The Hamilton Panel Gauge

Sometime during the last year my panel gauge took a walk. I might have left it in Maine, Connecticut or even Pittsboro, N.C., sometime during 2011.

It’s really hard to do handwork without a panel gauge, which lays out the lines for ripping boards to width. I’ve been making due with a chalkline and an awl that’s left over from my days of cutting sheet goods on the farm.

So at Woodworking in America, my ears perked up when Jeff Hamilton of Hamilton Woodworks showed me his prototype for a panel gauge. I looked it over, made a couple selfish suggestions and then ordered one on the spot.

It arrived this week (I paid full price, have no affiliation with Jeff other than we’re both Arkansas boys, blah and yadda). Boy is this gauge nice – perhaps the nicest panel gauge I’ve ever held. I say “perhaps” because I have been through John Sindelar’s collection, and I bet he has a solid gold one.

The gauge is curly maple, though Jeff offers it in cherry and walnut, too. I recommend the maple if you are a heavy user because the beam will take a beating with more aplomb. The beam is 28” long, so you can gauge a carcase side to width, and the beam has marking tools at either end.

At one end is a curved cutting gauge that is fully adjustable and removable for sharpening – it’s much nicer than the old pin gauge I used to have. Plus Jeff has added a brass wear plate on the bottom of the beam next to the knife. A nice touch.

At the other end is a holder for a pencil – a great feature when working with rough boards and you can’t see a knife line because of all the rough-sawn fur. The pencil is held securely by a knurled brass knob, which is an over-the-top touch.

But the nicest thing about the gauge is the way the head secures to the beam. It’s a significant improvement compared to many old designs. On my first gauge, the knob pressed against the top of the beam to lock the head. The more you used the gauge, the looser the beam became, until it really didn’t lock well.

What Jeff has done is two-fold in the smarts department. One, the bottom of the beam and its matching mortise are radiused, which helps prevent the beam from pivoting. Second, the pressure plate in the head actually applies pressure against the beam in two directions – on the top and on the side. This crowds the beam into a corner with diagonal pressure.

The locking force is impressive.

The fit and finish are top-notch. The wood has a soft and silky feel like you have been using it for years. All the brass work is nice and tight.

It costs more than the $85 Lie-Nielsen panel gauge – Jeff’s is $150. But it doesn’t disappoint either on looks or function.

And just to be sure that this one doesn’t take a walk, I stamped it twice with my shop mark.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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19 Responses to The Hamilton Panel Gauge

  1. Shannon says:

    This is fantastic thanks for the post Chris. One of my Hand Tool School students just informed me that Jeff also sells replacement blades which is great for those of us who built our own panel gauges and have been using craft store razor blades. We built a panel gauge as part of a lesson project and the weak spot is definitely the blade. The thumb screw attachment for the pencil is a great idea too since I mostly use the pencil end on my panel gauge and my pencil always comes loose despite the reamed and tapered hole. Needless to say I just ordered a few blades to experiment with my gauge.

  2. Michael Rogen says:

    Chris,
    I’ve been waiting for the right panel gauge and it looks like it has arrived. Jeff makes some real snazzy marking gauges I’ve had one for some time now and it’s become my 1st choice. My Titemarks have grown somewhat jealous. That’s life I tell them, not that I talk to my gauges. I’d feel guilty about not chatting with the chisels.
    Anyway, thanks for the information and you’re still the man!

    Michael

  3. Rob says:

    I have one of Jeff’s larger marking gauges, 6″ I think, and I love it. The fingernail grind on the blade is just superb. I am glad to hear that the panel gauge is just as nice.

  4. Marhk says:

    Nice gauge ! — almost as nice as the old Bridge City Tools one.

  5. David says:

    I also have one of his marking gauges here in New Zealand, a long way from its home! Best gauge I have ever used.

  6. ecrusch says:

    That gauge is a beauty. No doubt about that!

  7. aschenherl says:

    That’s one sexy panel gauge. Think I need to save my dimes up .

  8. Agosto says:

    The Hamilton marking gauge is superb. Marc Adams has been recommending it for the students in his Joinery class for a long time

  9. Jim B. says:

    Looks like you blew up the Hamilton Woodworks website, Chris!

    “Due to an overwhelming response to Christopher’s blob we will be experiencing some shipping delays. I will fill the orders as quickly as I can.” ~Jeff Hamilton

    I think it particularly funny that he called the blog a “blob”. Freud is alive.

    • Son, I’m really proud of you and your work. Don’t know where the creativity came from but you are phenomenal. Keep dreaming and creating and you will be a great success.
      Dad

  10. joecrafted says:

    Beautiful panel gauge and a true piece of craftsmanship.

    Being a frugal swamp yankee, I have to ask–what does any panel gauge do that a chalk line or ruler+straight edge fails to accomplish? I avoid ripping as much as possible, which means I size and re-size some of my projects based on my stock on hand. But for those times I do need to strike a line for ripping, I’ll often mark a distance from one jointed edge (a), then go to the far end and mark another distance (b) and connect the two with a straight edge and a knife line.

    I haven’t had much problem doing hand work this way. Both my method and using a panel gauge rely on a jointed edge. I already have a straight edge, a marking knife and a ruler, and for rough work, a chalk line and a nail. Chalk shows up better than pencil. Other than a beautiful tool (which is a different hobby), I don’t see the value-add.

    • lostartpress says:

      Joe,

      Panel gauges are considerably faster when you are building a piece with lots of similarly sized pieces. Think: Bookcase with shelves all the same width and top, sides and bottom the same width. Chalk lines work fine. And they are ideal for larger pieces and longer pieces (tabletops). But for some furniture — it’s the best solution.

  11. Al Rossi says:

    The guage is beautiful, but I have a question… shouldn’t the knife be facing the other way so that the beveled edge is always pulling the fence tight to the edge of the plank?

    • lostartpress says:

      With gauges in general you want the bevel facing the waste so you have a nice vertical slice on the knife line. This bevel orientation assists you when planing down to the knife line. Because of the bevel, the shaving gets narrower as you get closer to the finish line. Every little bit helps.

  12. lashomb says:

    Gorgeous, and after acquiring a few tools with Curly Maple elements (Lie-Nielsen saw and Blue Spruce mallet), I love it’s combination of strength and beauty.

  13. lashomb says:

    I may be mistaken, but the Marking Gauges by Hamilton (http://www.hamiltontools.com/product_images/uploaded_images/cherry-gauges.jpg) look like the ones pictured in Jim Tolpin’s latest book, The New Traditional Woodworker.

    • lostartpress says:

      I don’t have Jim’s book in front of me, but I do know that Jeff has been making this style of gauge for a lot longer than the book has been published.

    • They are my gauges. I met Jim at the WIA Conference in St.Charles. He was just laying out the outline for the book you saw the gauges in. I like the gauge he modified to layout lines on curved surfaces.

      Jeff Hamilton

  14. bob says:

    I have one of Jeff gauges. They are all you say. I also supply his curly maple. Looks good in the picture. bob

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