… or how I made a sort of ok prototype, I’m really proud by the way, of instead of using the other awesome hardwood I have that would have worked much better but I didn’t want to screw up since I’ve never made one before.
This was my hurricane IRMA distraction project. After making all the preparations, laying in supplies and tying down anything in the yard that might become an airborne missile I had nothing to do. but wait. I’m not a waiter by nature. Its one of my many faults, but that post would be too long and boring to read. So hurricane is coming, I couldn’t sit and watch the news like everyone else, I think its counter productive and only adds to the stress. So what to do. Ahh, woodworking project. I decided to build a French Marking Gauge.
I’ve always wanted one and I need more gauges. I have 3. My first gauge, a Harbor Freight combo gauge works fairly well. I sanded off all the coating and the unknown brown asian hardwood is actually fairly pretty when oiled up with mineral oil. Its my best gauge, the only thing I don’t like about it is that having pins on both sides means I poke my hand whenever I’m not using it carefully. I think this is common to any combo gauge. If, however, you ain’t got a gauge I would highly recommend this 10 dollar wonder. Just try out a few at the store and make sure they fit and finish is the best of the lot. Still a solid buy. My next gauge was a single pin Marples in beech, that I got on amazon. The beam is too short and the pin was dull and rounded. I think I paid closer to 20 bucks and was unhappy. Don’t waste your time, build a french gauge. My third gauge was an example of being a novice and being cheap. I wanted to ape the other woodworkers I was following at the time, but didn’t have the cash to buy the several hundred dollar wheel type gauges, so I bought a Chinese knock off on amazon. I never use this gauge, all I can say for it is that it swore me off wheel gauges. I just don’t like them. Again, build some french gauges. Some more research, years ago, brought me to Bob’s video. I knew then that I would not buy any more gauges, I would make these and I would suffer with 2 gauges until I made some. As always, I think I’m a better woodworker now for having made one. My hand tool journey has always been improved when I force myself outside my comfort zone. Tool making is way outside my zone. But hey, hurricane was coming how bad could I do?
Ok, where to start, Conclusion first? Or is this a summary. I guess I’ll tell you what I’ve learned. One, I think the project came out very functional and I’ll probably have this marking gauge forever. That said, I think the main reason it came out at all is that I spent a fair bit of time on the layout and I left the blank over long. All this made it easy to work, even when I made my mistakes. Next, I think when I attempt this in padauk, I’ll go much much slower. My main problem, as it usually is, is that I lose patience and make a cut or a bore that I should have done more carefully. For example, the mortises, were blown out on the sides and corners. My chisels were sharp, but I did a few things wrong. I would take cuts that were too large. This means I was losing precision. I was not paying attention to where I was when I was levering, this would blow out the sides and ends. Southern Yellow Pine is soft and hard in spots. If you don’t go slow with small bites and sharp tools the grain will tear and split in ways you don’t want, but if you go slow I’ve achieved very smooth and precise cuts in SYP. I know this. Why didn’t I go slower? Lesson learned.
Another item, when moving along the mortise, I was not paying careful attention to my layout lines. I was cutting a 5/8 mortise with a 5/8 chisel. Even the slightest tap outside the lines and I weakened the fibers and guess what, they blowout. I ended up getting frustrated and getting out the brace and bit for both the beam mortise and the wedge mortise. Last, I have no rasps to speak of. My attempts at shaping were horrible, in the end it came out ok. I used a combination of a Stanley No. 4, a spoke shave, a chisel and sand paper. I think I’m ready for a real rasp. On to the build!
Step 1. First of go watch Bob Rozaieski’s video and get the pdf of the original article he references. These are what I used as a starting point. Then mill yourself up an overlong blank and do the layout. You will want the blank over long to make layout and all the operations easier. The longer blank can be held down with a hold down and fits better in the vise. To layout the faces and the edge USE THE ACTUAL chisels that you will use to mortise with. Here I used a 5/8 and 1/4 inch set of bench chisels. This is a mistake a often made before, I would measure and then wonder why my chisel was too big or too small. Used my combo gauge to layout the mortises using the actual chisels to set the width between the pins. The pins should just touch the outsides to the chisel edges. Like barely.
Step 2. Transfer all your lines around and then layout the smaller wedge socket on one side and then the larger wedge socket on the other. Mine were 7/16 on one side and 9/16 tall on the other. These are all in the plan. If your off, you can still make up for this when you come to make the wedge and beam. This project is forgiving if you size the pieces off the mortises.
Step 3. Chop or bore out the mortise. Here I started in on the mortise. However, after getting down about 1/2 an inch and realizing it was going to be hard to follow the angle I got out the brace and bit.
