Marking Gauges

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Blog entry by thewoodwhisperer posted 01-08-2012 08:44 PM 10435 reads 2 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

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If you’re not using marking gauges or some sort of blade to lay out your joinery, you are really missing out! I remember a conversation I had with William Ng at the William Ng School when he told me, “If you want to make good joinery, use a pencil. But if you want to make great joinery, using a knife!”

Marking gauges come in several forms but they are all fundamentally similar. They consist of a post, a moveable fence, and a blade or scratch pin. My personal preference is for blades and you can see a fairly standard traditional marking gauge to the left. So why should you use one? Keep reading.

When you cut with a knife, the resulting line is maybe a couple thousandths of an inch wide. Compared to a big chunky pencil line, its much easier to know when you’re exactly where you need to be in reference to that line. Additionally, marking gauges have fences which allow us to be consistent when marking multiple sides of a single workpiece for dovetails and tenons.

No doubt you are very familiar with the concept of tearout. When you cut wood across the grain, you’ll inevitably notice small bits of wood tearing out at the end of the board where the fibers are unsupported. So if you actually cut that grain ahead of time with a blade and then cut right up to the line with your saw, you end up with a nice clean crisp shoulder with absolutely no tearout.

Tool Guides
If you use scribe lines, you’ll have a perfect place to lay the tip of your chisel or saw blade with absolute accuracy and consistency. If you try to line up the tool with a pencil line, you will almost always end up on one side of the line or the other. There’s just too much variability there. But if you have a little trough from a marking gauge or knife, you’ll have a no-brainer aid for locating the tool in the proper place.

-- For free video tutorials and other cool woodworking stuff, check out

7 comments so far

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 4088 days

#1 posted 01-08-2012 09:55 PM

great little vidio Marc :-)


View Gerry's profile


264 posts in 4213 days

#2 posted 01-08-2012 10:43 PM


Thanks for the overview, and the clarity of the tool’s use. Early in my journey into working with wood, I bought a pin based marking gauge from grizzly. ( mostly due to being cheap) I quickly learned that a pin point would tear rather than cut a line, and wander with the grain if you used it to mark a line along the grain. And you do get what you pay for. I now use a blade based marking tool.

Indeed, a blade makes a MUCH more distinct line and mark, and if the angle of the blade is oriented opposite to the fence, the gauge does, by nature, provide the most accurate guiding line.

Thanks again. BTW, Happy New Year!

-- -Gerry, Hereford, AZ ” A really good woodworker knows how the hide his / her mistakes.”

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 3627 days

#3 posted 01-08-2012 11:30 PM

I am a big fan of the wheel style gauge. The Tite-mark especially. You can do so much more than layout with it. I have used it to adjust joints and as a small router in a pinch.

Any cutting gauge works but the wheels give you so many solutions for layout that it’s hard to ignore their worth.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View PurpLev's profile


8642 posts in 4621 days

#4 posted 01-09-2012 07:40 PM

Amen for that.

Using marking gauges is the way to go (or any gauges for that matter)

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Dave's profile


11435 posts in 3813 days

#5 posted 01-10-2012 07:58 PM

Very well done Mark. Thank you for your insight.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View snowdog's profile


1167 posts in 4955 days

#6 posted 01-13-2012 06:51 PM

Just watch it. I always enjoy listing to Mark talk. I wish he included some plans to make one at home :) Time to improvise, like Machete

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

View Ken90712's profile


17919 posts in 4161 days

#7 posted 01-14-2012 03:08 PM

Nice video as always Marc, I’m a big fan of them as well.

-- Ken, "Everyday above ground is a good day!"

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