Another Point of Mortise Gauges

For more information on Gauges, see our beginner site Common Woodworking.

From my journal

Wednesday 22nd February 2017

A question came up about the mortise gauge pins not closing up enough in some makes of mortise gauge. If, for instance, you are cutting a 3/16” mortise or tenon and your pins prevent setting less than say 1/4”. What to do? The questioner did indeed close with an answer to the question himself but wanted a confirmation. The answer is to file down or hacksaw off one or both sections of ‘T-bar’ to close up the distance.  You don’t really need too much brass around the pins, but take care not to cut too closely as you do apply quite a bot of pressure to the pins when pushing into the end grain of wood to mark tenons and the stubby pins are not that long. Shoot for leaving 2mm and you should be fine.

Someone else asked about the rule of thirds when he saw the thin walls to my image showing the chip remover in use from a roughly chopped mortise to show how the “chiphook” worked (It was indeed done purely as an example.). Anyway, the thirds rule is where the two side sections either side of a mortise hole are the same size as the tenon is. So in 3/4″ stock the mortise is 1/4″ and the outer flanks too. That way the tenon is 1/4″. But of course there are many situations where the only unifying factor is the tenon size and not alignment faces. Sometimes, as in the case of say doors, the mortise and tenons are indeed aligned and centrally placed in the stiles and rails and sometimes, perhaps not in equal percentages every time. A table leg is more often not flush with the outer face of the leg but set back to give more substance around the mortise hole. It is also common to have offset shoulders to tenons to move a rail further back or further forward too. It is a fact that without careful consideration you can take some suggested positioning and sizings and make them law when that could perhaps render them near useless with regards to strength. I recently saw this happen in someone’s work.mortise gauge

That question led me to think of less obvious features in mortise gauges because not all of them are created the same. When I buy in a mortise gauge the first thing I might look for is a small and insignificant recess in the face of the gauge stock where the stock faces or hits the the first and moveable pin if pushed into it. Some craftsmen cut a small notch to receive this pin so that it all but disappears into the stock. This then allowed the mortise gauge side of say a combination gauge or indeed a mere mortise gauge to be used as a single-pin marking gauge. This then meant that there was no need for a third pin on the opposite side because you had a gauge capable of both functions. I prefer the combination gauge however, because I like this pin to be longer and more slender than the pins used in mortise gauges which are always shorter and dumpier with the pins having steeper coned points. For me the 3rd pin stays. The notch I have mentioned can be deep enough to allow the second pin into the stock all the way up so that the stock reaches the 3rd pin on the opposite side of the beam if desired.rosewood mortise gaugesrosewood mortise gauges

I did buy two more rosewood versions this week that were just lovely versions.

In a few weeks we will be holding our first class of the year and as always I look forward to that. The classes dotted throughout this year are all filled and did so after just a few days of posting. It makes me all the more conscious of how important the work we are doing has become. The little nuances of how and why we do this or that do get lost with each generation that passes. I mean the little notched recess in the marking gauge that receives the pin to allow use as an ordinary marking gauge and then how we use a light pass for fine lines not a heavy one are examples.recess in the marking gauge
I think most people coming into woodworking now know that you can enjoy woodworking with just a few hand tools and without spending too much on lengthy courses or even having  degree. I like the change..

My hand tool work using my most treasured possession just fits in my life. So I write books, blogs and comments on social media, make videos most days and then hold my classes whenever we can fit them in. With my friends at work,  six of us full time, we are just about able to keep up and so I am as ever a very lucky man.


  1. Friend recently asked me to help him and his son, a senior in high school, with a final project for one of his classes. They wanted to build something from wood but didn’t have the knowledge or tools. I agreed to help, admitting to them I was still very much an amateur. We built a small wall cabinet with a single shelf, using the principles I’ve learned from you, and my humble set of hand tools. Both father and son were amazed at the shavings they themselves made. It was great to watch from the stool I sat on as I gave them guidance with what I knew.

    The cabinet was entered by the school in a county wide fair with many student entries. The cabinet won Best In Show! Thank you for what you do in teaching.

  2. Yes you are a lucky Man, even though luck I’m sure has nothing to do with it. You have earned your place from hard work and applying yourself for years which indeed has led you where you are today.
    Honestly , I don’t see how you do all that you do for all us “starving for information” woodworkers out here but you obviously have found a way.
    I enjoy reading your post, Books, and watching your videos . It’s amazing how much we retain without ever noticing it.
    Sometimes I’ll be working on a project like s box I was building last night and I’ll run into a snag but then the answer pops right up and when I reflect I’ll remember seeing you do it in the past. I think that’s pretty darn cool.
    I wanted to tell you this so that you know that you are making a difference and that your hard work has paid off for all of us woodworkers out here.
    Again Thank You.

