Setter lets you set or draw angles with much more accuracy than a child’s protractor or even a machinist’s protractor. It allows you to transfer angles more easily than with the other bevel-setting devices on the market that merely have the angles engraved on them. Plus, its small size allows you to get into tight spaces.

And now, a couple years after first getting the tool, I couldn’t imagine not picking it up during a project. As my work has become more angular and curvular (yes Megan, I know that’s not a word) I find that I always need a device that can measure any angle, transfer the angle to a piece of work, or even transfer the angle to my sliding T-bevel with zero errors. Plus, the sucker is so easy to dial in that even if you discard one setting, it’s simple to get it again.

The real genius in the device is its metal fence, which locks down tightly (and stays there) with a brass thumbscrew. The underside of the fence has a couple little grippy feet that make the fence stick to the steel plate like a magnet.

Finally, the thing is a darn-decent ruler in a pinch and can substitute for a small combination square when laying out the position of drawer hardware, for example.

The device ($33.50 from Lee Valley Tools) is available in both metric and Imperial measurements. For some reason, I ended up with the metric version in my toolbox, but it doesn’t seem to bother me. That fact, however, is a bit bothersome. I worry that the metric system will worm its way into my life. But then, that’s basically what happened with my wife.

– Christopher Schwarz


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Showing 19 comments
  • custom woodworking design

    nice post on woodworking, but some comments are unrelated…

  • Adrian

    Well, if you can turn 241 into 214 then surely you could manage to turn 8′ 3 11/64" into 8′ 11 3/64" which is a "nearly a foot" error. Turning 11/64 into 11/32 seems like a possibility as well, and while it’s not a foot, your joints would sure look bad with a gap of 11/64 in them. Or how about turning 3′ 4" into 4′ 3"?

    I use the Imperial system but when the measurements are small I’m always thinking things like 1/2 plus 1/16. And then I always have to make sure it was 1/2 plus 1/16 and not 1/2 minus 1/16.

    Standardization of units of measurement goes back a long way. The Romans spread a lot of standards that were influential across Europe. But after the fall of Rome, standards tended to change locally. The British had a fairly strong emphasis on standards, but with complications such as different units for different products (the wine gallon, being different than some other sort of gallon). There were several different pounds in use. (We’ve managed to retain two of them, troy for gold and avoirdupois for everything else.) They weren’t changing the official length of the foot for each king, though. Merchants may have sold products using yards or ells that weren’t…carefully matched to the standard by using bodily measures. Part of the goal of standards was to force everybody to use the same measures to make commerce easier.

    Americans have a system where the liquid quart is different than the dry quart and where the ounce can measure either volume or mass. (This last one leaves a bunch of people confused about the difference.) The tiny disagreement between the UK inch and the US inch (and screw thread standards) caused problems with interoperability of machine parts during World War II and lead to a subsequent international standardization 1959 (with the result that we actually have two different foot measures in the USA, a historical one used in surveying and the international one).

    But in the shop it doesn’t matter what measurement system you use unless you need to match parts with somebody else. You can use bobs if you like. (If you can find a ruler marked in bobs.) If the ruler were marked out in a readable way I think I might be willing to switch to bobs. The foot may be divisible by 3 and 6 but since the inch isn’t, you still get a mess if you try to divide into 3’s. The bob fixes that. On the other hand, you can divide a space into any number without measuring with the right tool. Perhaps that’s the better choice. Certainly it seems less error prone.

    I wonder, too, if the decision of measurement system might matter more for a woodworker who prefers to do everything with power tools. There the locations of the cut may be determined by the measurement you dial in on your fence. And different tools have to use the same measurement. With hand tools the cut is determined by where you mark and you can mark wherever you want to—and with a marking gauge repeatedly in the same spot.

  • Ron Ashford

    Dear Chris C, and others

    "Measure twice and cut once!"

    Now that takes care of your 214 ~ 241 argument 8-)))

    Quickly now, add up: 1 1/2" + 23/64" + 3/8" + 4′ 3′ 1/16" + 1′ 9" + 3/4" = ?

    Point #3: Great work is done in both systems!

    Much woodworking is done to fit, it is not? Remind me why you use a shoulder plane.

    Your article on "Bob" is interesting. If memory serves me correct, the Imperial measure system measured the King’s "yard” arm (the measure of the King’s outstretched arm from tip of finger to tip of nose). His foot was “1-foot” and from the tip of his thumb to its first knuckle was an “inch”. Different Kings made for different measures, until it was standardized. Variations in the Imperial system still occur, e.g., US and British gallons. Horses are measured in “spans” (the span of a hand), now standardized.

