Buying good tools cheap #7 Marking gauges

Marking gauges of different types

There are many different types of marking gauges used by woodworkers all of which comprise a stock and and a stem or beam and some kind of pointed marker or cutting blade. The stock and beam of most 99% of gauges are made from wood, whereas with more modern types we see more made from all metal. Personally, I still find that wooden ones, older ones especially, work the very best of all. That said, I use both types at the schools and this can also be an advantage.
All types of marking gauges are made to score or cut one or two parallel lines parallel to the edge of a board, stile or leg. These lines delineate the precise cut lines we use to guide subsequent stock removal by sawing, planing or chiseling. In general furniture making and joinery we use mostly two types of gauge, a marking gauge and a mortise gauge. As I said, the marking gauge has a single pin or cutting disc and runs a parallel line to the edge of a section of wood. Another type of marking gauge runs two parallel lines adjacent to each other. We call this gauge a mortise gauge. Since the 1950s, makers have combined both the marking and mortise gauge in a single gauge we call a combination gauge. This is marginally less convenient than owning the two types. Eventually you will want to own more than one of each type but, to start with, a combination gauge is indeed an excellent starter tool with lasting qualities.

 

 

I have bought most of my gauges secondhand and there is little to go wrong with them. For my schools I bought some rosewood and brass ones with good features and solid setscrews that I liked. There are many sellers on eBay offering sound choices and a combination gauge will cost you less than £10.

The five I recently bought were produced by a company called Am-Tech. They have the usual round, pointed pins of hardened steel with a sliding brass bar used to adjust the second pin. The thing about the gauges I bought was the unfinished quality I see as the hallmark of most gauges made by modern makers today. That being so, I see many tools as kits. That way I am not disappointed. I am ashamed to say that even well known Sheffield makers seem to now produce tools of substandard quality on a par with Asian importers yet selling under the once well-earned Sheffield banner. Therefore there are no guarantees any more. Many US catalogs are buying from English makers that have poor quality in production so, regardless of where you are, most of these tools must be further fettled on arrival.

The first thing I did on arrival is sand down the finish to remove the harshness of the lacquer they used as a finish. I then break the edges by planing the arris with two swipes on a shallow setting. 240-grit sandpaper finishes the job and i then apply a coat of furniture polish to all areas including the slide-bar groove. I file the ends of the stem with a flat file and use a diamond file to shape the pins and level them if necessary.

The next posts will flesh out thoughts and ideas that will help you decide and show what to do with them to improve their functionality and feel.

For more info on one of Stanley’s best ever marking gauges go to a previous blog here and another for changing one here and here.

13 Comments

  1. Brandon Avakian on 4 September 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Paul,

    I have read some woodworkers prefer metal over wooden marking gauges because wooden marking gauges become inaccurate over time. Is this one of those myths Paul? Of if they do become inaccurate, they can be made accurate once again with a little work? I was just wondering your thoughts. BTW, I couldn’t find the AM-Tech mortise gauges online in the US. Is that a UK brand? As always, thanks.

    Brandon Avakian

    • Paul Sellers on 4 September 2012 at 5:39 pm

      Re wood over metal. Yes it is incorrect to say that wooden gauges lose their accuracy. I have used the same two marking gauges for almost five decades and probably more than most woodworkers would ever use them at that. They are as good now as they were then and they have plastic thumbscrews not wood or metal, which I might have preferred.
      I think that the pins were filed only once. Now on old gauges the pins can become wobbly or be filed down to the nub but these are easy to replace with piano wire.
      I would be surprised if Am Tech gauges are no available under another name as they definitely have the Asian look about them because of shininess. I cannot fault the materials they use wherever they are from. I will look to find out whether they are available in the USA.

    • J Guengerich on 4 September 2012 at 7:16 pm

      I was buying some items from Joel at toolsforworkingwood and I noticed that they sell Marples gauges and a few others. I have some older guages that I found on ebay earlier in the year and they seem compareable to these and the price isn’t too bad at TFWW, if a guy is looking at new purchases.
      If you’re not in a hurry, ebay will have some great buys, I bought a marking guage for $1.99 with minimal shipping.

