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Wheel Marking Gauges Review

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Alf

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The wheel type of marking gauge first made its appearance in the 1850’s I believe, and has been popular ever since. It doesn’t follow the grain like the standard point variety, it’ll mark evenly without needing to tilt the cutter at just the right angle, and you can see exactly where the cutter is. I was first made aware of them when the Veritas version appeared, but since then a variety have entered the fray.


From left to right: Veritas standard, Axminster, Veritas micro-adjust, Lee Valley 3 in 1, Tite-Mark.

Of course they’re all capable of marking a line, but there were a couple of features I looked out for especially; whether the cutting wheel screw was flush to allow marking into confined spaces/direct transfer of dimensions, if the fence face was countersunk to allow the cutter to be fully retracted for storage, if the gauge rolled off the bench, and the ability of the cutter to be mounted bevel out for gauging in thickness planing and other similar tasks. That last criteria has an awful lot to do with the Charlesworthian influence on British amateur woodworkers; whether it’s really necessary to you is, of course, up to the individual.

As far as “naming of parts” goes, the stem is straight forward, but there seems to be some variation in calling the movable bit the head, body, face etc. So I’ve called it the fence - in the main. Perverse? Possibly. But clear enough, I hope. :)

The thumbnail pics can be clicked on to link to a larger version.


Wheel gauges are ideal on a narrow edge; it’s simply a matter of rolling the wrist.

Lee Valley 3 in 1 marking gauge $15.75 Lee Valley



The smallest of the bunch, this Canadian gauge is a mere 115mm long with a 25mm diameter fence. The stem is off-set in its face, which gives a double benefit of more bearing surface and stops the gauge rolling off the bench. Despite its size, being solid brass, it packs a compact punch at 66g.



The fence is tightened using a collet system; this requires two hands, so I’ve found setting the gauge is a case of getting close, partially tightening the collet, checking the setting and adjusting as necessary, tightening the collet fully and then checking again.



Takes longer to write than do, but the collet style of clamping does mean the fence tends to rotate (and inevitably advance) if you’re not careful. It does make for a neat, slim line feel to the fence for your fingers though.



The cutting wheel is held with a small crosshead screw, which is countersunk, but the fence face is not recessed.



The cutter can be reversed and still held securely, but of course the screw does then protrude a little. In addition to the wheel, this gauge has a bonus in that it comes with cutting blades and pins, stored in a sturdy tube, giving you a whole gamut of marking options. An additional stem is also available should you want one permanently set up with the wheel, and one with the cutter or pin.



I like this gauge. It’s by no means perfect; the fence locking needing two hands is a bind, its capabilities are limited by its very smallness, and it’s only available direct from Lee Valley. But it feels right. Time and again my standard gauges have felt clumsy and oversized for various jobs, but this one is just ideal. The other marking options are simply a bonus. Great little gauge.

Axminster Wheel Marking Gauge £16.98 Axminster



Axminster’s Taiwanese offering certainly wins the cheerful appearance prize with its shiny 180mm long stem, bright red aluminium fence body and 3mm thick brass face.



The body of the fence has an unusual, stubby shape, which looks good but doesn’t make for such comfortable resting places for fingers and thumb.



The fence is held with a traditional screw, knurled brass, bearing on the stem, and the fairly chunky cutter is held with a hex head cap screw that sticks out a full 5mm. The fence screw sticks out quite a bit too, which acts as a weight to stop the rolling off the bench. The whole thing weighs in at 135g. This gauge has a scale on the stem in both 1/16” to 6” and millimetres up to 150mm, which shows willing, but it’s rather inaccurate - starting as it does 1mm out right at the 10mm mark. Unusually the cutter is provided already mounted bevel out, and very blunt; the 44mm diameter fence face is not recessed for it.



The cutter works fine put the right way, but the scale is them 1mm out the other way… Setting it, ignoring the scale, is very easy and a one-handed job. Like the Veritas below it utilises an O ring to hold the fence snug on the stem. Occasionally I’ve found you get a tiny amount of spring-back from the O ring between pulling it back and tightening the locking screw. It’s easy to compensate for, in fact I didn’t realise I was compensating for it until doing this review, but something to aware of if you like to set your gauges to very small tolerances.



This gauge has potential; it really needs some time devoted to the cutter to sharpen it properly. I feel it’s been made by people who haven’t really understood what it’s for; the bevel out cutter is a pretty clear indicator of that. Unless it’s an attempt to corner the bevel out wheel gauge market… It’s nearly got the idea, but not just not quite right. The scale is just hopelessly misleading. One to consider if every pound is an issue in your tool budget, but be prepared to put some work into that cutter.


Veritas Standard Wheel Gauge £18.80 BriMarc



I was going to include this one, despite the changes made since I bought this old design, then I thought maybe I shouldn’t, and then I decided I might as well! This is Veritas’ basic, no adjuster, no scale, gauge. 180mm long stem in a black aluminium body with a 44mm diameter, 3mm thick brass face.



My old one comes with a roundhead crosshead cutter screw and no recess - it’s typical of LV that, despite the success of the gauge in this early form, they’ve upgraded it to a countersunk screw and now provide a recess. The recess is a big help to protect the cutter, ’cos this thing rolls! Mine weighs in at 128g.



The cutter can be reversed and still held securely, although the screw on the new type will no longer be flush of course. Just like the Axminster (or should that be the other way round…?) the fence is held snug with an O ring and locked off with a knurled brass screw bearing on the stem. Again, a one handed task, and again a fractional tendency to spring-back occasionally, in my experience at least.



This is a basic, no frills, bomb-proof gauge. The “original” model of the modern era, and a reliable tool; simple and comfortable. My only real beef with it is its lemming-like habit of rolling off the bench, and that’s nothing I can’t live with if only I was more organised… :oops:


Veritas Micro Adjustable Wheel Gauge with graduated scale. £26.32 BriMarc



I’ll have that on rye with mayo too… Yep, all the bells and whistles on this one. :lol: This gauge has a 200mm long stem in the familiar 44mm diameter fence with 3mm brass face. The body of the fence is considerably longer to accommodate the collet type locking and the knurled brass screw bearing on the graduated stem.



The scale is in 1/16” up to 6” only, no metric, but seems to be bang on the money for accuracy. With the trifle unwieldy extra stem length and fence gadgetry this gauge weighs in at 156g.



Adjusting it involves two hands, and two types of locking mechanism. Firstly you have to lock off the tail of the fence using a brass collet type, then micro adjust by rotating the brass knurled nut while holding the fence. This results in the whole stem rotating through the fence, rather than the fence itself advancing or retreating. Rather disconcertingly that means the scale is only visible part of the time as it revolves in and out of sight. One revolution is equal to 1/32” or not much in millimeters…To lock that off you tighten the rather more familiar brass screw.



There’s also an O ring to stop the fence sliding too easily. The cutter screw is countersunk, unless you want to reverse the blade when it sticks out just a little, and the fence face is recessed.



Although this gauge does roll around on the bench, the long stem and weight of the fence combine to prevent it doing too much before inertia stops it.

This gauge has all the features of the basic model, which I like. The real question you have to ask is whether the micro adjust is really worth the extra. It does work, no question of that, but it’s not exactly intuitive and feels like rather an inelegant solution to the micro adjusting problem to me. I’m sure you’d get used to it over time, but I didn’t think a marking gauge needed to be micro adjustable when I started this review, and the Veritas hasn’t really done anything to convince me it’s a desirable feature.


Glen-Drake Tite-Mark Marking Gauge £67.00 Axminster



Endorsed by Lie-Nielsen, this is the closest you’ll get to an L-N marking gauge not actually made in Maine. Weighing in at a hefty 189g, this gauge has a 180mm long, steel stem and a solid brass fence, 41mm in diameter with a 4mm thick face.



Knurled steel screws lock both parts of the fence, bearing in a V-groove milled down the length of the stem, which prevents the fence rotating.



The screws are sufficiently long to prevent the gauge rolling. Adjustment is a simple matter of locking off the tail of the fence, rotating the knurled brass ring to micro adjust, and then locking off the main fence screw. It can all be done with one hand, and a small nylon screw can be adjusted to tweak the amount of resistance between the head and stem. Bizarrely I can’t find any figures for just how far the fence is moved with one revolution, but it seems to be around 2mm.



