My “Over the Rainbow” Panel Gauge

For Dorothy, the key to getting back to Kansas was tapping her red-slippered heels three times. For me, the key to keeping my small workshop clutter free is to make myself “wish” for a tool three times before buying it. That has the added benefit of reserving precious tool dollars for items that get used.

And so it was, one bright Saturday morning, when I caught myself saying “I wish I had a panel gauge,” for the third time. I was sketching the corner hutch I can’t put off any longer. That project will require the accurate dimensioning of glued-up panels.

I didn’t want to dig deep into the tool money jar for a pretty gauge from a boutique tool maker. So I resolved to make my own gauge. But not some shop-made thing I slapped together. I wanted a gauge embellished with the glamor and glitz of a Hollywood film. In my mind, that meant contracting a beautiful leading lady (mahogany) paired with a dashing leading man (brass) to fuel the tool’s on-bench chemistry.

Reviewing Scripts
I looked over different gauges from other woodworkers here,  here and here.  As well as some A-list options from tool makers here and here.  That helped me come up with some specifications.

Beam: long enough to allow a 24” wide marking. I would have preferred 30” but the mahogany on hand would only accommodate two feet.

Beam accessories: a cutting gauge at one end for accurate marking and a pencil at the other for rough dimensioning.

Fence: about 7” wide with a lip to register on the panel. Shaped to a comfy form to fit neatly in my small hands.

All those considerations led to this production plan.

P20-Panel-Gauge-Fence-Plan P21-Panel-Gauge-Beam-Plan

Prototype Screen Tests
The producers are always on my ass to keep costs down. So before touching the small supply of mahogany the studio supplied, I tested my design on some scrap. It’s a good thing too. Because my original idea was to drill a hole into the beam to slide the pencil through. Then, to secure it, drill a hole through the end (transecting the pencil hole), screw in a brass insert and thread a ¼” x 20 bolt to contact the pencil’s side. Well, when I tightened the bolt, it pressed against the canter at the pencil’s sharpened end and skewed the whole assembly. See the Beam Accessory Detail diagram above.

Plan B was to call in an understudy, cut a kerf along the beam’s axis to meet the pencil hole, then “squeeze” it tight by adding a bolt through the side of the beam. Jeez. Actors.

ACT 1: Scene 1-The Beam
The key to making this scene a success is to finish the beam before cutting the mortise for it. I learned that the hard when I was directing Making a Marking Gauge, by Steve Lata. So to prevent lateral play in the mortise, measure the finished beam and use those dimensions to cut the channel.

Despite my best efforts, there’s still a bit of play. And I’m thinking that it’s a design issue. Being rectangular in shape, the mortise has to be near perfect to prevent back and forth play in the x axis. So to mitigate this, I would shape the beam into a half square shape.


ACT 1: Scene 2-The blade
I held a casting call for a saber saw blade that could method act its way into a blade role. A few minutes at the grinder removed the teeth, while some time with sandpaper on glass squared up the sides. Then I applied a curved profile to the cutting edge. I prefer this shape because the blade I made for my small marking gauge slices beautifully in cross-grain marking.


The bottom of the beam sits ¼” from the surface of the wear plate.


So in order to make the tip of the blade in the same plane as the surface of the wear plate, it needs to protrude from the bottom of the beam ¼”. To determine the length of the blade, I start with that ¼” + the thickness of the beam + extra length to accommodate future sharpening. That makes for a blade about 1 1/8” long.

ACT 1: Scene 3-Securing the Blade to the Beam
The blade is about 3/64” thick. So I cut a channel centered on one end of the beam to accommodate it.


It’s shallow by 1/64” or so.


That way, the 1/16” thick brass cover plate, secures the blade to the beam. I cut the brass to fit, drilled the pilot holes and inserted the brass screws. Then I removed them and coated the hole threads with CA to harden them. That will protect against the fit loosening over time.

Here’s some daily footage of the blade retention hardware and final assembly


Act 1: Scene 3-Securing the Pencil to the Beam
Nothing is worse during a performance than a wardrobe malfunction. So to avoid being hassled by the FCC, I took measures to prevent the pencil from falling to the floor in mid scene. The pencil sits 1” from the beam end and measures 9/32” in diameter. After centering and drilling the hole, a production house used a tenon saw to put a kerf in the beam until it met the hole.


Then they drilled a hole ½” in from the end to accommodate a small bolt.


After inserting the pencil so that the tip protrudes ¼” (to be coplanar with the surface of the wear plate on the fence,) it was secured by tightening the bolt.


Act 1: Scene 4-The beam wear strip
The fence locks the beam in place via a knurled brass bolt. In order to prevent damage to the beam’s surface, the Los Angeles Union #416 Brass Fitters added a 1/16” x ¼” brass wear strip along its length.


We will return to our regularly scheduled programming in five minutes.

[lights flashing on and off]

Please return to your seats so that we may begin ACT 2.

ACT 2: The fence
My requirements for a fence are that it secure the beam, seat well on the board edge to be scribed and be comfortable to hold and use.

Page 31 of How to Make Woodworking Tools, includes plans for a “Large Panel Gauge.”  I decided I liked the look of it and had the Art Department sketch out a template of its shape.


An Actor’s Guild Union Carpenter glued two pieces of mahogany together, then squared it up, making it 1 ¼” thick. I’m still catching crap from the producers over that invoice. Then, a grip chiseled out the mortise for the beam, and drilled and screwed in the brass insert for the knurled bolt.


After that, an Actor’s Guild Rabbet Maker cut the rabbet to accommodate the fence’s ledge wear plates. Then she epoxied and screwed them into place.


Modelers then affixed the fence profile template onto the block and rough-cut it with a coping saw. Final shaping was accomplished at a drill-press-mounted drum disk.

If someone is injured on a film, Workman’s Comp will murder your budget. So for the tricky part of rounding over the back top edge, I called in a ½” round-over bit stunt man. An unpaid intern finished the final shaping with some 100-grit paper. Then the fence spent some time in the makeup artist’s chair to get an abrasion by 100 through 400 grit papers. One minute on a buffing wheel left a polished, smooth surface. The net result was a sleek and comfy grip even the producers will like.

Post Production
With the filming finished, I handed the footage over to the editors. They finished it with two coats of Danish Oil followed by three coats of paste wax.

Premier Screening
[Lights go dark. The crowd hushes…5…4…3…2…1, and the star takes center stage]

P01-Panel-Gauge-Project-picture P02-Panel-Gauge-Forward-face P03-Panel-Gauge-Face

[In the finale, the actors kiss for the first time]


There’s no place like home.

[Fade to black]


© 2014, Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.



About The Write Biz

By day, I'm a mild-mannered copywriter who harnesses frontal-lobe creativity (right brain) to help B2B marketers generate leads and sales. By night I pick up hand tools to create wooden masterpieces...and give my black lab Bella the "red dot" laser to chase after.
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3 Responses to My “Over the Rainbow” Panel Gauge

  1. forbeskm says:

    Very nice work, something to add to my list of things to do when my Paul Sellers’ bench is done. Nice link to the hand tool pdf, I had not seen that one. Where did you get all your brass stock?

  2. forbeskm, I got the brass wear strip at a famous Boulder, CO hardware store called McGuckin’s Hardware. The thicker brass for the fence wear plate I picked up at an Ace Hardware superstore. Ace is a bit more expensive, but they consistently impress me by having in stock items like this.

  3. Don Williams says:

    Very nicely done! a fine tool and an inspiration for all of us treading this path. thanks for posting, and I look forward to the next one.

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