Here I found it easier to follow the angle on the face with the brace and bit.
Step 4. Chop and Bore out the face mortise for the beam. After struggling again with staying in the layout lines. I went an got an auger bit. Boring out was pretty easy. I should have, however, taken a break. I was getting frustrated with blowing out the edge of the mortise with my chisel so I grabbed the brace and went to town. See what happened next.
You’re supposed to stop halfway through and bore in from both sides. This keeps any error in the middle and keeps your bench top out of danger. Oh well, I needed to finish flattening the top of my bench anyway. This will come out. But at the time It just added to my frustration. I should have taken a break. I pressed on and started chopping out the rest of the mortise sides. If I had stopped and come back I know I would have done a cleaner job. As with life, knowing when to stop is as important as knowing when to keep going. In my defense this was my distraction project from the Cat 5 hurricane, IRMA that was bearing down upon us at the time. It was only a day away at the time I was chopping this.
So , Paul Sellers is always saying to keep your bench top clean when mortising or chopping so you don’t dent your soft pine. Guess what I didn’t do before I whacked down the hold down. You can also see the levering errors at the edges of the mortise. I’ll go slower next time.
More mortise blowout. Go slow and stay inside the lines.
Step 5. Make the beam. Here I use a wedge to hold the cut open while I rip. I like ripping in the vise. Paul Sellers says he does it because he’s always been a bench man. I guess I’m becoming one too. I always seem to gravitate to ripping in the vise if I can. Here I’m using my modified bench vise. My Eclipse is on order, but this $20 vise has gotten me by for a year or so. I can take it off when not in use. The hold downs keep it very stable. I cut, chop and plane in it without too much trouble. I don’t really like my crochet, so thats why I made this. Last week I finally broke down and ordered the 10″ eclipse thats patterned on my dream RECORD 53. I can’t wait. I can’t say enough about how proper work holding can make woodworking fun or frustrating. I should have bought a full size vise 2 years ago. When you make your bench, buy a vise. Don’t wait. You’ll only suffer.
Step 6. Size the beam. Marked out with a marking gauge the size taken directly off the face mortise hole. What I mean is I squared the beam, since I had cut it over size. I held one corner in the mortise and then marked the other 2 non fitting corners with a pencil. I then gauged these lines down the beam and slowly began to plane to them. I also drew them out on both ends so I could see progress there too. I was going for a tight fit, since I was expecting compression. After a few light plane shavings each time I would test the fit. Once the fit started and I could slide the beam in with force, I began to look for bruising on the wood and would take a very light shaving off the bruised area. This is how I snuck up on what I think is a pretty good fit. With the beam mostly extended from the face, ala all the way through to its max length without falling out, the beam was still square to the face. To be honest, I was surprised that I had done so well. I was expecting the gaps in the mortise edges to cause it to be out of square, but I’m guessing enough of the inside of the mortise was square Tobe keep the beam square.
This is one of those magic woodworking moments. Working up to this point I had no idea if this was going to be a working project or a dud. When the beam went in and it was square, I had to step back an take a picture. It filled me with such happiness. This is why I do woodworking, for moments like this. It was at this moment that I knew I could a thousand of these if I wanted, when only seconds before I didn’t know if I could build one.
My woodworking got so much better and less frustrating when I ‘got over’ drawing all over my wood. Before, I was afraid to make it dirty or mark it up for fear of ruining it. Little did I know that planing the wrong face, for chopping in a mortise in the wrong side ruins the work even more. Now, I draw all over my working pieces knowing I can plane, scrape or sand it off. And if I can’t I’ll paint it! Either way, I’ll have better joinery, which is what I’m after.
Step 7. The wedge. I started with an oversize wedge blank. This made it easier to handle. I marked out my shape and rough dimensions on the side and began to whittle. In retrospect, and after seeing Brian Eve make a wedge I think I’ll use his method next time. My wedge came out ok.
After the carving a sawed the wedge blank to the rough dimension and then planed down one side till it fit. You may have to use a knife to carve off a bit here and there to get it to fit. Take small bites and test fit often. I got a decent fit. Most importantly, it locks the beam in pretty solid. I had to hit the beam on the bench pretty hard to get it to slip. I think it holds better than any of my other gauges with screw hold downs.
