Never Go Full Athol


After years of suffering with a drawing compass that was intended for drafting, I banished it to my upstairs office and ordered a vintage Starrett 85 for my tool chest.

The 85s are expensive, but surprisingly robust and versatile. As per usual, as soon as I started working with the tool, I knew I had put the moment off for too long.


The tool is absolutely nothing like a drafting compass. It locks tight and is micro-adjustable. You can swap out the points for a pencil, and you can even rotate the eccentric points to get arcs that are a little smaller or a little larger.

Mostly, I’m happy with how well made the thing is. My German-made drafting compass seems a toy.

OK, enough gloating. Back to the Whole Grain Gateway!

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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35 Responses to Never Go Full Athol

  1. “I’m surrounded by Athols!”

  2. woodworkerme says:

    a nice tool is nicer-er I mean better. and thanks for the reference on Thomas Hibben it’s a good history lesson , and a fun read.

  3. When I received my tool list to attend the Furniture Institute of Mass this Compass was a must have. Great tool. Another tool that will go up in price.


  4. knewconcepts says:

    Good quality tools may hurt a bit during the purchase, but they will bring pleasure the rest of your life. Picking them up brings a level of certainty to the work and improves attitude. That is priceless.

    Lee (the saw guy)

  5. martin says:

    Unfortunately, as of this morning there has been a massive price spike for Starrett 85’s 😛

  6. npc29 says:

    Yes, Massachusetts has the best Athol in the country.

    Growing up near there, and being very juvenile, leads one to hours of amusement

  7. That’s purdy. Do they still manufacture them, or do you have to look for vintage?

  8. richmondp says:

    I bought my #85 forty years ago when I started a fish boat re-build. A few years later I found the accessory caliper legs wrapped up in a cloth silver ware roll at an antique dealer who told me he thought they were some kind of boat builder’s tools. Along the way I’ve lost one of the pointy legs, re-placed anyway with a pencil, and have had to manufacture some of the other small parts I’ve lost, but otherwise it is still going strong. I use it constantly. Occasionally I tell myself that I should order proper replacement parts from Athol, (still available last I checked) but never seem to get around to it.

  9. everybody knows that.

  10. joefromoklahoma says:

    My old man gave me my pair for Xmas sometime in the early “80’s. Weird, I had them out yesterday afternoon for a bit and now this post comes along – synchronicity!!

  11. tman02 says:

    Yes Starrett does not make anything that is bot expensive. But they are good tools.

  12. abtuser says:

    I just got done using my divider on a project. It worked okay, but it does’t sound like it’s as precise and easy to use as the Starrett. Hmmm…

  13. abtuser says:

    Any preferences on A vs. B…vs E…anyone?

  14. John Koten says:

    Did you buy an older one instead of a new one so people wouldn’t keep asking what took you so long to get one?

  15. foodpump says:

    There is another US mnfctr that makes a very similiar model. I had to special order via a leather shop here in Vancouver since they don’t have a Cdn dealer. Can you guess who?

    C.S. Osborne

  16. I see them all the time on the online auction, but there is something in the aesthetic for me that just gives me the willies and makes me think 19th century surgeons tool or crude prosthetic device. Brrrrrrr.

  17. Scott Taylor says:

    I love mine, and any Starrett tool for that matter. I was given a set of 277 round leg dividers, two each in 3″, 6″. They are like jewels…
    The combination square is still the shops foundation, eventually you end up with a 4′, 6″ and 12″ with the centering and protector heads.

  18. Joe Watt says:

    so are you going to update your logo have an 85 ?

  19. As a Drafter,… I completely sympathize. Our tools are made for a different need.
    I’ve never done a deep dive into the tools of laying out a project as I am still a novice, at wood working.

  20. Scott Taylor says:

    I just found a 1938 Starrett catalog #26. The 9″ size with all the legs (dividers, inside and outside caliper) listed for $3.00…

  21. jleko says:


    Any benefits/detriments to the #92 versus the #85? The #92 has only one adjustable leg…

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