    As for there being 360 degrees to divide a circle, you might like to check the following link. It’s all a bit more complicated and convoluted than indicated:

    http://mathforum.org/library/drmath/sets/select/dm_circle360.html

    Interestingly, I have a woodworking student who cannot read, write or measure. Next week we are going make a 1-meter rule with only centimetres on it. For a time, we will see if he can measure and mark his work using this simplified system. I am thinking he may be able to cope with numbers up to 10 after a bit of effort. It seems a worthwhile experiment. I will grant you that we could make a “1/4s” rule. This measure is used in the measure of rough-sawn timber 8/4s (that I know of). But again, an object that was a foot long would be by that system would be 48/4s.

    Mind you, in New Zealand, people still put 32 psi (pounds/cubic inch) in their tyres and talk of their car getting 36 miles to the gallon.

    There were (still?) some military reasons for retaining imperial measure in the US; there are/were economic reasons as well. In the same way, there were/are military reasons why some countries use different widths in rail tracks to their (hostile) neighbours. Then again, the wheel width of a Roman cart, ground into the ancient Roman roads, was the measure used as the basis of the British rail system.

    One last. Americans converted to (invented?) decile currency around 1776. NZ did that about 1967. The Brits still use pounds, but it is divided by decimal and not via the olde system.

    Ron Ashford

  • Ron Boe

    Chris;

    Yup; played with the thing for a while – seemed that if I tightened it proper it would not cinch down half the time, back off a quarter turn or less and then it was too loose.

    Went back to my wing nut style and have not looked at it again.

    As far as metric and english goes; what you learned on seems to be the best. I learned the metric in college and any mistakes were due to just plain not paying attention and gross errors are obvious. Mistakes that can happen in any unit system. But give me decimals vs fractions any day.

    One the other hand, a salesman telling me the motor has over 150,000 watts of power or something similar in pascals is going to have to work a bit harder.

  • Chris C.

    Adrian,

    Well, to belabor the point some more…

    I actually think your first two paragraphs prove my
    point. If you want to contend that mixing up 241cm and
    214cm is unlikely that is fine. I actually think it
    is quite likely but it doesn’t matter.

    But here is the thing. In your second paragraph you
    compare that to mixing up 8′ 2 and (whatever fraction ) inches. But what if you did that? You would be off by
    less than an inch…probably much less than that. But
    what if you mixed up 241 and 214…now you are off by
    almost a FOOT!

    It has to do with the imperial system dividing itself
    into a next logical unit once you hit twelve inches(the
    foot). That adds a sort of "sanity check" if you will. At
    least for large measurements.

    I think the URL pointed out in my prior post is
    a good overall explanation of the issues with BOTH
    systems in the shop. But, again, given those limits
    I’ll still go imperial…IN THE SHOP only.

    Chris

  • Adrian

    If you were to measure something that was 7’11" that would be 241 cm, if you’re being fair. I contend that your chance of turning 241 into 214 is pretty small.

    Furthermore, this whole line of argument is based on the notion that you need to convert units. Why would you pick 241 cm as a dimension if you were working in metric?

    If you wanted to measure something that was 250 cm long using the American system that would be what, 8′ 2 11/64 inches? Or is that 8′ 2 21/128 inches? Or maybe 8′ 2 43/256"? Geez, talk about a mess. Is it really less confusing to have 8′ 2 11/64 as compared to 250? Or even 241? I think not.

    The point of the last paragraph is to show the flaw in the argument that because the units are a mess if you convert, there’s something wrong with the system. If you work in one system you keep the units tidy in that system. The main disadvantage of the metric system is that 10 doesn’t have many divisors. You can only get 2 and 5. Dividing the inch by powers of two gives us 4ths and 8ths, which are probably more useful than 5ths. Of course, the Imperial system isn’t so great if you want thirds. Really the answer is to try to avoid measuring and to work from project dimensions or a story stick, or use a marking gauge for repeatability.

    I ended up with the metric bevel setting gauge despite a general preference for Imperial measurement. The reason is that the metric one was backordered for 2 weeks and the imperial one was backordered for 2 months, and I had a project I wanted to start (pattern blocks) that called for accurate angles.

  • Bob Demers

    In this country (I am Canadian) where we switched to metric years ago, early 70s if I recalled correctly, I still refuse to become a convert, and still buy measuring devices in Imperial only, no metric in my shop!
    Althought, its fine for me, it did create some problems when my kids gave me a hand in the shop. For they grew up entirely in the metric system, and do not know Imperial. The fun thing, is when I asked them for a measurement, they would inveriably come back in metric..its 45.62 cm dad! huuuu, how much in inches please? And know you know why I banned every measuring devices sporting both system from my shop 🙂

    Bob, who has the bevel setter and think its a great math saver

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Ron (who had the trouble with the bevel gauge),

    Did you try cinching the flat-head screw? That will tighten up the gauge to astonishing proportions.

    Chris, in San Francisco and eating entirely too much Guinea hen.

