Advice on marking and measuring tools

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Forum topic by pierce85 posted 05-28-2011 03:27 AM 3433 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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508 posts in 2590 days

05-28-2011 03:27 AM

I’m not completely new to woodworking and know my way around tools but nevertheless consider myself as just starting out. I’m slowly gathering what I think are the essential tools to get started and would appreciate some advice on marking and measuring tools.

While I would love to set myself up with an exclusive line of Starretts, that’s not practically feasible at this time. So what would you recommend – starting with a few high-end marking/measuring tools or going with a few more moderately priced middle-range versions? And what would those must-have marking/measuring tools be?

By the way, I’ve been pouring over many of the posts here on LJ and really appreciate all the knowledge you folks impart. You guys are a generous bunch.

12 replies so far

View TexAus's profile


27 posts in 2718 days

#1 posted 05-30-2011 06:07 AM

I really love my Incra marking rules. Anything by Incra is great stuff.

View David Grimes's profile

David Grimes

2078 posts in 2668 days

#2 posted 05-30-2011 12:13 PM

I concur. Incra marking rules rule ! I have the 12” straight flat and the 12” t-rule. Loving layouts with them.

A marking knife is great once you get used to it (won’t stay on my ear, you know).

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

View pierce85's profile


508 posts in 2590 days

#3 posted 05-30-2011 09:30 PM

Yep, I just bought Incra’s 6” protractor last week and plan to get the t-rule and some others. The next tool I hope to get soon is a marking gauge. I’m thinking about making my own, but some of the nicer ones out there are just too tempting to pass up.

And thanks for responding!

View rance's profile


4258 posts in 3188 days

#4 posted 05-30-2011 09:53 PM

Make your own. And you can usually make better ones than you can buy.

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

View MrDan's profile


205 posts in 3316 days

#5 posted 05-30-2011 10:01 PM

Lee Valley/Veritas is a great compromise to starrett in my opinion. I’ve never had a starrett, so I can’t compare directly, but all of the LV/Veritas measuring tools I’ve purchased I’ve had absolutely no complaints. Everything’s very true, square and made to last.

On the marking gauge, of course you can’t beat the tite-mark, but the veritas that I bought is awesome and a whole lot less $$.

View David Grimes's profile

David Grimes

2078 posts in 2668 days

#6 posted 05-31-2011 05:57 AM

I own several Starrett products and they are good, solid measuring instruments. However, there is nothing magical about them. Browne & Sharp, Mitutoyo and many others are as good. I don’t use my Starrett snap gauge or calipers in the wood shop very often. I have off-brand digital calipers, several antique (but cheap as hell) Dietzgen (British) and Thornton (British) tools. None were over $25 on Ebay and are in new condition.

Here’s a $20 bridge compass from the 1940’s that I use for large circle and arcs:

And a $15 digital caliper that so far is as accurate as my Starrett that I check against:

I am not into bragging rights as far as brand and/or price goes. I can afford the “best” but this is not a gauge crib or a machine shop with millionth tolerances. I have been there and used all that. Wood does not apply to those lofty requirements.

Check any new measuring tool against a quality tool that you have (or borrow). It will surprise you how accurate the less expensive tools are. I have highly accurate and therefore usable tools from Helix, Westcott, Empire, Stanley, Craftsman, Swanson, etc. They check out fine and I don’t ass pucker when I drop one on the concrete.

The 6” Starrett pocket rule and the 12” rule are very handy. Mine are inches but with 10th and 100th graduations. Great ! We don’t have to use fractions.

-- If you're going to stir the pot, think BIG spoon or SMALL boat paddle. David Grimes, Georgia

View rance's profile


4258 posts in 3188 days

#7 posted 05-31-2011 06:36 AM

Please let me expound on my suggestion of “Make your own”. Yes, I bought the Tite-Mark, and it about killed me to pay that much. However, I use it when teaching my hand-cut dovetail class. I am supposed to promote tools so that was the primary reason for buying it. Yes, it is an AMAZING tool but there ARE alternatives.

