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