      • Paul Sellers on 4 September 2012 at 9:16 pm

        Thanks for this. I know that this Uk company produces good products and has various price levels though I don’t know much about what they supply in the USA.
        I looked on eBay USA, eBay.com not eBay.UK and was surprised that you don’t have hardly any of the gauges available here in the UK. Is there an embargo against imports from some climes?

  2. Keith on 10 October 2015 at 10:22 am

    Picked up a free marking gauge the other day whilst taking some rubish to the tip. It had been thrown away. Works fine, one of the plastic thumb screw type. It did occur to me that many old tools will get thrown away rather than recycled.

    • Tone on 20 April 2018 at 1:42 pm

      Yes many good tools get thrown away 🙁 I see so many usuable things, not just tools, thrown away at the local tip that I find it unsettling and prefer not to visit now. Stuff that that could be sold, given away or given to a charity shop just thrown away at the local tip, sometimes not even making it to the recycling skips. There is no excuse, many charities in the UK forward hand tools that they cannot sell/use to another charity that restores & sells what it can and forwards the best of the rest to Africa in bulk.

  3. Philip Guhl on 29 October 2015 at 5:12 am

    Paul, I purchased a few combination gauges using eBay. The pins are severely worn…almost gone. I have asked around and no one knows the proper method for replacing the pins. Most folks I have checked with suggest I just throw the tools out and get new ones. I am interested in your insight. Thank you, sir.

    • Paul Sellers on 29 October 2015 at 7:45 pm

      Philip, I thought I would answer this on my blog as others will gain from it. Thanks for now, Paul

  4. Philip Guhl on 1 November 2015 at 11:08 am

    Thank you, Paul. I continued to be inspired and enlightened through your insights.

  5. Bill Peters on 17 May 2016 at 7:05 am

    “A Scout is Thrifty”…
    Vintage marking gauge pins are usually held in place by (1) friction between the pin and the closely-fitted hole for it in the gauge’s wooden beam. Some pins are deliberately but slightly (2) bent or curved to add a greater degree of retention. Some pins are (3) held in place by a screw which draws the two sides of a vertical slot cut into the end of the marking gauge beam together against the pin. A small diameter straight punch tapped with a hammer will often dislodge the pins held in place by methods (1) and (2), and a screwdriver will often free the pins held by (3).
    When you sharpen the pin, it will last longer and make more distinct marks if you create a flat knife edge across the diameter of the pin rather than a single pinpoint. Reinstall the pin so that the knife edge lies perpendicular to the marking gauge’s beam (and thus parallel to the wood yet to be marked).
    If your pin was already loose in it’s hole, drill the hole out to insert a hardwood dowel. Then you simply re-drill the dowel to make a new hole for the pin.
    Since the only piano wire I have on hand is in our piano, I have replaced pins press-fitted into wooden beams (and also brass fittings) by substituting a slightly larger diameter finish nail cut and sharpened appropriately and than tapped into place. Finish nails are not made of tool-quality steel, but they are plentiful and easy to work with and re-sharpen. I leave at least 1/4 inch of the finish nail protruding out of the top of the beam so that I can just tap it further down as needed for future sharpening.

  6. Debra on 25 January 2017 at 5:00 am

    This comes a bit late, but that Am-Tech gauge looks identical to the ones they sell at Harbor Freight. Pretty cheap and wearing a thick coat of lacquer.

    • Paul Sellers on 25 January 2017 at 12:00 pm

      They most likely are. I recall when i lived in the USA feeling the same but with one thought. I wondered if HF bought the seconds because AM-TECH seem to me to be better quality of only marginally.

  7. Kellam Press on 8 March 2019 at 8:37 am

    Dear Mr Sellers

    I have a Stanley No: 62 marking gauge with a broken thumb screw. Can you tell me where I can purchase either a wooden or acrylic replacement. Thank you.

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