Buying Good Tools Cheap – Sliding Bevel

For more information on the sliding bevel, see our beginner site Common Woodworking.

DSC_0001 The months have passed since I bought one of these. Generally perhaps a lower interest tool and yet for chair making and other tasks they are virtually indispensable. Made for or distributed by Sandford, famed for their layout tools to big box stores and local hardware stores alike, this tool struck as having the makings of a quality tool; with just a little more elbow grease that is. I liked the look of this one as I saw it hanging on the tool racks and also I confess I liked the price too, especially as owning three or four of these is a practical solution if you are making chairs, which I do all the time. Often furniture makers and woodworkers like myself can be in the middle of a batch of chairs. they almost always have multiple angles and you need to retain record of the set angles in the set sliding bevels for economy of time and movement and especially is this so throughout the making of six of them, which is an average dining suite.
I bought a second sliding bevel last week when I saw that Lowes here in the US still carried them. The key feature I like first off is he large brass thumb wheel that stays well out of the way throughout use and has just the right amount of torque to look the beam steady when he angle’s set. Though the wing-nutted varieties lock solidly too, they often get in the way because the protrude past the face of the stock of the tool. Those set by setscrews lock well too, but they are less convenient as well.
This tool had all of the right ingredients in that the stock is solid padauk, it has solid brass wear plates and a stainless steel beam. These components make the tool a lifetime tool with the potential for quality at a very affordable price.
What was lacking just a little was the finessing of the tool, something I like to take care of anyway when I have the chance. Small things can be very irritating and especially so when it interrupts accuracy, setting and so on. I took the tool apart and worked on the accuracy end of things first. The stainless steel sliding beam had what is generally a common fault in this tool type. DSC_0006 DSC_0005 Where the straight edges meet the half round there is often a break in flow where the beam has been stamped out in manufacture. DSC_0007 DSC_0009 A flat file takes care of this in a heart beat. File off the nibs by arching the file in as continuous an arc as possible. I also filed the long edges at 45-depress with one pass to each of the four corners, just to soften the edges and the handling of the tool.
DSC_0013 A small amount of wood shrinkage meant the brass wear plates to the top round and the bottom square protruded very slightly past the wood’s surfaces. Not something you want at all as this can lead to in accuracy and tripping up in the use of the tool. I filed these flush to the wood. DSC_0015 The bottom square plates are both glued and pinned to the wood with almost invisible brass pins, just as hey were in the old quality models of two hundred year vintage. DSC_0010 These stay in place when you file. On the other hand, at the other end, the rounds are not pinned because there is no depth to pin to. Again, quite typical, even on old models where they were often glued with animal hide glue. If these parts are loose, all the better. DSC_0018 It’s easier to polish them off the tool as I did. I used rubberised shelf liner to grip and rub the plate on the abrasive paper. To keep them fully located, remove the beam and re-tighten the locking nut before filing the rounded brass end to the wood shape. Again, remove any hard corners with the file too. These rounded wear plates do not need pins or even the glue as they are kept permanently in place by the locking bolt that passes through it.
DSC_0028 The brass has the coarse abrading often associated with mass-made goods, but it’s a beginning for you. Get into some grits of abrasive paper and polish out the coarseness by starting with #250 and then 400, 600, 800, 1,200 and then 2,000. DSC_0030 I then took it to my strop charged with polishing compound and in a few rubs I had it looking and, more importantly, feeling like it should. Wrap plastic tape around the wooden areas to prevent blacking.The locking wheel needed polishing on the compound only and so too the threaded bolt, which is plated steel.
DSC_0014 I scraped and sanded the wooden stock to make it smoother and less harsh on the hand during use. DSC_0029 DSC_0035 After that I gave the stock two coats of clear shellac, wood parts only, though you could do the brass tools they did on all old tool models, to keep the tool clean. Allow this to dry for a couple of hours and buff out nibs with 0000 steel wool.
After about half an hour’s solid work you have a lifetime tool for about $10. Good value for money.


  1. Hi Paul

    Another great article on tool purchasing, second hand is the way to go. I recently finished my collection of stanley 1940’s planes no. 4 to 7 inc the 1/2s, for a total of no more than £105, from ebay and car boots, thats 6 planes! That wouldn’t get me half a lie-neilsen! . Your video on blade sharpening means i now get that woooosh sound from the wood with super thin shavings….fantastic!! 🙂 My electric plane has hardy been out of the box since!

    On a second note, it would be great to see an article on burnishers, especially on one you would recommend. There seems to be ones out there ranging from £5 to £45+ pounds. I noticed Joseph said you had one made, and was wondering on why that was, and is it worth it etc.

    Anyway, just a thought 🙂



  2. Mr. Sellers, Thanks for the tips. I purchased this same bevel square
    about a year ago because of the looks (I’m ashamed to say). I do think
    it says a lot about a carpenter who has nice looking, but used tools,
    especially to most homeowners. I will be sure to follow the steps you
    recommended as I’ve noticed these imperfections, but have never thought
    of doing anything about it. Thank you.

  3. Paul,
    I looked for the bevel gauge you describe and found one offered by Swanson (TS149) available through Amazon for $10.25 and free shipping, so same as you describe (hardwood handle, ss bevel, brass fittings). It looks to need the same dressing you performed.

    This company offers the same bevel with a black plastic handle (TS150). I know, not as elegant – but maybe utility as the wood handle (or more so). Question is: would you use the cheaper in your school or would you prefer to get students started with the look of a more expensive tool?

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