If you do any work at all with hand tools, a good marking gauge is an essential piece of equipment. It is the tool that guides all your other tools: It marks your baselines when dovetailing, your mortises for chopping, your tenons for sawing, your boards’ thicknesses when planing.
I’ve tried a lot of marking gauges, everything from the least expensive Crown or Marples to the works of art fashioned by Colen Clenton. All have their advantages and disadvantages. And for the most part, I’ve settled on using the Tite-Mark, which technically is a cutting gauge.
Several months ago, reader Dean Jansa sent me a gauge that he built that is based on the tools found in Benjamin Seaton’s tool chest, an 18th century English kit of tools that has survived nearly intact for 200 years.
This homemade gauge, sometimes called a “French gauge,” is a revelation. It is functionally so superior to other wooden gauges that it’s a wonder it’s not made today. Here’s a quick overview of why this gauge kicks the snot out of other tools:
1. It allows exquisite one-handed operation. Most gauges (but not all) require two hands to manipulate. One hand positions the head while the other hand tightens a screw to lock the head. And your third hand holds the board. This French gauge has a wedge that passes through the head that does all the work. When your hand finds the right setting, you press the wedge with your thumb and you’re done.
2. The French gauge is remarkably comfortable to hold. See the bevel on the underside of the gauge’s head? Your index finger goes there, and that allows you superior control when rolling the gauge to get the right kind of mark. And the rounded section of the gauge only adds to the comfort.
3. The shape of the pin allows you to make accurate and precise lines. Most commercial gauges have a cone-shaped pin. That’s all wrong and most woodworkers refile the pin. This pin (made from a drill bit) is shaped more like a knife.
There’s more, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. Dean has written up instructions for making and using this gauge for a story in our December issue of Popular Woodworking, our sister publication. You can build the gauge in a weekend. What you’ll get in return is a lifetime of less frustration.
, Christopher Schwarz
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