Monday, January 9, 2012

CTR 2: HF Mortise Gauge

Cheap Tool Review #2.

I picked this up in the fall, and only just used it for the first time, though I'd checked it to make sure it was all there and not broken when I got it home.  Here are my thoughts.

Cost:  How can you beat it?  Full price (as of this writing) is $10.  I got it on sale and with a coupon -- I think I paid under $3.50.  The other marking gauge I have is a Veritas Wheel gauge, and it cost $35.  That's a heck of an increase.

Construction:  While I'm not sure what kind of wood it is, it seems to be reasonably hard.  The finish is thick, and should provide a fair amount of construction.  While the beam isn't perfectly fitted through the fence, it IS reliably consistent, and it doesn't wiggle at all once the thumbscrew is tight.  The brass castings are pretty nice -- if I ever decided to build my own gauge I'd probably salvage them -- and the pins are solidly attached.

Use:  This one's harder to say.  What I've discovered is that I don't LIKE pin-type gauges.  I bought a Veritas Wheel Marking Gauge the same day, and I use it a lot.  The HF mortise gauge... well, if you like pin gauges it seems like it would work well enough.  It's solid, there's no slop, and you can drag it across the piece without worrying about the beam sliding around.  The catch is that the pins aren't sharp, so they don't cut across the grain -- they try to follow it.  I've never used an expensive pin gauge, so I don't know if they have the same tendency, but I can't imagine that they don't.  For my use, I'll stick with wheel or blade type gauges.

As a note, I'm told some people have filed the points to be narrower and more blade-like.  Now that I've learned that I don't like them as they are, I may give it a shot.  And for $3.50, it's not a bad deal for those occasions where I really need to mark two parallel lines.  I just won't use it most of the time.

Final recommendation:  If you're really hard up for cash, or if you already know you like pin gauges, this is a nice deal.  As with everything from HF, make sure all the pieces are there and it's built right, since their machining is variable, but it can work.  If you're not that hard up for cash, or you're not sure how you feel about pin gauges, buy something better.  This is a time when some extra money nets a lot of extra value.  You can probably find the Veritas Wheel gauge for $30 if you wait for a sale, and it's a FAR nicer tool.

UPDATE:  Thanks to a reader at, here's an article about filing the points of a pin-type gauge into knives.  I'm not convinced it will work on this gauge, since the pins are pretty tiny to begin with, but I'll give it a try and post another update.

UPDATE, 6/16/14:  This is now my go-to gauge for most things.  It's quick an easy to adjust, and filing the pins to more of a football shape (instead of a cone) make it work a lot better.  For long marks cross-grain, I frequently use the Veritas wheel gauge, but I've come to a point where I reach for this HF gauge more often.  That said, the Veritas gauge is more accurate and will certainly last longer, so it's not at all a one-sided debate.

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