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.
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.
JessEm doesn’t provide any pictures of the Wood Sabre marking gauge in use, but their promo video shows more about how it works: