Marking tools are rarely given all that much attention, and they’re clearly not as exciting as the tools that get to see all of the action. But they are vital to our work and being able to use them quickly and accurately still requires good technique.
When it comes to marking gauges the traditional English pattern is my firm favourite but it’s a neglected design because it’s considered to be a faff by so many. The head in this style of gauge is held firmly in place by a wedge rather than a screw pin, and instead of sitting across the shaft (which is probably the obvious way to go), the wedge in this design runs along its length.
Like many of the English pattern tools, there’s a knack to setting them up, but once you crack it you start to realise that the benefit it gives outweighs any of the fooling around.
For me the English gauge allows the best, most accurate fine adjustment possible, and fine adjustments are of course essential to our work, when matching one component to another etc.
Most of the metal gauges appeal to the modern woodworker for there engineering-like ability to dial in micro adjustments with the turn of a wheel, but as a hand tool man I like to hit things to make my adjustments, and the marking gauge is no different. The setting up of the English pattern gauge is the part which turns most people off – you get it just in the right spot and delicately balanced, then shove the wedge home and the whole bloody thing moves. But it’s this gauge’s ability to micro adjust that I love the most, it allows you to set it up in the most accurate way with the tiniest of adjustments. You just need to know how to go about it.
Setting The Gauge-
Set the gauge so that it’s well under the measurement you’re after – an 1/8″ or so if you’re beginning, with experience you’ll get closer and closer to your mark off the get go.
Firm the wedge in, you don’t need to worry if the head moves a little.
Tap the wedge on the corner of the bench to lock it.
Now micro- adjust; tap the bottom of the gauge on your bench top and check how much it has moved. The vibration will send it heading in the right direction and you can will soon gain a feel for how hard to tap – incredibly fine and controlled adjustments can be made this way. Repeat until you have the exact setting needed and you’re ready to mark – the wedge will be set tightly. If you over shoot, start again, since hitting the top of the gauge on the bench will release the head.
Tap adjustments allow accuracy, and this design of wedge responds to them best.
Set with one hand – always a benefit when working. Gauges that hold tight with a wedge can be set up with only one hand, leaving the other free to stir your tea.
Wear resistant – the gauge I have was my grandfathers and I still use it daily. The design of the wedge going down the length of the shaft rather than across it means that it doesn’t wear and will last generations. With the cross wedge variants and the nature of our work, where often we’re gauging the same thickness time and time again, you end up wearing the shaft across that point which makes it difficult to set accurately at any increments around it. Any gauge that sets with a screw pin will have a similar problem and will require wear strips.
Glides along – I much prefer the lubricated feel of a waxed wooden gauge across my work, rather than the frictiony feel of metal.
Easy to make – this design is one of the easiest to make and on top of that the lack of wear means it’s practical to build in a softer timber such as cherry, which makes it even easier to cut everything out.
This style of gauge is certainly underrated and because of that you’ll likely find that used ones are available ten a penny or possibly a song. If you happen to know of anyone still making them then please give a mention in the comments below.