I have a terrible weakness for marking and measuring tools. Even though most of my work eschews hitting a particular number, I am a sucker for squares, knives and marking gauges. Let’s start with squares.
I have three Starrett combination squares. Two have been with me for 20 years. The third is a new acquisition. My 12” Starrett square was probably the first quality tool I bought when I was hired by Popular Woodworking Magazine. I was terrified by the price at the time – about $65 – but I was hooked after using a fellow employee’s Starrett square.
I also have a 6” Starrett combination square I bought at a flea market for $20 (Cincinnati is awash in machinist tools).
This year I bought a 24” Starrett combination square with the oversized H8 head. It was my reward to myself for finishing “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” With this square and its 24”-long blade I was able to retire my framing square and trade up in accuracy. I would never call this a “must-have” tool. But I’ve always wanted one.
Despite the above, I’m not much of a spokeman for Starrett. The quality of the new stuff seems to be falling lately. I hope it’s temporary.
I also have two squares from Chris Vesper. I have his 7” try square and his fantastic double square (with all the accessory blades). The 7” try square is the ultimate arbiter of squareness in the shop. The double square measures things in places that no other square can go.
I have two marking knives. A Blue Spruce Toolworks knife that is the only tool in my chest that I did not purchase. It was a gift from a reader in Arkansas who was dying and asked me to have it. The handle is some fantastic burl and the blade is, of course, the high quality you expect from Dave Jeske at Blue Spruce.
My other marking knife is a Veritas with a black plastic handle. Despite the plastic handle, it’s an excellent knife and is the tool I use when I am working out of town. I love how it won’t roll off my bench.
I have four Tite-Mark gauges. I wish had four more. Don’t buy imitators or from people who ripped off Kevin Drake’s work. Your gauge lines will go astray and you’ll get a gypsy curse to boot (and then Marta will have to remove it).
Dividers and Compasses
I have two pairs of small dividers from Starrett. One is vintage; one is new. The new one is not in the same league as the vintage one. I also own two Starrett compasses – one new and one vintage. The quality hasn’t slipped on these. These compasses allow you to swap the pencil for a second point, and so they serve me well for large layout chores.
Sliding Bevel Gauges
I have two of them, a 7” and 4”, both from Chris Vesper. Before I could afford Vesper’s work, I was a sucker for the Stanley No. 18 butt-locking gauge.
I use a variety of mechanical pencils and lead holders for rough marking of the material. I also use the fine-lead pencils to accentuate knife lines so I can see them.
Trammels & Odd Bits
I finally gave up my grandfather’s Japanese trammels and picked up the Veritas ones. I have wooden shop-made winding sticks, a straightedge and pinch rods stashed in the front chamber of my chest next to my saws. Somewhere in there is also a plastic protractor.
For marking dovetails, I have the Sterling Saddle-Tail. Love it.
And Tape Measures
I can’t imagine working without a tape measure on my belt. And I get the funniest looks when I walk into the local hardware store with it. It’s a 12’ Stanley Powerlock – the kind with the metal case. Contractors look at me like I’m wearing a dress or a dominatrix outfit. In our hardware store it’s 50’ or go home.
I also have a few Lufkins floating around that I use when I go to the lumberyard or need to get a rough measurement. But for measuring anything “for keeps,” I use the Stanley. Every tape measure is a little different and a little off from its brothers and sisters.
Next up: Chisels and such.
— Christopher Schwarz