If you’re like me, you picked up a vintage marking gauge at some point in your woodworking life only to tear the wood fibers with the pin head. Maybe, like me, you did some research on refining the pin…then filed it to the shape of a half-moon profile. That worked ok but the tool still didn’t leave a clean cut.
Frustrating though that was, I back-burnered the problem. Then one day, I came across an article by Ian Kirby detailing the concept of a cutting gauge. That’s simply a marking gauge that uses a blade to mark the wood instead of a pin.
I was intrigued enough by the concept to sacrifice a saber saw blade to create a rounded tip blade for a cutting gauge prototype. Properly shaped, filed and sharpened, my tests showed that the blade works exceptionally well with cross-grain lines. It makes a fine, clear and crisp line by cutting the wood fibers versus tearing them.
The project percolated for a few weeks when one day, over a cup of steaming coffee, this project on Lumberjocks made me perk up.
“That’s the ticket,” I thought. “It has an elegant look to it.” Hell. Let’s be honest. The brass bling attracted me to it like a large-mouth bass to a squirming worm. My research revealed that the design is by http://www.hamiltontools.com. So I scribbled out a design and resolved to build it.
In retrospect, it was an act of faith to choose some walnut I had lying around. That’s because I had no idea which techniques to use for all the fine work that needed to be done.
My pencil doodles settled on a fence that is 3” wide by ¾” thick. That just “felt” right. The beam is 5” long because any shorter or longer didn’t look right. I shaped the tip of a saber saw blade so that it was round, then put a bevel on it, flattened the back and polished the bevel.
I used 1/8” thick brass for the fence wear strip as well as the blade-retaining plate. I drilled pilot holes in the beam end to retain the blade, then “broke them in” by using a steel screw to create the threads in the wood. Those I hardened with CA, followed by brass screws to maintain the bling motif.
Rockler had the knurled knob (1/4” x 20 x 1”) and matching knob-thread insert to provide the means to secure the beam to the fence.
The brass-appointed cutting gauge turned out like this.
While I’m not enamored with the “wing” design on the fence—it feels awkward to hold—the design works very well in practice. I used it to mark dovetail baselines in a wedding box I built for a friend.
It’s a joy to use and it performs as advertised on cross-grain markings. And while I’ll keep my modified marking gauges for with-grain lines, my new walnut & brass addition will be my go-to cross-grain tool.