Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Old Shop Made Bevel Gauge

"I'm not a collector - I'm a user."

I find myself saying that often - and more frequently - as my, well, collection, of tools has grown. And it is true - mostly. Of course, I could accomplish most of my woodworking projects with a much smaller set of tools, but that doesn't mean I'm a collector. But there are some tools in my shop that I don't use (or rarely use), that I didn't need when I bought them - and it's these tools that push me over the line into the domain of the collector.

Here's an example. Skimming through the usual boxes of dull files, broken screwdrivers, and paint scrapers that somehow qualify the store to fly an "Antiques" flag, I found this old bevel gauge. It was obvious from first glance that it was in a whole other class from the junk that mostly obscured it from view. This was a shop made tool - made by the person who used it, and made well. A craftsman's tool.

I'm not sure of the wood - I was thinking it was walnut, but now I think it could be mahogany. I'm not very good at identifying wood as I work mostly in pine, Douglas fir, and Alaskan spruce and birch. The gauge is one piece, with the blades sawn and planed down from the fence. This alone tells me volumes about its creator. Much more than a simple nailed on fence, this design took skill and a desire for quality to create.

With the fence on the edge of a board, four angles are available for marking. From left to right: 90°, 60°, 30°, and 45°.

The gauge is well made, but not ostentatious. The fence has a small amount of decoration, consisting of a thumbnail moulded edge and a bevel at each end, both of which serve practical purposes as well as begin aesthetically pleasing. The thumbnail eases the edges of the fence where your palm meets them, while the end bevels reduce the chance of chipping. I also like the idea of the hang hole. To today's sensibilities it seems wrong, damaging. But to the maker/user of this tool, it was just the practical thing to do.

So, although I didn't need it (my sliding bevel gauges work just fine), and despite a fairly major crack in one blade, I just couldn't leave it mixed in with the machine made junk in the box. I fished it out, bought it and now it sits in the shop. I occasionally pick it up, wipe on a little linseed oil left over from some project, and admire the sensibility and craftsmanship that went into this little tool. And rarely, very rarely, I'll gently use it on some project - but not too often, because it's really not one of my user tools - its part of my collection.

There, I've said it.

"Hi, my name is Dan - and I collect old tools. Sometimes."


  1. A very sensible tool, and a GOOD THING that someone decided to save (erm, collect) it.

  2. It's a piece of history that should not be lost. I think that is one reason I am getting into traditional woodworking. I just love history. Just to think who used this tool in a more simple time and what he made with it.

  3. Bob - That's it exactly - someone needed to save it, and I was the only one there...

    David - I agree, holding a piece of history in your hand is a pretty amazing thing. I'd love to know how old this tool is - my feeling is that it might be quite old, but I have no way of knowing...

  4. Lovely post.
    Have you seen this?

  5. simonm - I did see it - it's great! What a coincidence. It's times like this that I really appreciate the internet.

  6. Dan: Now this is a Piece of work and History right here.. I would love to have Some OLD Tools...

    Expecially some of the Old Hand Drills, I collect some Antiques, Just a little bit of everything, of course when money isn't scarce...

    I own a few Canning Tools, some I use, some I don't, and I would like to someday get a Hand held Manual Mixer, The one with the Hand Crank on it like some of the older Drills

    Thanks for the insight on such a Piece..


  7. Really cool little tool. It looks like something even I could make! After I finish this bench. (boy, the line is getting pretty stacked up behind Mr. Roubo)

    Nice blog, too. I enjoy your writing.


  8. Handi - The old hand drills can be great. Just be sure it is in working condition - I've come across several that were pretty worn out. I am partial to my Miller's Falls #2 - it works like a charm. If you want more information on these (and a lot more cool stuff) you might want to check out www.georgesbasement.com

    Andrew - The bench is looking great, and will be well worth all the time you put into it. I am glad you enjoy my blog - yours is great too.

  9. The hang hole may seem not appropriate in this day of throw-away plastic tools, and before that of real metal tools (not pot metal). But in the days of wooden tools that you need to be careful with, a hang hole to keep it up and out from under something damaging is perfectly appropriate. Think about how careful you just hold it and love on it a little.


  10. Rick - Good point - there is so much difference between most modern, mass produced tools and the handmade tools of the past (and today). I know that some people feel that hang holes are a detraction (esp. in value) and show a lack of respect for the tool, but I like your view that it really could be a sign of respect. Thanks!

  11. Dan,

    Maybe the 30 and 60 degrees angles are not to be used at all. On the contrary, focus on the inner 90 degrees angle they create. Maybe this one is used for checking outside squares, such as the board edge to the board face. That would also explain why those two lines do not go all the way to the fence.

    Just a thought.


  12. how to make your self a bevel gauge


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