Marking Gauge Rundown
With the holidays coming at us like a freight train, I was thinking about gift ideas that could…ahem…wind up in front of your significant other just in the nick of time. One such idea is a marking gauge — a necessary tool for laying out dovetails and also useful for many other tasks. You could make a huge mistake and buy a cheap, lousy one like I did (which is more expensive in the long run because now I need to get another one) or buy one that will give you excellent results and last a long time.
The most important feature of a marking gauge is the knife. A guage (like mine) that tears fibers instead of shearing them makes a rough line that will make the baseline of your dovetails look messy. The side of the knife facing the fence of the marking gauge should be flat. The top of the knife should be rounded and parallel to the fence. This shape produces a clean line in both directions. Adjustability is less important to me than a good knife. As long as the gauge can be adjusted easily and held firmly in place, it will do its job. Having better adjustability is less frustrating and more efficient, and this is one place where the price starts to go up. The next place is in the aesthetics. Other considerations are the style of the gauge — basically, how it is set up — and the size. If you plan to layout carcass dovetails, then a large marking gauge would feel more solid. If you are making smaller projects, like boxes or drawers, then a large marking gauge might be overkill and a small one more appropriate for the task.
Here are three marking gauges in a fairly wide price range. Any of these will do the job well and last years if not decades. They are three distinctly different styles and all have large and small versions. I have used versions of all of these, so I can confirm that they are well-made and work exceptionally well.
The Tite-Mark, made by Glen-Drake Toolworks, was an instant classic. It’s a design so simple and smart that I can’t believe someone didn’t think of it years ago. Made entirely of brass, it feels great in the hand, the knife (round in this case) is the right shape for shearing and the adjustment is absolutely solid and precise. You can get the standard Tite-Mark and the Tite-Mark Mini at www.glen-drake.com or from several dealers listed on the website.
The Hamilton marking gauge is innovative for its minimalist shape. It has all it needs to have — a nice fence (with inlayed brass), simple adjustment and a great knife — and nothing more. It comes in large and small versions and is the most affordable of the three featured here. It is made by Hamilton Woodworks (www.hamiltontools.com) and sold exclusively by de legno woodshop supply at www.dlws.com.
I also wanted to throw in a high-end marking gauge for those for whom aesthetics is as important (or nearly so) as utility. Made in Australia, the Chris Vesper marking gauge is traditional in design, with the exception of an innovative recess in the fence that allows clearance for the knife. Otherwise, the hardware is brass and exceptionally well made. Of course, the biggest draw is the hardwoods Chris uses for his tools (the one pictured is made of Tasmanian Blackwood). They are incredibly dense, but are so well finished that they feel great and will hold up to years of use. They are also available in premium timbers such as 5-year-old Black Red Gum. Check them out at www.vespertools.com
Any one of these marking gauges will provide a lifetime of crisp lines. I guarantee they will elevate the quality of your work and make the experience of woodworking even more enjoyable. Happy Holidays!
By Mitch Roberson of Furnitude at www.furnitude.blogspot.com
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