In woodworking, you could use a ruler to transfer measurements to your work, and while this might be fine for a measurement or two, you start to lose a little precision and repeatability when making multiple measurements. Plus, it can be slow.
Once you’re past the beginner stage and start picking up more tools, a marking gauge will be a real boon to your layout work. A marking gauge is one of those things that you might not need, but it’ll help – a LOT.
A little extra precision and accuracy in layout work can go a long way and help to minimize the need to trim, clean, and adjust something later on.
You might already know this, but marking gauge isn’t just for measuring. Marking gauges are often used for scoring wood where a cut is going to be made. Separating the wood fibers at the edge of a cut could contribute to crisper and cleaner results. That’s why you will see some woodworkers using marking gauges along with table saws and router tables.
When it comes to marking gauges, you’re probably used to seeing a classic design like the $20 wooden Bora marking gauge that’s available at Woodcraft. No frills, no measurements, just a point in a piece of wood with an adjustable wooden fence.
There are some nicer and more featured wooden marking gauges as well, with multiple pins, brass inlaid fences, and greater adjustments, for marking things like mortise and tenons.
Or perhaps you’ve seen a more modern version, like the wheel marking gauge with a graduated steel rod, brass fence, and hardened bevel edge marking wheel that retails for about $17. This one’s a WoodRiver gauge, available from Amazon and Woodcraft.
Lee Valley’s Veritas brand also makes some nice wheel marking gauges, including a dual rod model for laying out mortise and tenons in one step instead of the usual two.
Or maybe you have seen a more modern version with a digital display, like this one from iGaging. It retails for $36-40 via Amazon and Rockler.
The JessEm Wood Sabre marking gauge is new to the market, and it immediately struck me as both more elegant and possibly more accurate than even the digital version — plus you’ll never need to change the batteries.
This JessEm marking gauge has a reach of 0-6″, and the main body has a spring-loaded ball bearing that can snap into detents placed every 1/2″ on the shaft. This allows you to quickly and accurately set the distance in half-inch increments with high repeatability.
For finer adjustments, there is a graduated collar which can be set as precisely as 1/256th of an inch. Every turn of the collar adjusts the distance the marking gauge extends by 1/16th of an inch. A stainless steel knob locks the position of the blade in place once you’ve got it set.
The main shaft has laser engraved scale markings every 1/2″ inch. You can read to the nearest 1/16th of an inch directly on the shaft, and there’s a site window on the main body that allows you to read to the nearest 1/256th of an inch.
The stainless steel “reference face” is almost 3″ wide, and extends 3/4″ below the blade. With the beefy body and large fence, JessEm claims the Wood Sabre gives you excellent control when you are scribing a line.
JeseEm machines the Wood Sabre out of stainless steel and aluminum, and the bevel cutter is made from A2 tool steel that is hardened to 60 RC and honed at the factory to a sharp edge. The bevel cutter retracts below the face of the fence for storage, to protect the edge when it’s not being used.
The Wood Sabre marking gauge sells for $100 on the JessEm website and right now it qualifies for free shipping.
Buy Now (Wood Sabre via JessEm)
See Also(Other styles, via Amazon)
JessEm doesn’t provide any pictures of the Wood Sabre marking gauge in use, but their promo video shows more about how it works:
mike aka Fazzman
Ive been looking at wheel marking gages lately., This is really nice but i cant see spending $100 on one.
Neat how they made this one like a micrometer,If you for some reason need such precision in wood this should be able to do that.
If you’re making mortise and tenon joints you first cut the mortise and then adjust the tenon to fit. If the initial mortise measurements are out by say 1mm, it really won’t make a difference as the tenon will eventually fit.
I’m not convinced that a marking gauge needs this level of accuracy or adjustable range. Most experienced woodworkers don’t measure that much anyway, just pick up a mortise chisel and then set your marking gauge to that width, be it an original 3/8″ or less if the chisel has been incorrectly sharpened or badly adjusted on the grinder.
It’s not a bad tool though, just not something I’d cough up a hundred bucks for.
There are also marking gauges specific for things like linoleum flooring. Crain Tools makes several varieties – (Their #112 and #240 come to mind)
For woodworking, I started out with a really old Stanley #65 – then a Crown Tools 143 cutting gauge (still available on Amazon and elsewhere), then a Crown Tools 154 – which has 2 pins that can be adjusted to mark both sides of a mortise/tenon. I think that this tool may also still be available at places like Japan Woodwoorker and on Amazon. When wheel style gauges appeared I bought 1 and 2 wheel types from Lee Valley (05N33.01, 05N35.20 and 05N70.01). Over the years I’ve seen others from Lie Nielsen, WoodJoy, Trend Routing, iGaging,. For inlay work, I sometimes use a pfurling cutter made by Lutz.
The cut line produced by a traditional marking gauge, is used with a fine toothed backsaw with a technique called “cutting to a line” which I somewhat mastered (certainly not like a Duncan Phyfe) well enough to cut a decent tenon by hand and fit it with shoulder plane to a hand “chopped” mortise. Over the years I went from doing mortise and tenon work by machine (table saw and Drill Press/Mortiser) to doing them by hand and now I’m back to mostly machine using a Festool Domino XL. My marking gauges – now mostly sit idle.
I often times wonder with the price of all these woodworking doodads how woodworkers aren’t thousands of dollars in debt. Also makes me think that if you add up the cost of all these $100 marking and precision items from JessEm, Woodpeckers, Incra, Kreg, etc a person might be better off just buying a cnc machine or cnc router.
I guess it depends on why you are into woodworking.
Some people love woodworking and using hand tools as a hobby. It’s something they can get away to in the shop and just enjoy using really well made tools. It’s about the process to them and they aren’t concerned about making something to sell. Maybe they are making an heirloom piece for their grand daughter and every time they are in the shop they think about how she’ll hand the piece down to her kids.
There are other pros who need to bang stuff out as fast as they can and can’t afford a tool to fail. This marking gauge may or may not be an example of that, but there are many high priced tools that fit that category.
Then there are people with more money than sense and they think a more expensive tool will make them a better woodworker. Sometimes it’s true, but usually not. Many of us may fall into this category at one point or another, I know I do.
I mentioned Duncan Phyfe in my comments above – because it is humbling to realize what colonial era woodworkers and other craftsmen were able to accomplish without the aid of portable power tools, lion batteries, digital anything etc. What they did have were skills that they acquired/learned and practiced time and again – and the spark of talent to make the most of those skills. In over 50 years of working with wood – the best I can say is that I sometimes rise to the level of being a decent technician – but I enjoy it so I soldier on. What I have learned is that a badly made tool – will likely never produce good work – but even the best tool will not either unless you have the perseverance to learn how to use it correctly.
looks like a machinist tool with a scribe wheel tacked on
I like it but it’s spendy.
You always get what you pay for. Seems like an extremely well made and well thought out product – something which your grandson might someday inherit …if you can pry the game console out of his soft little hands. (A metric version is supposedly coming soon).