Marking Tools: Gauges

MARKING GAUGES

The beam and fence may be made of wood or metal. Wood marking gauges are more common and may or may not have brass strips inlaid to reduce wear. Some beams have scales, but these are best used only to set the fence to an approximate distance.

Basic use

To use a marking gauge, loosen the thumbscrew and slide the fence the desired distance from the pin. Tighten the thumbscrew and make a test mark; readjust as necessary. Place the fence of the gauge up against the edge of the workpiece and angle it so the pin tilts away from the direction you’ll move the square. Although most woodworkers feel they have better control pushing the gauge, there’s no reason not to pull it if this feels better to you.

Steady, even pressure

A marking gauge will accurately scribe parallel lines as long as you use steady, even pressure to hold the fence firmly against the edge of the workpiece. If you don’t, the pin can and will wander. Pressing firmly will also keep the beam parallel to the surface, which will prevent the pin from scribing at an angle.

CUTTING GAUGE

A cutting gauge is very similar to a marking gauge except that instead of using a pin to mark the work-piece, it uses a knife. The advantage to this is that the knife cleanly cuts through the wood fibers instead of tearing them, as a pin does. This makes a cutting gauge the tool of choice whenever you need to mark lines across grain.

You might then think, why not throw out my marking gauge and just use the cutting gauge? Because since the knife of a cutting gauge leaves such a thin, crisp line, it virtually disappears when you use it to scribe a line along the grain. Shop-Tip: To create a “universal” marking gauge, some woodworkers file the point of their marking gauge to a finer point. This does an adequate job of marking both with and against the grain, but is still inferior to results from the individual gauges.

Basic use

The technique for using a cutting gauge is virtually identical to that of the marking gauge, with one exception: Take care to use very light pressure. If the knife is sharp (a few licks with a diamond hone will bring it to a crisp point), it’s easy to cut deeply into the wood, leaving cross-grain scratches that can be a hassle to remove.

MORTISE GAUGES

A mortise gauge has two pins instead of one to simultaneously mark out two parallel lines. It’s designed specifically to lay out the cheeks of mortises and tenons. One of the pins is fixed, while the other is independently adjustable.

In some cases, this pin adjusts via a simple pull slide; on others there’s a thumbscrew or knurled knob mounted to the end of the beam. Many mortise gauges also feature a third pin on the beam opposite the two mortise pins. This allows the mortise gauge to also function as a marking gauge.

Setting the pins

The first step in using a mortise gauge is to set the pins. To do this, hold the mortise chisel up to the pins, adjust the traveling pin over to match the width of the chisel and lock it in place. Then slide the fence over so the pins are set the desired distance from the edge of the workpiece. Try the setup on a scrap piece first and check the layout with a rule. Readjust as necessary.

Basic use

Just as with the marking gauge or the cutting gauge, the critical thing here is to firmly press the stock up against the edge of the workpiece. All you’re looking for here is steady even pressure. Popeye-like strength will only cause problems – most commonly, excess pressure will shift the position of the traveling pin or the beam. Use a light, firm grip, and tilt the gauge away from the direction of movement.

PANEL GAUGES

A panel gauge is basically a wood marking gauge that’s designed to handle big panels. The difference is the beam is much longer (typically 15″ to 30″) than a standard gauge and the fence is much wider. In the past, panel gauges were often made of mahogany with brass wear fittings. You can also regularly find antique panel gauges on the Internet at various sites, running anywhere from $20 to $40 for a gauge in good condition.

Two hands

Using a panel gauge is definitely a two-handed operation. After you’ve loosened the thumbscrew (older versions often use a wedge to lock the beam in position) and adjusted the pin or knife the desired distance from the edge, lock the beam in place. Then press the fence firmly against the edge of the workpiece with one hand while you apply light downward pressure to the pin or knife with your other hand. Move the gauge slowly with steady even pressure.

