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I’m busy dovetailing the 13 tiny drawers for the tool chest I’m making. I’m using two marking gauges to mark out the drawer fronts, but I was having some problems with the precision of my marks. I first turned my attention to the pins. They get dull and need to be reshaped or just resharpened, but that wasn’t the problem. I was getting double lines (after two passes) or I’d mark a face then mark through the end grain and the marks wouldn’t line up. Hmmm.

I traced the problem to a worn face of the gauge. Not sure if you can see it in the picture, but the sides are worn down and the face is a bit crowned. The wear was just enough to allow me to get the pin in the wrong spot. I think a worn face like this can even produce a mark that is not parallel with the reference face.

The solution was easy: Take the gauge part and plane the face down.

I like making my own tools. I really loved making these gauges. I have seen commercial gauges with bits of brass on their faces, presumably to reduce wear. I think this is the first time I’ve planed this gauge in eight years of near-daily use. And mahogany is not even a particularly hard wood.

– Adam Cherubini

Check out a CD collection of Adam’s magazine columns, “The Arts & Mysteries of Hand Tools,” at

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Showing 4 comments
  • Derek Cohen

    Hi Adam

    Sometimes it is the pin/cutter in combination with the gauge face.

    When using a cutting gauge made from a steel rod (I use 3/16″ HSS drill bits) it is important to ensure that the blade is perfectly aligned – parallel – with the face. If it is even slightly skew, the knife edge will drag and cause tear out.

    To get it parallel, grind a slot at the upper end of the rod. Use a screwdriver to turn it until it is cutting as you wish.

    Regards from Perth


  • lastwordsmith

    I, too, like to make my own gauges. At the rate I work, I may never have to plane down their faces, but your experience makes me more confident in my decision to use laminated fences on my gauges. The working faces are all a much harder hardwood than the rest of the fence is made from. Thus far, they show very little sign of wear.

  • Adam Cherubini

    How did I keep the face of the gauge square with the arm? I planed the entire face evenly with a smooth plane that had a straight iron. If I understand the question, I maintained the orientation between the arm and the face- but that isn’t super critical. Having the pin, which is a bit more like a tiny blade parallel to the face is a bit more important.

  • Stetwood

    So how did you keep it square to the rail?

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