Among all the items in my shop, the measuring, marking, and layout tools are probably my favorite. Mostly, I love how historic they are: dividers, squares, calipers, rulers, and marking gauges have all been around for centuries, remaining mostly unchanged in their design and intended purpose. And who doesn't love a clear, crisp, and accurate line to work to?
So, I'm always excited to discover a new style layout tool to integrate into the design process of a project. Recently, I picked up a Veritas Carpenter's Gauge, and I think it's fantastic. Here's why:
It's small, lightweight, and direct reading.
Essentially, this is a fancy beam-style compass with several additional features. Intended to be carried in an apron pocket, this is a direct reading marking gauge for both diameter and radius, as well as specific distances for scribing a line parallel to an edge (marking gauge.)
It's the best compass I've ever used.
Because the scale is right on the ruler, it's easy to dial in a curve by either the radius (bottom scale) or the diameter (top). This eliminates complicated shop math. Veritas gives an example "If you have ever measured a dryer vent pipe at 5-7/16" diameter and needed to cut a hole for it, you'll know why direct-setting diameters are such an advantage." With a traditional two-legged hinged compass, you'd have to divide 5 7/16" in half. (Try it in your head.) Then, you have to get a fine ruler, dial in the compass to that number, and then, wobbily, scribe your arc. (The answer is 2 23/32"... a number difficult to locate and therefore increasing error.)
It's also easier to use to scribe an arc or a circle. Because of it's design and layout, the tool stays vertical the entire time, and doesn't lay to either side while spinning like a traditional compass.
In short It makes super quick work of both determining diameter/radius and penciling it down.
It's a solid marking gauge.
With the fence rotated 90°, it makes quick work of scribing a line parallel to an edge. Further more, it will also tell you what that distance is, in case that's helpful to your project. Or vice versa.
It's a center finder...AND MORE!
The gauge makes it super super to find the center of any board less than a foot or so wide. This is especially helpful when you want to lay out a radius on a corner. As Veritas describes, "You set your radius, locate the center using the gauge, then rotate the head and scribe your line with the compass. The gauge is also useful in a cabinet shop because of the direct-reading feature (substantially reduces errors), as well as for the fast corner radiusing just described."
I ordered mine the last time I did a Lee Valley order, and I've integrated it into almost everything I've done since it showed up. It's not a replacement for a cutting style marking gauge, but it's better than a combination square and a ruler, by far. Add the compass feature, and it's killer. Plus, it fits into your pocket without extra weight.