  • Chris C

    Ron,

    No, I was not using the 2.5534 number as an example of a conversion. I
    was using it as an example of how real world dimensions require
    a lot of decimals in the metric system. More to the point, is this:

    If I were to measure something that was, say, 7′ 11". That would be
    2413mm or 241.3cm. How easy would it be to, say, end up at 243.1cm or
    214.3cm. Probably high. What are the chances of you making 7’11" 11’7"?
    Probably none. Adding a simple fraction to the imperial measurement
    would not change this.

    On the other hand, dividing and adding fractions is much more cumbersome.
    So, in my mind, it is a wash. Given both weaknesses, I’ll take the
    imperial system FOR THE SHOP.

    On the other hand, a better system all around would be the "bob". And
    you can read about that in the Feb 2005 issue of Popular Woodworking or
    here:

  • Ron Ashford

    Chris C. Wrote:
    "However, I will go out on a limb and say that I do not like the metric system for the shop. For all its wonderful qualities, it makes taking measurements no better than simple fractions. I think it is worse, because to gain any accuracy, you always end up with 4 or 5 digits. Like 2.5534 inches. I always botch that in translation one way or the other…"

    Having been born and raised in Oregon, and having graduated from Benson Polytechnic High School, I learned imperial measure. When I arrived in New Zealand in 1974, NZ was undergoing its transition from imperial to metric. Now, more than thirty years later, I can still use both, and for cost’s sake, I sometimes buy imperial tools (such as drills bits).

    When making things to measure, lengths and widths, metric is far easier to use than imperial, especially when adding up, or dividing, a number of components that are not undivided inches (‘inches, feet and yards’ are the equivalent to ‘pounds shillings and pence’). In metric, you would not make something that was "2.5534 inches" long/wide (64.77mm), you’d make it 65mm (or to fit). The reason you are getting those 4 place digits is because you are converting from metric to imperial. If you started your project/measurement in metric (but 64.77 is a strange metric measure for woodworking), you’d be fine.

    Finally, most of the developed world uses metric in the home, in the shop and in industry. That may not be a convincing argument, but it is no less convincing than the argument which follows from the fact that most Americans (but not all) use imperial, therefore, that system is the superior system.

    Warm regards

    Ron Ashford
    ron@duomo.ac.nz
    http://www.duomo.ac.nz/Sacred&Secular.htm

  • Ron Boe

    Gah, the bevel gauge has been pretty much useless for me. That neat locking down device just didn’t work. Perhaps I got a dud. Returning things by mail is the pox so I still have it. Got the angle thingie too but I keep forgetting I have it so it does not get used like it should.

    This is not improving as I age either as the memory or something just does not kick in like it should.

    I’d love to switch to metric, use it with the english system in any project – tend to mix the two as needed. Since most stuff is one off anyway what does it matter?

  • Bryan

    That’s not a bad price for a tool that looks like it would last forever. Thanks, enjoyed the post

  • Samson

    Chris,

    I what ways does this "let you set or draw angles with much more accuracy than … a machinist’s protractor"? I have a small square head protractor – the kind with the 6" swing arm and locking nut – and find it very handy and accurate. But I’m a sucker for new tools and a fan of better ways, so I’m curious.

    Thanks,

    Sean

  • Chris C.

    I have the bevel gauge and it is very nice. I like the
    cam lever better than a screw or wing nut lock because
    it does not cause the blade to shift when tightened.

    Haven’t checked out the bevel setter yet. However, I will
    go out on a limb and say that I do not like the metric
    system for the shop. For all its wonderful qualities,
    it makes taking measurements no better than simple fractions.
    I think it is worse, because to gain any acuracy, you
    always end up with 4 or 5 digits. Like 2.5534 inches. I
    always botch that in translation one way or the other…

    Chris

  • Tom Knighton

    I’d been thinking about that bevel setter for a little while now, off and on. I wasn’t sure if it was really worth having. Now, I’m fairly sure that it is. Thanks Chris!

  • John Leko

    This is a really useful tool. At first, it threw me that the angles shown were complementary, but after I figured that out things went smoothly. I guess that this comes from the way power miter saws are delineated, 0 degrees is perpendicular to the fence. I suppose that the simple solution to this problem is to only make 45 degree cuts! =8-O

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Um, both my wife and my work have curves. My high school girlfriends, not so curvy. Make of it what you will.

    Chris

  • Peter Evans

    Are you saying both your work and your wife are curvilinear? Don’t worry too much about the metric phobia; perhaps some people confuse metric with meretricious?

    Cheers, Peter

  • Mike linenfelter

    Chris,

    I laugh almost every time I read one of your posts. I even had to to read this one my wife. I new she was a keeper over 10 years ago.

    I have both of these Veritas tools, and I love them both. I also like that the Bevel Setter really stays put.

    Mike

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