[Tool Swap] Marking Gauge

I had seen the two previous Lumberjocks tool swaps (where woodworkers create tools in their shops then do a Secret Santa type gift exchange, giving the tool they made to someone else, and receiving one from a third person in return) where guys made and sent out mallets (which really had me drooling) and marking knives.  Third swap was marking gauges.

As I had just finished making my own marking gauge a month or so earlier, I decided to give it a go and join the swap.  I’m really glad I did!  Not only did I push myself to work in areas of woodworking previously unknown, but I ended up making something that I was honestly proud of and had a little bit of a hard time putting it in the mail to be shipped across the country to a stranger!

So, I had some leftover maple and walnut from the medal chest project and decided that I liked the contrasting colors.  The design would incorporate a threaded insert and thumbscrew to lock down the arm and a laminated fence, and I would craft my own blade from a jigsaw blade.  That much I knew.  I also wanted to play with brass inlays…

The first step was getting the proportions right.  I wanted something not quite as massive as the oak gauge I made earlier.  I got the rough blocks cut out and ripped an arm out of a board of 3/4″ maple with my Japanese razor saw.  That was not easy, yet it was easier than I thought it would be—and I kept it relatively straight!  A few passes with the jack plane and I had a perfectly square arm.


Assembled, the parts looked like this:


But I wasn’t happy with that.  So I decided to try my hand at re-sawing and took a piece of 3/4″ walnut and sliced it with the Japanese saw into something about 1/4″ thick.  It wasn’t easy, but again, I found it easier than I imagined (which was near impossible!).  Here’s the final layout of the parts:


Finally satisfied with the layering, I got to work on making a little recess on the underside of the upper maple block above the arm.  I used the chisels to cut out a  little slot for a piece of L shaped brass to fit inside there.  That way, when I inserted the thumbscrew and threaded insert, the screw will press down on the brass bit, which will in turn press down on the arm and lock it in place, without the need for having a brass inlay along the length of the arm:IMG_20130603_132159_364

You can see the brass piece in it’s home in the above picture.  With that accomplished, I glued up the main body:


I wrapped the arm in a layer of wax paper and clamped everything together.  After the glue dried, I slid the arm out and removed the paper.  It left a hair’s width space for the arm to slide in and out even better than I expected.

After that it was a simple task to glue on the outer laminate layers of walnut, then use the drill press to drill a hole for the threaded insert just a little bigger smaller than it’s diameter.  After getting that installed, I tested it out and it worked perfectly!

That meant that it was time for the final shaping of the fence.  For this, I used the belt sander and just slowly ground down the sides and rounded the corners.  It took about an hour on a belt that should have been replaced a long time ago, I suspect.IMG_20130611_150457_779

For reference, the gnomon is 6″.  After the body of the fence was set, I chiseled a mortise and crafted my own wedge to hold the blade (another first for me!  The wedge you can see in the above photo and the blade is just a jigsaw blade…seen here in the first step, which was filing off the teeth and shaping the point—yet another first!).  When the blade was set shape-wise, I sharpened and honed it (Scary Sharp) and trimmed it to size with a hacksaw.

I had two things left to do: somehow make a makers mark and add a finish to enhance the look.  That’s when I screwed up.  I decided to try and carve my symbol…the little monogram of my initials (see the upper right section of this blog) SMV.  It’s what I’ve used on my artwork since, I don’t know, middle school.  Anyway, after practicing on some scrap walnut, I figured the carving chisels I have would work just fine.


As it turns out, I goofed a little and some of the lines were a little too aggressive.  Call it nerves, inexperience or just plain dumb luck, I was NOT happy with how it turned out—but…by now there wasn’t enough time to make a whole new fence and use a Sharpie.  I just had to shake my head and hope the recipient would forgive my foolish attempt to jazz up his or her gauge.  It sill works fine, it just has….character, now.IMG_20130615_070732_911

Yeah.  Anyway, here’s the final shots after I got a few coats of shellac on and sanded everything to a nice smooth finish, but hopefully not too smooth that it drops out of the user’s hands:

IMG_20130618_082525_990IMG_20130618_082617_017IMG_20130618_082728_976Despite it’s imperfect signature carving (Walnut is not easy to carve letters in…compared to basswood), I am quite proud of this little tool and happy how it turned out in general.  It works, doesn’t look that bad (if you turn the fence so you can’t see that carving…and without a flash to highlight the flaws I don’t’ think it’s all that horrible looking…the camera makes it look worse, IMHO), and it’s easy on the hands.

I was sad to see it go…I’ll have to make another some time.  It was fun!  I am especially keen to work with brass again (now that I bought the strips to use on this project, then decided not to, I’m all stocked up with the shiny bits).

If you’re curious, here is the amazing guage I received from Terry R.!  It has become my favorite hand tool now…IMG_20130621_110857_599

It’s made of bubinga and has inlaid brass all over it including these cool rosette pins:IMG_20130621_111054_471

Just stunning craftsmanship and smooth as silk.  I have a lot to learn.IMG_20130621_110927_693



About Steven M. Vaught

A native son of Delaware, now living in Illinois, Steven is a writer, family historian, amateur astronomer, sometimes-gardener, woodworker, father to three wonderful children, husband to a wonderful wife, and caretaker of one cheeky vizsla.
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One Response to [Tool Swap] Marking Gauge

  1. Big D says:

    Impressive planning and preparation AND documentation. I was always lucky just to get the projects done….lol

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