How to use a marking gauge?

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Forum topic by MrRon posted 10-06-2018 02:11 PM 1432 views 0 times favorited 27 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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5913 posts in 4015 days

10-06-2018 02:11 PM

Can you educate me on how to use a marking gauge correctly There are MK’s with a nail like pin for scribing and one that has an exacto type blade. The problem I have is; when scribing with the grain, the scriber tends to follow the grain giving me a less than straight scribe. The same with cross grain; the scriber doesn’t want to scribe a clean line, but skips . I have to go over the scribe over and over to get a clean scribed line. Is there something I don’t know about marking gauges? I see marking gauges in Rockler for $60. Mine is a Stanley, I’ve had for around 40 years. Is it time for me to upgrade to a more expensive gauge or is it my technique that is my problem?

27 replies so far

View bondogaposis's profile


5787 posts in 3123 days

#1 posted 10-06-2018 02:42 PM

It could be your technique or maybe the way your gauge is set up or both. I have a lot of marking gauges and my favorite, the one I always use, is the Lee Valley wheel gauge, I find it much easier to use that the others I have. The key to using any marking gauge is to hold the fence tight to the edge of the board as you move it along.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5289 posts in 4732 days

#2 posted 10-06-2018 02:43 PM

If yours is a pin type marker, I’ll chime in.
I have mine filed to a knife edge, and keep it sharp.
I have seen where others will remove the standard pin, redrill to allow the pin to lean at a trailing angle, and file the pin/sharpen.

-- [email protected]

View lumbering_on's profile


578 posts in 1261 days

#3 posted 10-06-2018 02:57 PM

Going with the grain is a real pain, but I’m a bit surprised with the cross grain as that is usually not too bad. The pin does have a tendency to ‘jump’ on the cross grain, but I find that if I angle the pin the line is usually solid enough that it doesn’t cause any issues. However, the blade shouldn’t have any issues with a marking cross grains as it should be able to cut the grain easily. I just use a cheap utility knife for the cross grain as I find it is easy to line up against a straight edge. I do, however, repeat the mark two or three times as I use a light pass at first to make sure the fibers are all scored, and then I take another one or two passes to ensure the line is deep and prominent enough to see.

Now going with the grain is an issue and the only thing I’ve found that works is a wheel gauge. Again, I use a light pass to get the cut going, then use one or two more to complete it. You have to make sure that the edge guide is always tight against the edge as the wheel will always want to follow the grain, and this will make a wavy line if you aren’t holding properly.

Needless to say I only use these methods when I need precision, such as a dovetail or M&T. Otherwise, I skip the drama and use a pencil.

View Rich's profile


5609 posts in 1361 days

#4 posted 10-06-2018 04:20 PM

I like wheel gauges. I have the JessEm 08801 Wood Sabre. I did a review of it here. There are less expensive ones from Lee Valley and Woodcraft.

I find the wheel gives the smoothest line with no chatter going cross grain. Also they are ground with a single bevel such that the outer edge of the mark is vertical and the inner is angled. That gives you a much cleaner edge. I’ve had no issues at all with it following the grain, even in the hardest of woods.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

View MrRon's profile


5913 posts in 4015 days

#5 posted 10-06-2018 07:07 PM

Thanks! I have the pin type that I have sharpened to a sharp bevel. I pretty much have done what you all have said. Maybe I’ll have to get the wheel type and improve my technique. I probably can modify my Stanley to add a wheel. Thanks again.

View JAAune's profile


1880 posts in 3088 days

#6 posted 10-06-2018 07:44 PM

The sharpened pin should work if you put the bevel on the proper side. The flat side of the blade should be facing away from the gauge fence. The bevel is facing the fence. This pulls the fence tighter to the wood as it cuts. Multiple, light passes is always a good idea even with a wheel gauge.

-- See my work at and

View sepeck's profile


440 posts in 2912 days

#7 posted 10-06-2018 11:09 PM

I found these two articles for you. (My guess is you have already done your own searching but here you go anyway).
They helped me a while ago. Start light weight, repeat as needed applying more pressure.

-- -Steven Peck,

View MrRon's profile


5913 posts in 4015 days

#8 posted 10-07-2018 03:43 PM

I found these two articles for you. (My guess is you have already done your own searching but here you go anyway).
They helped me a while ago. Start light weight, repeat as needed applying more pressure.

- sepeck

Thanks for the videos. The marking gauge shown in the 2nd video is the same one I have; just a plain, no frills gauge. My problem is; although I sharpened the pin to a bevel, I put a bevel on both sides instead of just the inboard side. Definitely my technique is at fault; learned something new and useful today, Thanks all.

View Mr_Pink's profile


193 posts in 1143 days

#9 posted 10-07-2018 06:48 PM

I addition to starting light, one tip I’ve found very helpful is to start with the side of the beam resting on the wood. Then rotate the pin down to the wood.

View Phil32's profile


1067 posts in 675 days

#10 posted 10-07-2018 07:08 PM

Consider also the variation of the wood you are marking. Woods with hard growth rings separated by softer layers will be more difficult in cross-grain marking. Woods with hard, wavy rings will be tough to keep straight on marks with the grain.

-- Phil Allin - There are mountain climbers and people who talk about climbing mountains. The climbers have "selfies" at the summit!

View LittleShaver's profile


672 posts in 1391 days

#11 posted 10-08-2018 01:51 PM

I always make a very light first pass with the blade or pin dragging at the lowest angle possible. Then increase the pressure a little for each successive pass until I get the line I want.

Like everything done by hand, it takes a little patients and practice.

-- Sawdust Maker

View MrRon's profile


5913 posts in 4015 days

#12 posted 10-08-2018 03:22 PM

What a great forum. You can’t learn things like this from books or even in a shop class.

View SMP's profile


2106 posts in 677 days

#13 posted 10-08-2018 03:45 PM

I had the same struggles with a vintage wood and brass type. While learning to handcut dovetails they turned out so bad that I did some research and ended up buying this here:
I did what someone suggested and ran the flat side over my stone, and it works amazingly well now. Actually so well that due to the problems with my old gauge I ended up overcompensating with this one at first and my first dovetail box with this had razor lines I couldn’t get out. Good luck!

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

6948 posts in 3966 days

#14 posted 10-08-2018 04:09 PM

Here’s a little trick I do before_ using my marking gauge….Sand the parts lightly to “knock down” the grain just a tad…..You don’t need much sanding…..maybe with 320 grit, and a ROS, or even a finishing sander….The marker should not drag as much once you sand it a smidgen…..!! Just my $.02…...!

-- " There's a better way.....find it"...... Thomas Edison.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


16696 posts in 3390 days

#15 posted 10-08-2018 04:19 PM

I’ve not had the patience for pin markers either, it’s wheel gauges for me. And yes, solid grip and light initial pass(es) when going with the grain, or you’re asking for trouble. Marking stuff that’s had at least an initial smoothing (plane or gasp sandpaper) is also a solid tip.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

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