I just started practicing hand cut dovetails and have been using a
square to mark the baseline. I would like to make a simple marking
gauge, but I think I may be missing something. They seem very simple to
make, but when I search online I'm finding some fairly expensive prices
for such a simple tool. It seems to me that if the pin or blade is
secure and can keep a consistant distance from the base, it would work
fine. For example, a dowel with a blade attached to one end and some
sort of sliding block (something like the collar used to hold weights
on a weightlifter's bar) would work just as well as anything else.
Is there anything about marking gauges I am missing?
Frankly, I've found a marking gauge pretty clumsy to use and its pin
cuts a ragged line. I like to butt the pieces together at an upright
right angle on a bench and take a sharp knife (like an exacto hobby
knife) to scribe the line using the horizontal piece as a guide.
"Marking" gauges traditionally use pins. The ones with knife blades are
called "cutting" gauges. For marking out dovetails they do indeed cut
a better line. However they're not recommended for marking mortices, as
they tend to self-steer when following along the grain.
A good compromise is a gauge with a pin, but to sharpen it on two sides
as a narrow knife blade.
...for what it's worth for the "thrifty"...drill a small hole (enough for a
sharp pencil point) in the groove at the 6" point in the your standard
tri-square which you probably already have anyway...not so sure it works for
your purpose but it works great for marking boards for re-sawing on the
band-saw. Adjustable and ruler is "built-in".
Like many "simple" tools, there's more than meets the eye.
1. you need a "fence" to register on the edge of the stock
- be flat/straightt and square to the "arm" with the line
cutter/ scratcher/ scriber
- be precisely moveable
- lock in place without going out of square or moving
from where you started to lock it.
2. you need an "arm" to hold the cutter/ scratcher/ scriber
- stay square to the fence face
- hold the cutter/ scratcher/ scriber parallel to the
- hold the cutter/ scratcher/ scriber square to the
3. you need a cutter/ scratcher/ scriber which should
- sever grain rather than scratch/scrape it
a simple pin scratches and can follow the grain,
wandering off line if you file a flat bevel on a pin,
parallel to the fence to create a cutting edge rather
than a point AND round the "point" to create a curved
cutting edge. it will severe not scratch and is less apt
to follow the grain
Better yet, use a small triangular knife ala the
japanese marking gauges
Best of all, a single bevel cutting wheel - as on the
Tite-Mark and the LV/Veritas marking gauge
Things get a lot trickier if you want to make a mortise
and tenon marking gauge. THAT'S where the Tite-Mark
with the optional dual single bevel wheels really shines.
Set them on the shaft to the desired width, lock them down
then set the fence to position the mortise relative to your
More stuff to think about - sorry.
You're right, and it's not hard to make one. I made one somewhat
similar to Jeff's using an old ground-down jigsaw blade instead of a
pin - see details below. The brass LV one mentioned above looks nice,
though - I might have gotten that one if I'd seen it before making
I made my own marking (cutting?) gauge from a piece of 3/4" baltic ply
cut into a nice comfortably curved shape, with a hole in the middle
like a donut. I countersunk a square nut inside the hole so I could
put a thumbscrew through the outside into the hole. Then took an oak
dowel, flattened along its entire length, and put it through the hole,
with the flat side facing the thumbscrew. Took an old jigsaw blade
(any piece of good steel would work), ground off the teeth, and
sharpened an angled bevel on one end. Drilled a series of very small
holes in the dowel, parallel to the birch ply, and going through the
flattened edge, to accept the blade, and pushed the blade through, with
the bevel facing the ply piece. The thumbscrew holds the dowel in
place, and the ply keeps the thing parallel to an edge. If the bevel
on the blade faces the ply piece, and if the blade is mounted at a
slight angle, it will pull the ply piece towards your workpiece, so it
doesn't wander. I'm sorry this description isn't clearer - let me know
if you want me to try to re-explain it. At one point I found some
illustrated plans for making your own marking gauge online, but I can't
find them now.
You don't intend to mark the entire distance of the depth of the tails do you?
You'd be stuck with cut-in lines between the tails, use a pencil for that line.
But I think it would be better to use the kind of gauge that uses a wheel cutter
instead of a pin, which would do some shredding of the wood. My suggestion
is buy this one:
or their 3-in-1, don't make one.
Alex - "newbie_neander" woodworker
Many makers cut that line in deliberately, even for routed dovetails.
Sme years ago one of those strange orange-skinned TV antiques chappies
said that "good dovetails were marked out with a knife" and so ever
since then this has been seen as a sign of "genuine" work.
I admit I leave the lines in place on drawer sides, but not on the
outside of a carcase.
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