Simple marking/cutting gauge with replaceable blades

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Project by wch posted 05-17-2010 08:57 AM 10318 views 16 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’ve seen a lot of homemade tools here that are beautiful and display a very high level of craftsmanship. I’m just starting out and trying to build up a set of decent tools, so the things I’ve been creating tend to be easy to make, effective, and cheap. I figure that there are other beginning woodworkers who are interested in tools like these, so hopefully this will help out.

This marking gauge is made from some scraps of red oak and about $1.50 worth of hardware, and it’s not too difficult to construct. All you really need to make it are a saw, a drill, and a chisel, although having a decent hand plane and shooting board is very helpful for squaring up and shaving down some of the wood. It uses common, 9mm snap-off blades for utility knives. You could probably get a lifetime supply for $5. If you wanted, you could use a nice laminated Japanese marking gauge blade, a pin, or a pencil lead, although you might have to shape the clamp a little bit to hold those things securely.

The design is somewhat inspired by Japanese marking gauges. They generally are made of oak and are pretty simple; they don’t have fancy features like brass wear plates. This one is set up to be pulled in the right hand, or pushed in the left, although changing it to work the other way is just a matter of flipping the beam around. The side of the fence that’s in the direction of motion is longer than the other side, because that’s the side that gets pushed harder against the workpiece to keep it square. I didn’t bother to shape this one, but I think that Japanese and Western marking gauges tend to have curved tops.

Probably the most challenging part is to drill a straight hole for the locking screw. I happen to have a drill press so this was easy for me. The second most challenging part is to cut out the rectangular holes for the beam and the square nut. For both of these, I drilled out most of the waste and chopped out the rest with a chisel. I learned that my nicely honed Irwin/Marples chisels would have visible nicks and indentations after just four mallet strikes going into red oak! I’ve heard that these newer China-made chisels aren’t as good as the older ones made in England. I’m not that experienced with chisels, but this seems surprisingly bad to me.

It’s important to make sure that the side of the hole that’s opposite the clamping block is flat, or undercut. If there are any bumps that stick up, that could allow the beam to rock back and forth. The beam should fit in the hole pretty snugly in the vertical direction as well.

If I were to make another one, I would probably make a few changes. I’d use a thicker piece of stock for the fence, because the 3/4” oak can easily split when you put in the 3/8”-diameter insert nut. That happened for me on a test piece, so I was very careful when I put this one in. I’d also extend the fence a little on the trailing side—I’ve found that with this design, I sometimes veer off a little bit at the end of a board because there’s less area of the gauge that’s registering on the workpiece.

I’ve heard that some people keep a lot of marking gauges around to hold different measurements. You could make a whole pile of these for the price of just one store-bought marking gauge. And if you ever need a big panel gauge, you could save yourself $70 by making it in your shop.

Here are the parts I used:
- 2 1/2×3 1/2×3/4” red oak (fence)
- 1/2×3/4×8” red oak (beam)
- a couple small pieces of wood for the clamping blocks
- 1” x 10-32 screw + washer + square nut
- 9mm snap-off blade
- 1 1/2” x 1/4-20 thumbscrew
- 1/4-20 insert nut
- a very small washer for the thumbscrew to push against so that it doesn’t dent the clamping block.

I hope this is useful for other woodworkers out there!

14 comments so far

View PCM's profile


135 posts in 4536 days

#1 posted 05-17-2010 01:50 PM

Nice work.

View mafe's profile


13872 posts in 4581 days

#2 posted 05-17-2010 02:06 PM

That’s simple, and all it takes.
Less is more!

-- MAD F, the fanatical rhykenologist and vintage architect.

View Woodwrecker's profile


4240 posts in 5067 days

#3 posted 05-17-2010 03:41 PM

Good job.
Beautiful is nice, but effective is better.

View Broglea's profile


695 posts in 4582 days

#4 posted 05-17-2010 04:52 PM

I vote for effectiveness over beauty. Thanks for share all the details.

View jm82435's profile


1286 posts in 5234 days

#5 posted 05-17-2010 06:55 PM

Great design.Thanks.

-- A thing of beauty is a joy forever...

View ajsons's profile


16 posts in 4463 days

#6 posted 05-18-2010 05:02 AM

Simple, but great!!

The dimensions are hard to read. Can you post a better picture.?
Or can I get a good copy via email?

-- Armando Senson, Virginia Beach, VA

View a1Jim's profile


118333 posts in 5069 days

#7 posted 05-18-2010 05:05 AM

Well done and useful for years to come


View wch's profile


45 posts in 4450 days

#8 posted 05-18-2010 09:04 AM

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

@ajsons, you should be able to see larger pictures if you click on the “zoom pictures” button. If it still isn’t readable for you, I can send you the pictures – send me a PM if you need them.

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 4432 days

#9 posted 05-18-2010 09:42 PM

I just love any tool that is selfmade. This one will be with you for a long time and it is the only one like that in the world! Form follows function, I think it is great. Keep it up, there are so many tools we can make ourselves.

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View pinkfish's profile


173 posts in 5163 days

#10 posted 05-19-2010 07:17 AM

Very nice!

View ajsons's profile


16 posts in 4463 days

#11 posted 05-19-2010 01:21 PM

got it, thanks.

-- Armando Senson, Virginia Beach, VA

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 4607 days

#12 posted 05-29-2010 04:56 AM

thankĀ“s for sharing
it will serve you well


View steiner's profile


284 posts in 4842 days

#13 posted 05-31-2010 12:58 AM

Great project. I’m going to make one. Thanks for giving all the dimensions.

-- Scott

View wch's profile


45 posts in 4450 days

#14 posted 06-03-2010 10:56 PM

Great – glad it can be of use to other woodworkers out there!

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