Shipyard Memories #24: Some Old Tools of the Trade - Bevels

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Blog entry by shipwright posted 06-09-2013 10:45 PM 5072 reads 0 times favorited 20 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 23: Finishing The Build Part 24 of Shipyard Memories series Part 25: Harbour Ferries .... 25 Year Anniversary »

I was doing a shop cleanup today and ran into some old friends that I thought some of you might like to meet. These are shop made tools that I used when I was building wooden boats and date back to the early seventies when I was working at North Arm Boat Works and Sather Boat Works, both on the North arm of the Fraser river in New Westminster, B.C.

First a nod to the man who started me off on my life as a shipwright and introduced me to these tools. His name was Frank Honour and he owned North Arm Boat Works. Although he never finished high school he was one of the most intelligent men I have ever met or will ever meet. I wanted to learn and he needed help. The combination put me into an intensive training that the apprenticeship program could not touch. He taught me as much as I could learn as fast as I could learn it. Frank died many years ago but I will never forget him and will always give him most of the credit for my woodworking abilities, such as they are.

Now for the bevels. I know that most people would call them bevel gauges but around the yards where I started out they were simply “bevels” so that’s what I’ll be calling them. I have one of the commercially available sliding models with the wing nut but I’ve never been able to find a use for it that one of these didn’t do better, hence it has seen little use and certainly doesn’t have the patina that these do. “Patina” here means a combination of linseed oil, cuprinol, sweat, oxidation and years.

The first two are what were known as the big bevel and the little bevel. Everyone had their own and you never used anyone else’s hand tools. These were accurate but quickly made and plain to a fault. I guess I’d describe them as “friction bevels” because they were made to flip open with a rap on a solid surface but were stiff enough to stay where they were set long enough to transfer the bevel to a timber, board, pattern or saw setup. They could be used with one hand while the other one was occupied. The big one would be used, for example, for measuring and marking the compound angle to be cut on the end of a deck beam. or other large-ish timber.

The small one, along with the last one in this blog lived in my pockets every day. The only other things that I always had on me were my tape measure on my belt, a pencil behind my ear, and a bunch of 1 1/2” nails in my back pocket. This little guy would be in my shirt pocket and the other one in my other (left) back pocket. It was used in much the same way as the big one but was used far more often because it was always right there and it was so versatile. I can’t begin to list the places where this little tool was used and in most of them nothing else would work as well if at all. A fine old friend indeed. It’s made with a hacksaw blade and a piece of scrap bending oak.

While I’ve seen lots of bevels like those above in other yards and in others’ hands, Frank is the only one that I ever saw with one of these. It’s a special purpose planking bevel and he had me make mine soon after he started to teach me to plank. Again it can be used one handed and it is made to be used left handed because of its specific and only job. When a plank is being made for a carvel style hull, the angle between the edge of the adjacent, already fastened plank and the ribs to which it will be fastened must be measured every foot or so as it is a changing bevel and must be reproduced on the new plank in order to fit properly.

This little bevel is marked off in degrees (0 to 15) both “under” and “standing” so that when it is set on the edge of the fastened plank and rotated with the fingers against the rib it reads off the number of degrees above or below 90 and that number can be written on the pattern or spiling stick or whatever you are marking on with the other hand. That’s why it reads properly only when used with the left hand.

Roman numerals are easier to etch into copper with an awl than our usual numbers. (Arabic?) It is fastened at the pivot point by a copper nail and a rove, riveted over. If it gets too loose a couple of light taps with a ball peen hammer will tighten it right back up.

Looks like my table saw fence is pretty square.

That’s it, just a little nostalgia for me and perhaps a look into something different for you.
This was fun, maybe I’ll post a few more when they turn up.

Thanks for looking in.


-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

20 comments so far

View peteg's profile


4299 posts in 2851 days

#1 posted 06-09-2013 11:03 PM

Your posts are always of great interest to us all Paul, These are obviously treasured pieces & bring back great memories of the happy years spent learning & applying your trade skills.
Like you I still have some of my first tools form serving my apprentership as an Electrician whick I started in 1959, back then we got a tool allowance which had to be spent on tools.
Great days,
Thanks for the great memories ::)))

-- Pete G: If you always do what you always did you'll always get what you always got

View poopiekat's profile


4356 posts in 3762 days

#2 posted 06-09-2013 11:03 PM

I wish I had developed the proper discipline that you have, my apprenticeship mostly revolved around doing the work that the elite crewmembers would not stoop to doing themselves. I’ve had to build my own collection of heritage tools, but they first graced somebody else’s toolbelt or apron pocket. The well-worn patina on my old tools was put there by the hands of earlier craftsmen, I have no direct bloodline to woodworkers of an earlier age. You are truly blessed, sir!