  3. Paul, I have been enrolled in Woodworking Masterclasses for 2, or may be 3, years now. Don’t remember for sure. There are many of us that would like to attend your on sight classes but because of class size limitations and/or the cost of the classes and traveling there is way over our budget.
    Was wondering if you have ever considered in allowing people that have been a member of WM for over a year and are still members to allow them to post on a separate area there upcoming hand tool classes. They would pay you a fee, $50, $100 or whatever and be allowed to put it up for X time before the start of the class. Your company in no way endorse or be responsible for that class, however, should you get complaints about that individuals classes they would no longer be given the privilege. They could teach basic things like sharpening and setting a saw, sharpening and setting up a plane, (using proper files and diamond plate stones) taking rough boards to the stage of making and making the three woodworking joints.
    While this in no way cover all of woodworking I feel it is a great foundation. I didn’t know how sharp a saw could be or how easy it is to sharpen a chisel or plane until I got some good diamond stones. Many are reluctant to spent upwards of $200 on diamond stones but experiencing the use of these and saying goodbye the frustration of using inferior sharpening equipment is priceless.

  4. Mike Bronosky ,
    Your comment about diamond plates is wright on. Until today , the only iron bed plane I owned was a Stanley block plane. I gave up on finding a used Stanley No. 4 plane and bought a new one. It arrived this after noon. Started to flatten the sole using 320 grit sandpaper (the ad said it was machined flat). Didn’t take out my sharpie marks. Tried 220 grit sandpaper, still didn’t take out the marks. One of my recent purchases was a 10×4 220/325 grit diamond plate. The plane fit nicely on the plate and within 45 minutes, it was flat. I think I ground a slight curve into the blade. With no central vision, I can’t always tell. Worked over the frog and reassembled the plane. It works like a jewel. Without Paul’s videos on reconditioning a plane and the ones on sharpening, I wouldn’t have attempted this task. Back to the diamond plates, I have 2 2-sided plates, the one mentionde above and a9x3 600/1200 grit plate. Along with a strop, they have made short work of conditioning a new set of chisels.

    My thanks again to Paul for all he is teaching us.

  5. FYI for those looking for a spokeshave. Paul gave an encouraging report about the Draper spokeshave, but be aware it was the 13780 not the 38156 Amazon(USA) is now selling. I inquired at Draper and was told the 13780 was discontinued and replaced by the 38156, which is not the same manufacturer as the 13780. Is the quality the same? Maybe Paul can shed some light on that.

    1. Wish I had seen your comment “be aware it was the 13780 not the 38156 ” before I bought the spokeshave. From my experience of buying a 38156, I would not recommend them.
      On the plus side the Blade is nice and thick. Now for the negatives….
      The mouth was very wide and uneven. The front edge being visibly wavey.
      The cap (clamping the blade in position was convex. Meaning it only contact ed the blade at two small points.
      Finally the slots in the blade are in comparison to the adjuster huge. The result is you have to rotate the adjuster about three turns before it contacts the blade when backing off
      I have now filed the mouth straight and am flattening off the face of the cap, it’s taken me the best part of an hour and a half, then I just need to hone the blade (it’s very coarsely ground!). I wish I had just spent the extra money on something decent!

  6. Mr. Sellers,

    May i suggesy another “poor man’s” video on either a combination gauge or mortise gauge?

    It was one of the first tools i built, not really understanding the precision required of a build, but fully desiring the funtionality and precision offered by such a tool. Thankfully, the build wasn’t difficult, wasn’t expensive (the cost of a couple pieces of scrap lumber, two pins from 18 gauge brads, two threaded inserts and two brass thumbscrews – one to lock down the mortise width and one to lock down the distance to the mortise… less than $10 US). I now have a deeper understanding of the precision required during measuring and cutting… It was a mini class in and of itself.

    And it’s highly accurate. I use it daily – both as a marking gauge and as a mortise gauge. I do wish i had known or thought about a pin recess, however. I now have to go back and enhance my mortise gauge.

    Thank you for fhe daily journal postings – its always great to read the thoughts and glean the wisdom from you and your experiences

  7. Paul, because you see yourself as a lucky man, you truly have become one; however, we who benefit from your generous sharing of skills who should consider ourselves among the luckiest!

    Thank you for the information about gauges and for explaining their use and pointing out that design and build often require reaching past the ‘old saw’ dicta that have arisen about mortises and tenons.

    As ever, best regards from central Texas where your absence leaves a deep void.

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