Cutting disc

Instead of a pin or knife, the Bridge City panel gauge shown here uses a cutting disc. The disc is made of hardened steel and is beveled to help pull the fence into the work-piece as you move the gauge along the edge of the workpiece. This leaves razor-sharp lines with no tear-out, even when your cutting across the grain.

DOVETAIL GAUGES

A dovetail gauge (or dovetail marker) is a single-use tool that’s designed to lay out the pins and tails for dovetail joints. Quality dovetail gauges will offer the two most common angles for dovetails: a 1:8 slope for hardwoods and a 1:6 slope for softwoods. If you generally use these two slopes, a dovetail gauge or set of markers like those shown in the top photo will serve you well (the gold marker is for hardwoods, the dark marker for softwoods). If you prefer to set your own angles, a bevel gauge is a better choice.

Tails

To use a dovetail marker, first use a marking or cutting gauge to set the depth of the tails to match the thickness of the wood. Then carefully lay out the tail spacing. Position the dovetail marker so it aligns with one of the marks and so the slope is in the correct direction. Then use a pencil or marking knife to mark the side of the tail. Flip the marker over and mark the opposite side. Continue like this until all the tails have been marked. Depending on how you cut your dovetails (I always cut the tails first and then use them to locate the pins), you may or may not want to mark the pins at the same time you lay out the tails. Whichever method you choose, align the marker with the layout marks that you made on the end of the work-piece and mark their location with a pencil or marking knife.

BEVEL GAUGES

A bevel gauge (or sliding T-bevel) is an invaluable layout tool in the shop. You can use it to verify angles, set tools to match angles, and lay out virtually any angle. Most bevel gauges feature a metal slotted blade and a stock or body made of wood, plastic, or metal, available in a variety of sizes. The blade conveniently slips into the slot in the body for storage. The blade is locked in place by tightening a thumbscrew, wing nut, lever, or knob at the base of the stock.

Duplicating an angle

A common use of the bevel gauge is to duplicate an angle so that you can reproduce it. To do this, loosen the thumbscrew or wing nut so it’s friction-tight, and press the stock of the gauge up against the edge of the workpiece. Then angle the blade until it rests on the angled end of the workpiece. Tighten the wing nut, and then use the gauge to duplicate this angle on another workpiece.

Setting with a protractor

In many cases you’ll want to set the bevel gauge to an exact angle, or read the angle you’ve just set (such as when you’re duplicating an angle). The most accurate way to do this is to use a protractor. The critical point here is to make sure that the blade of the bevel gauge intersects the base of the protractor exactly on center. Then either adjust the blade to the desired angle, or read the angle of the blade.

The Mayan Rabbit Scribe

I first learned about the Mayan Rabbit Scribe back in 2000 when my husband and I traveled to Guatemala to explore the ruins at Tikal. I had been to several various sites in the past, including Chichen-Itza, Tulum and Coba because I’ve been fascinated with the Mayan culture ever since I was a child. Perhaps I even manifested these Mayan temple journeys as a teenager while coloring in the drawings of a Mayan-Incan-Aztec coloring book I bought at a second-hand store.

The amount of information that you can find about the Mayan culture online or in your local library is nothing compared with the facts and lore you hear from the tour guides onsite.

While visiting Tikal, I learned that the Mayans had kept journals of their history and culture, called “codices” most of which were destroyed by order of a Spanish padre, Father Diego de Landa, in a great bonfire in a central Yucatan town called Mani. The padre believed that the books were the work of the devil and were preventing the Mayans from becoming truly civilized. By his order, anyone caught with a codex was summarily tortured and or killed. Only four codices (some of them partial) have survived.

For generations, as the stelas and other stone carvings of the Mayans disintegrated, no one could understand what the carvings meant, and an entire culture was about to be submerged by the tides of history until a few archaeologists figured out the mysteries of the glyphs.