Before I begin, understand the difference between a marking gauge and a cutting gauge. The gauges with pointed steel pins are marking gauges that scratch a mark across the wood. The TM gauge is a cutting gauge. It cuts a line in the wood and tends to NOT follow the grain like a marking gauge. A cross between these two is a cutting gauge, but with the pin. They side grind the pins to give it a cutting surface. However, I’ve not seen these to be much better than leaving it pointed.

Two things make the Tite-Mark as good as it is. The screw mechanism used to adjust the gauge gives you the ability to adjust it with just one hand. How important is that? In my opinion, that feature is nice, but you have to decide if that feature is worth the price.

The 2nd feature that makes it a better gauge, is the blade. First, it is a sharpened piece of steel as opposed to those crappy round things they call blades on most other rolling-blade gauges. You can even easilly resharpen it on a stone if/when it gets dull. Secondly, the shape of the blade has one flat face and a bevel. For HC dovetails, the bevel faces the waste side of the material. The blade is what really makes the TM gauge stand out from the rest. The cheaper cutting gauges have a circular blade that is beveled on BOTH sides. This creates a problem in trying to sharpen it as well as it crushes fibers not only the waste side of your line but also into the good side of the line. Totally unacceptable. Granted, some of the other brands have good blades like what is in the TM. Take a close look at the blades when browsing. The Veritas ones that MrDan links to above appear to be the right type.

My first recommendation for a top notch homemade cutting gauge would be to purchase a replacement blade meant for the TM gauge and build the rest. Buy a steel rod, drill & tap a hole in the end for the blade. Then make a simple wooden block with a single screw to clamp it in place on the rod.

As a second recommendation, I would suggest making the typical flat blade style cutting gauge. The key though is in how you sharpen and install the blade. Grind and sharpen the blade with a double bevel so it will cut when both pushing AND when pulling it. And when you install it, place the bevel towards the fence. The bevel crushes the fibers so you’ll want that facing the waste. If you can’t make the blade and properly sharpen it, then go with the circular rolling blade style gauge. BTW, I make my flat blades from old jigsaw blades. Remove the teeth with a belt sander, then shape and sharpen it.

David is right too. All our tools don’t have to be made of pure gold. : D

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

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3102 days

#8 posted 05-31-2011 02:34 PM

Measuring and marking tools, by their nature, never wear out. I have found a couple of excellent buys on used Starretts on e-bay. They only needed a good cleaning and they are as good as new.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 2682 days

#9 posted 05-31-2011 03:07 PM

My advice on any layout tool. Buy the best you can afford, you can make a good cut with a kind if crumby tool, but without knowing where to make the cut the nicest saw does not help.

I own and use two tools for 99% of my work, a Starrett 12” combo square, and a Glen Drake Tite-Mark. Those tools are indispensable in my shop. Don’t buy a lot of tools, buy good ones. The other layout tool I use and swear by is a lot cheaper, a plain story stick (cost…one piece of scrap), learn to use one of those on your projects and you will never mess up a measurement again.

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

View neandernormite's profile


37 posts in 2600 days

#10 posted 05-31-2011 03:38 PM

If you are staying mostly with machines then a good square (by good I mean accurate, not expensive) and a pencil will work. If however you start venturing to the dark side you should add a marking knife, marking gauge, and dividers.

-- The confused powertool using galoot

View pierce85's profile


508 posts in 2590 days

#11 posted 05-31-2011 08:42 PM

Great advice and ideas, everyone! I like the idea of making a hybrid cutting gauge using a replacement TM cutting blade. I’ve been meaning to get a nice tap and die set anyway.

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 3298 days

#12 posted 06-02-2011 08:44 PM

Accurate layup and measuring is what takes your woodworking from amateur attempts to good craftsmanship….I took my cue from an excellent machinist I know and I don’t scrimp but buy the best marking and measuring tools I can afford.

Starrettes are very good…Incra’s are adequate (although some of their marking rules are a bit flimsy for my taste), and there are several others around also. The best test for a layup or marking tool, in my opinion, is one that you can read the scale – it is visiable without having to use a magnifying glass everytime you need to read it…the scale is accurate for the system used (Imperial or Metric) can make reproduceable measurements…and the tool is durable. I try to stay away from measuring tools with lcd readouts as they tend to be much more prone to inaccuracies then a printed or etched scale….

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

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