The cross-head cutter screw is well countersunk, and the face of the fence is deeply counter bored to protect the cutting edge.



The latter is razor sharp. Unlike the other gauges’ cutters which are fairly thin and flat, this one is shaped a bit like a straw boater (hat), the cutting edge being the brim.



That means reversing the blade negates the ability to take direct dimension transfers, but it’s not really an option anyway as the screw doesn’t hold the cutter particularly well when reversed. As a result of requests I believe a bevel out cutter is now available as an extra. A scoring blade and mortise blades are also available as extras, although Axminster doesn’t currently stock them as far as I‘m aware.



The L-N of wheel gauges? Undoubtedly. This is a very classy tool, made with the best materials and beautifully engineered. If you like to have the very best then this is a “no brainer”. Adjustments are very smooth and easy to get to grips with. I was adjusting it like I’d had it for years within minutes. For a while there I was cheekily wondering what Axminster’s policy on reviewers buying review tools was, until I came to my senses. :oops: Great gauge, beautifully made - ghastly price. :roll:


Gauged lines, from left to right: Tite-Mark, Veritas micro adjust, Veritas standard (obviously I need to sharpen it :oops: ), Axminster, LV 3 in 1

So to the crux of the matter, the one thing everyone wonders. Is the Tite-Mark worth the extra money over the Veritas micro adjust? It’s very, very easy to get carried away with this gauge and convince yourself you need it. The truth is it doesn’t actually gauge a straighter line than any of the others. After careful study I could argue the line is fractionally sharper than the others, but that advantage lasts only as long as the edge. The micro adjust isn’t really any more necessary - to me, at any rate - just because it’s easier to do. If you want one, then go ahead and enjoy. It’s a fine tool. Do you need one? Well personally I don’t think so. If you absolutely must have the ability to micro adjust your gauge then the Tite-Mark is unquestionably the nicer of the two, but the Veritas works just fine (just forget the graduated scale I reckon). It’s just slightly more of a fiddle to do. Ultimately it’s up to the buyer whether the “ooo, it’s a Tite-Mark” aspect, and that fraction of time saved, is worth the extra £40. Personally I wouldn’t say “no” to owning one, but equally I won’t be especially miserable to see it go back to Devon. Of the adjust-less varieties, the basic Veritas, sans scale, is probably my pick for ease, comfort, capacity and value for money.

Very many thanks to both Axminster and BriMarc for providing gauges for review, and to Neil for prompting it.

Update: Well after the completion of this review a few clones of the Tite-Mark appeared on the market, one of which I posted a few observations on here. A forum search for titemark sureline and checking "search for all terms" should bring up all the discussions and observations by members with these clones. Further developments: here
 

Chris Knight

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That spring - back with the O-ring in my early Veritas gauge drove me bonkers.

I reckon the Tite-Mark is absolutely king, it is such a pleasure to adjust with zero backlash. I have the cutting wheel as well and that does a fine job on veneer.
 

Neil

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Well, this all came about from an innocent PM asking Alf if she had tried the Veritas micro-adjust, and look what it snowballed into! I wonder what will take the longest - making my final decision about which gauge to go for, or losing my great sense of guilt about Alf going to so much trouble and effort! :oops:

Anyway, it will take me a little while to digest all this, but in the meantime:

THANK YOU!

Cheers,
Neil
 

Philly

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Great review Alf!
Many thanks for putting in the time necessary for such an in-depth article-cheers!
And I love my Tite-mark-it is worth every penny.....
cheers
Philly :D
 

Chris Knight

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Alf,

I forgot to say I thought it was a great review! :oops:

You have a tremendous talent for this reviewing game and I reckon you ought to put yourself about a bit so to speak. The combination of insight with wit and honesty is very appealing.
 

J.A.S

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Thanks, again, Alf. Yet another well-written, and very useful, review.

Jeremy
 

GCR

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Alf

Just the review I have been waiting for! One additional question though - how do you sharpen the wheel? If its a question of grinding the flat face away, presumably the wheel reduces in diameter and "thickens" as well?

