Buying Marking Gauges & Mortise Gauges
Marking gauges are tools that are used to scribe accurate reference lines when laying out your furniture joints. And these are tools that you definitely want to get right, since they’re so important in helping your joints fit together. There are just so many bad marking gauges on the market. So I’d like to help you understand which marking gauges are the best value.
Marking gauges come in a few different styles. Some, like this one have single, nail-like pins. This type of marking guage does have it’s uses in certain situations, like when you have strong grain, and it’s usually the cheapest to buy and easiest to make. But on most joint layouts, it doesn’t give a very crisp knife line. You want a knife line when you’ll be using a chisel to cut along the line. A pin will give a fuzzy v-shaped line, especially when cutting across the grain.
That’s where cutting gauges come in. They’re also called slicing gauges.
Traditional wooden cutting gauges (like the one shown below) have a cutter that actually slices a crisp and accurate line, especially across the grain.
But if you’ve already got a wooden pin-marking gauge, don’t fret! There’s a method for using a file to modify the pin into a slicing cutter, which I showed in my video on rehabbing marking and mortising gauges. I’ll share a link to that video in the notes below.
Antique marking gauges, like this one (shown below), with a brass fence and exotic wood can work amazingly, and are lovely. But they can also be quite collectible, which takes them out of a lot of people’s price range.
Which Marking Gauge is the Best?
My personal preference for marking gauges is a wheel-style cutting gauge. The cutter is a round, disc shaped blade that gives a very nice, crisp line.
These were made as far back as the 1800’s, but there are a lot of new wheel cutting gauges on the market. But I need to warn you that I have tried some of the really inexpensive wheel cutting gauges, and many of them are poorly made. And on the higher end, wheel cutting gauges, like this Tite-Mark wheel cutting gauge, can get up around $90 to $100. And that’s before you buy add-ons. They can jump up around $250. I have used the Tite-Mark wheel cutting gauge, and it really is nice. But another manufacture has made a very similar wheel cutting gauge, and it sells for around $30 or $35 (find it here).
I bought one of them, and loved it so much that I bought a couple more for my school. Now I have these gauges for all of my students. I really prefer this style of wheel cutting gauge because it has an adjustable barrel that moves the cutter up and down, but more importantly because it uses two thumb screws to keep the bar from moving.