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View Boatman53's profile


1056 posts in 2224 days

#3 posted 06-09-2013 11:26 PM

Very nice Paul, thanks for taking the time to post this. I like the fan shaped one with the degrees on it. I’m going to make one of those very soon.
I have a little one that I made for planking, the blade is tapered to first pick up the bevel then automatically give the relief angle for the caulking. I learned about that one about thirty years ago out in your neck of the woods.

-- Jim, Long Island, NY home of the chain leg vise

View kiefer's profile


5619 posts in 2695 days

#4 posted 06-09-2013 11:36 PM

Love the look of these old tools .
Nothing fancy but to be used every day and will do the job without being worried about getting scratched .
Real tools not once that live on a shelf only to be admired .
I have nothing like that but still yearn for all the moulding planes and wooden tools and benches etc. my uncle had in his shop but at the time I didn’t care to own some ( too young I guess ) .
Thanks for this Paul .

-- Kiefer

View Buckethead's profile


3194 posts in 1896 days

#5 posted 06-09-2013 11:39 PM

I bought a few measuring devices today at my local woodworking store. They are beautiful, and more costly than I imagined, but they pale in comparison to yours in both beauty and value. These are priceless.

-- Support woodworking hand models. Buy me a sawstop.

View NormG's profile


6141 posts in 3031 days

#6 posted 06-09-2013 11:42 PM

Thanks for taking the time to share these tols

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View patron's profile


13609 posts in 3369 days

#7 posted 06-09-2013 11:44 PM

that ‘planking bevel’ is a new one for me too
what a great idea

i’ve made some quick bevels over the years too
but the one i use most now
has one leg about 48” long
and the other about 28”
just 1/8” masonite with some stick on sandpaper in between
and a bolt and wing nut
i use it to trim new doors to old settled jambs
both top and bottom
works much better than guessing
or trial and error

thanks for the post

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3336 days

#8 posted 06-10-2013 01:11 AM

Those are tools that have such a good history and memories to go with them. Can’t put a price on them. Very nice…!

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

20600 posts in 3133 days

#9 posted 06-10-2013 01:25 AM

Neat old tools and they will still work today!

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10123 posts in 4080 days

#10 posted 06-10-2013 01:28 AM

Thank you for introducing us to some of your old friends and their stories… Very nice!


Thank you.

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:"

View Vintagetoni's profile


58 posts in 2721 days

#11 posted 06-10-2013 03:24 AM

Most of my woodworking shop is made up of tools I have found used & learned about in the process of moving, cleaning them up, adjusting, etc. This process taught me more than i would have learned buying new tools. It occurred to me early during this process that I could feel a difference in the tools themselves & the way they performed if the prior owner loved using them, cared for them & used them productively building useful & beautiful things. Call me crazy, but they seemed like ‘happy’ tools. These tools seemed to embody the attitude of their prior owner in a way that never seemed possible for inanimate objects. I became even more selective picking tools with this realization! Your love for your tools & their processes shines brightly in your writings & it is clear you touch hearts here in addition to sharing your substantial skills clearly & concisely. Thank you for your mentorship to many….& I am certain your tools possess that certain extra quality from years of creative use!

-- toni --- SW WI...working on shop setup....wish I could say diligently. "Time is a healer, a friend & a maker of dreams."

View rance's profile


4258 posts in 3188 days

#12 posted 06-10-2013 04:51 AM

Thanks for sharing Paul. It is always good to look back.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View apprentice's profile


218 posts in 2187 days

#13 posted 06-10-2013 07:23 AM

You are a creator of order, of beautiful shapes and systems, an organizer of chaos. The old values and tools are worth their weight in gold, sometimes worth a lot more, which we might need again one day.


View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3362 days

#14 posted 06-10-2013 09:16 AM

It’s strange how inanimate objects can carry so many fond memories Paul. You were very fortunate to have had such a remarkable mentor, although I think he was probably just as fortunate to have such a remarkable apprentice. I like those simple, but effective bevels. it’s always good to see tools that have done some real work and proven their worth.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View cathyb's profile


797 posts in 3272 days

#15 posted 06-10-2013 09:21 AM

I agree with Stefang. What good is a tool to a person that has no vision or compulsion to use it? You continue to inspire us Paul on so many levels. Thanks for this thoughtful post and for your reverence to the glorious thrill of working with wood…......

-- cathyb, Hawaii,

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