Bob
 

Alf

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Glad you ejoyed it, folks. As I said to Neil, I enjoyed doing it - possibly more than I expected... :wink:

Chris, the O ring bounce-back is an interesting one. As I say, I really hadn't realised I was compensating for it. I only really noticed it when I used a nylon router collet brush on my own gauge to clean it up for the review, which must have disturbed it from its bedded down state. So I would guess that over time it becomes less and less of a problem. Until, ultimately, it's simply not doing its job any more I suppose?

Bob, welcome to the forum. Yep, honing the flat side is the recommended method of sharpening. I think it'd take quite a while before the loss of material would be an issue though, especially with the basic varities because you can simply use a previously unused area of the edge. I tend to have a go at the bevel too though ('cos I'm like that), particularly with the Axminster which had such a coarse edge, but it's far from easy. One method is to tap a hole in the end of a steel rod in order to hold the bevel against a belt sander I believe (bevel out!). I really ought to try it myself, especially with the poor showing of my own gauge... :oops: Both Veritas and Tite-Mark offer replacement cutters if it all goes pear-shaped, which is comforting. :D

Cheers, Alf
 

Aragorn

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Great review Alf, yet again! Every time you write one I seem to want to make a rather expensive purchase, strangely! I just wish my bank account could keep up with your writing gems :D
 
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Sorry for mt ignorance but what is the advantages of a marking gauge over say a pencil and ruler.

Cheers,
Derek
 

Alf

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Derek,

Well two-fold really. Firstly the fence means you mark the exactly same distance from your datum face every time as long as you don't change the setting. So your corresponding workpieces have a much greater chance of lining up and so forth. Every time you use a rule to measure you're introducing another potential place for error to creep in, however careful you are. Secondly, the cut line you get is thinner (and thus more accurate than a thicker pencil line), it gives a positive registration for putting your chisel exactly to your line and it severs the fibres in a crossgrain joint giving you a cleaner finish. However most of the advantage is in conjunction with hand tools; I'm not sure how much use the totally Normite woodworker has for one? With fences and jigs and such I imagine a pencil mark may well be sufficient.

Cheers, Alf
 

Chris Knight

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I think even a Nomite can benefit - think for instance of the benefits of a cut line when cutting out dovetails with a router - it eliminates tearout at the bottom of the cut.
 
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Great review yet again Alf. Get yourself on the staff of GWW :lol:

I liked the thumbnails l with links to larger photos too, nice touch

I want the veritas guage but already have the Axminster and agree with every word you said about it
 

Adam

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Nice review Alf.

As Chris says - have you considered becoming a feature writer for GWW or F&CM?

Adam
 

Alf

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waterhead37":2cmdxjz4 said:
I think even a Nomite can benefit - think for instance of the benefits of a cut line when cutting out dovetails with a router - it eliminates tearout at the bottom of the cut.
I didn't put that query in for nothing then; I was pretty sure the theory'd be challenged. :D So just out of interest, do you do that? I confess I never have. :oops:

Dunno about writing for a mag; not sure many editors would welcome my rambling style :oops: , but I'll happily bask in the compliment.

Cheers, Alf
 
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I rather like your rambling style and would like to see your reviews in the mags
 

Chris Knight

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Alf,

Since I got the Titemark, I knife pretty well all my lines.

One great thing worth mentioned about the Titemark is that you can use it like a depth gauge to set exactly the depth you need for a mating part. Thus fir example, if you have a set of dovetails of "unknown" length, by resting the Tite-Mark on the tops and setting the well at the roots you have what you need for the pins. In theory, I guess the thickness of the edge of the wheel should be an amount of error but in practice this being so thin, it does not seem to hamper a perfect fit.

This can be used for lots of situations and saves on the bother and more importantly, the potential error of transferring measurements read from a scale
 

woodshavings

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Great Review Alf - thanks. I also have the Axminster and agree with your comments. The cutter on mine does not seem quite as "blunt" as your review model so the build quality must be variable.

Nevertheless,compared to the traditional gauge, even the Axminster version, this type of gauge is a real benefit.

John
 
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