Step 8. Round off the top. I guess this makes it French? I do know that now that now that I have one like this, the fit in the hand when marking is better than anything I’ve ever used. Viv La France! Sorry for the blurry pics. Bear with me. I’m trying to get as many in progress shots as I can. I hate projects that show three pictures and then the final product and you are like, ‘How the heck did they do this part?’ Here, I’m glad that I had the blank oversized so I could hold it in the vise to begin my attempts at shaping! I need a rasp. Here you need to mark out the curve on both the front and back faces. I did this and then proceeded to use anything that would abrade wood to get there. I only have a few Harbor Fright rasps and files. I tried my No 4, this worked ok for a little bit to round the corners. In the end the best thing I did was to take it out of the vise, lay it down on the bench and use a large chisel to work the corners into smaller and smaller flats by paring in from the faces. Then I made an 80 grit rasp with a stick of wood and some sand paper.
Here I took a few plane shavings, very thin, off the face in an attempt to fix the damage form the shaping. After this I went straight to slicing down from the face with a 1 1/4 inch chisel. This worked really well, and I knew from watch hundreds of hours of Paul Sellers videos that this is how I should have started. He can do just about anything with a chisel. He shapes many curves with just a chisel.
Much better. Starting to look curvy and french! Ohh, La La.
So here’s my make shift rasp. Actually, its 80 grit wrapped around a cut off from making the beam. It actually worked great. This too, is where I should have started the shaping.
Step 9. Drill the hole for a large trim nail. I decided to use a trim nail to get me started. The point is shaped and its hard enough. I found a drill bit just undersized to the name and then used my other gauge to work in from each side and try to find the center. At this point I was so excited that I had a gauge I got sloppy. You can sense a trend here. I think I always need to go slower. So guess what I did. I drilled the hole crooked. Not a deal breaker. The nail went in and it marks out perfect lines square to the face and at the right dimension. It just looks off. Guess what, I ain’t gonna fix it. I’m just gonna use it. When I go to make the next one, however, I will use this lesson to take my time with the egg beater drill, OR, I may break out the drill press. The drill press, like Bob Rosieski’s , is one of the only power tools I couldn’t seem to part with when I got rid of my table saw, router table, and chop saw. I still use it occasionally to hold a wire wheel to clean off parts for old planes or other metal tools. I don’t drill mortises. I tried that once and it did more harm than good and it was faster and easier for me to chop them or bore with a brace. Precise drilling with a small drill bit is another story. We will have to see if I break down and do this for the next beam.
Here’s my hodge podge of assorted bits. I have a drill index, somewhere, but since these are in a neat little box I always seem to reach for these. If I was smart I’d buy a small set of nice bits, throw these out, and put the nice bits in this box.
Step 10. Cut off the extra wood you’ve been using to hold your gauge in the vise. I did a pretty good job here. I knew I wanted it really clean off the cut so I went slow. The Japanese Z saw leaves a very fine cut with its tiny teeth. Thats what I used here. Its also what I use for Dovetails. I have two Western Dovetail saws awaiting restoration, but I haven’t gotten to them yet. The Z saw works very well and got me started in sawing. Chris Schwarz had an article years ago that said to get into Dovetails and case work you didn’t need $1000 worth of saws you just needed s Stanley Sharptooth saw and A Japanese Z style saw. So for about 60 bucks I was able to build my Bench and all my projects since then. I was lucky, when I went to do this years ago you could still find a wood handled sharptooth at the home center with some nice wheat carving and a decent shaped handle. They are gone at my home center now. No wood handles at all. I had this same issue looking for a decent wood handled hammer. I ended up with the cheapest one they had. Sanded off all the lacquer, took a file to it to dress it up. Polished it, oiled the handle once a week for about a year and its beautiful. I prefer raw handles with just an oil finish, they feel great in the hand and don’t cause the blisters and sores I used to get from repetitive use in a hot and wet climate. This gauge is just getting oil.
Here she is right after the cut. The end grain looks good, I think. Sorry for the blurry pics, but the small board behind it is where I marked out on both edges from top to bottom. If you look real hard you can see where I tried to quickly darken them in with pencil.
Step 11. Oil it. I use a 50/50 mixture of Ballistol, a non-toxic mineral oil based general purpose lubricant and cleaner thats been around since before WWI and straight mineral oil. This is my goto finish. I’m scared of BLO and the fire hazard so I just oil alot. I think, the Ballistol helps the oil penetrate and cure faster. It doesn’t stay oily like when I’ve tried straight mineral oil. You’re milage may very. I’ve been exposed to enough toxic chemicals to last 3 lifetimes, so I try not to add anymore than I absolutely have too. I also like the idea of using what they would have in the pre-industrial era of woodworking.
Here’s the final product in a glamour shot. I’m pretty proud of myself. I didn’t think this would come out, but it did. Its a fairly forgiving project. Despite all my errors it came together and the wedge really holds the beam in a fixed position better than the screw type gauge. That’s my opinion. Take ti for what you paid for it. Now go make yourself a gauge. You need more than you think. Thanks for reading.