Making a Wooden Marking Gauge for Kumiko Work

Wooden Marking Gauges

From left to right: splitting gauge, pencil marking gauge, knife marking gauge, double 1/4″(6mm) tenon marking gauge, and a 1/4″(6mm) mortising gauge for kumiko work.

These are all of the gauges that I use in my shop. The two on the right are the newest, brought about through a need to do more complicated and smaller joinery. Although I did not start with a home made marking gauge, these are the ones that now get the most use. I learned how to make these from Toshio Odate’s book “Japanese Woodworking Tools”. This post will show how I made the smallest one, my kumiko marking gauge.

Wood for marking gauge

The fence and the beam rough cut to length are so small they look like off-cuts that fell under my bench. The fence will be quartersawn oak. Its nice if the beam has a diagonal grain.

Wedge template

The mortise for the beam is centered on the width of the fence. The placement for the beam was by eye, a little to one side of center along the length of the fence. With the beam mortise marked, I use the wedge from my shoulder plane as a template for the keyed wedge I’ll be making for the gauge. I estimate by eye how large I want to make the wedge, and hold the template against a square placed on the lay out line for the edge of the beam mortise. Now an accurate mark for the wedge angle can be made. I also put a few pencil marks on the wedge template to tell me how much of the wedge segment I’ll be using to cut the actual wedge.

Gauge fence layout

It can be hard to see the mortise lines that go with the grain in oak, so I darkened them in with pencil. The beam is 3/8″ square and the wedge will be 1/4″ thick. Time to get the chisels out and chop the mortise, starting with the one for the beam.

Mortised marking gauge fence

With the mortises cut I chamfer all of the edges and corners. You want the fence to be very comfortable in the hand, no sharp corners to poke you and throw off your layout work. Next to the fence for a size comparison is my smallest plane, a Lie-Nielsen block plane. The smaller the work, the smaller the plane you use. I used my low angle Block plane for dimensioning the fence and beam, and the little Lie-Nielsen for chamfering.

Wooden Marking Gauge

Another size comparison with my most commonly used marking gauge. I’ve fitted the beam to the fence. I used the larger marking gauge to mark the beam slightly larger than the mortise for the beam. Then the fit was brought in with a block plane a few shavings at time, until the beam was secure but could move freely. Now for the fun part, the wedge!

Wedge fitted in fence

I used the wedge template as a pattern in some 1/4″ thick oak. You need a little room in front of the rounded part of the wedge such that the wedge can be loosened  but still remain secured in the fence. I cut the wedge out with a scroll saw, and pared the sloping top of the wedge flat to my pattern line with a chisel. Then its a matter of checking the fit of the wedge in the fence. It should be making good contact with the length of the fence mortise. If you tap it tight and loosen it several times with a hammer, any high spots that are rubbing will show up as burnished marks, and can be pared away with a sharp chisel until the fit is good. The wedge should secure the beam with a light tap of the hammer. This is not something to rush, the quality of future work depends on consistent marking.

Setting pin gauge

This gauge is set to the width of my 1/4″ mortising chisel, which gets a lot of work making shoji. In essence this gauge will ONLY be used for this chisel. I have other 1/4″ chisels, but they vary slightly in width. Two small finish nails were used as pins, inserted into slightly undersized holes, and filed to a chisel point. Adjustments in the width of the mark can be made by filing the pins on one side or the other. Both pins must be at exactly the same height for the gauge to mark evenly.

1/4" 6mm pin marking gauge

The finished marking gauge, so tiny! It makes my hand look very large, and I feel like I’m holding a baby bird. You can see on the opposite side of the beam that I messed up drilling the holes for the pins. My drill press table was at an angle resulting in leaning pins.

This gauge turned out well and I’ve already put it to use marking the jaguchi joints for tsukeko and kumiko mortises. I’m currently working on a three panel set of shoji for a folding screen set. Time to make something for sale! I’ll be adding a gallery page to my website when its done where I’ll show pieces for sale.

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