I met a couple of archaeologists who had come to Tikal to photograph artifacts and carvings. They had dedicated their lives to understanding the Mayan way of life. One, by the name of Eleanor “Bunny” Coates, had been coming to Mayan sites for many years. She told me about the Rabbit Scribe.

I glommed right onto that entity, as I’m a writer myself, and I know what it is like to be the family documentarian. I know how important the writer is – although unsung – in any movie or video production you will ever happen to see. Without the writer, nothing gets written down! Without the writer, the memory of an event or series of events loses detail and soon fades into obscurity

The rabbit scribe first appears as part of a scene on a painted Classic Maya vase (circa 300 to 900 AD), that may have been used to serve a chocolate beverage. Scribes conducted the important business of recording important events for royalty using a phonetically-based hieroglyphic script. These rabbit scribes appeared on murals and vases usually writing on a fan-folding book, or “codex,” that was covered with jaguar-skin. Writing was very important to the Maya and they recorded important events on everything – walls, stairs, sculptures, ceramics, plates and stone.

Fortunately, the plan of Padre Diego de Landa to completely destroy the written history of the Classic Mayan culture, has been foiled by diligent archaeologists who have, over last several decades, been able to decipher many of the Mayan glyphs. Dr. David Stuart of the University of Texas at Austin has been a prominent force in shining a light on the meaning and impact of Mayan culture, and continues to make inroads with his fascinating work.

A Fragile Gift

Your eyelids were laden with surprises as you stepped on his fluffy carpet. Various spectacular objects poised gracefully at edifying positions within his room. Your eyes wandered from one to another, until it fell on the spectacles. There it was: couching like a lovely cat at the edge of his table. That was the reason why you came. You giggled.

That was how you giggled when he first appeared in your village. He was heavily dressed in a khaki uniform that had the color of water-melon. Everything about him was big: big stature, big belt, big boots, and a big traveling bag. Except for a small transparent object, that leaned beautifully on his nose.

Mothers and children gazed at him with excitement. They called him a soldier. You also wanted to, but the crystal-clear lens that floated above his eyes made you doubt. Moreover, his look was harmless and friendly.

Your guess became true when the village scribe introduced him as a National Youth Corps member. People said he was full of wisdom, because he had come from the city, and had spent many years in the citadel of knowledge; acquiring the white-man’s knowledge. ‘He is a civilized man,’ your heart gave a leap that afternoon when the scribe made that remark.

He made your heart leap every time you met him by the village river. He had become your dear friend. He told you about big people, big places, and big events. He even spoke big vocabularies; enough to confound your thirteen-year-old primitive mind. Remember when he bantered with you, and you both laughed noisily, he sometimes nudged you below your armpit, or caressed your thighs. Your peers were jealous. They wondered what could have ignited friendship between a civilized adult and a village teenager. They did not know you were enthralled by the precious lens with a sparkling silver frame.

And when you asked him what it was, on another usual evening by the river, he removed it and said, ‘you mean my spectacles?’ The name made you chuckle. And you almost twisted your tongue while trying to pronounce it. You were extremely delighted when he placed it on your face tenderly. You shuddered with excitement, as the dusty village was molded inside a spherical glass.

But you were unaware of his queer look, when he inquired if you wanted the spectacles. You had affirmed, thoughtlessly. It was all you had ever wanted. Your mind wandered through a vista of unimaginable experiences that awaited you, when he told you to collect the rare spectacles at his home, the following evening. That night, you hardly slept.

You were still giggling when his door clank shut. He stood sentinel against the door, grinning mischievously. Confused: A sordid miasma enveloped your thoughts. You were still staring at him blankly, when he pulled you into a rough embrace. You wriggled free, but he gave you a shove and you staggered backwards, falling on his mattress. Swiftly, he came over you and gagged your mouth. You could remember he lost a little control when you wrestled and kicked him back. His arm had flailed backwards, and hit your precious spectacles. Your eyes widened as your gem toppled over his table, and broke!

You never knew the precious spectacles could be so fragile.

It was the same with you.