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Hand Tools #4 - Have You Hugged Your Scantillion Today?

Hand Tools #4 - Have You Hugged Your Scantillion Today?

Welcome to this weeks Hand Tools post.

The early mornings are well below 5ºC here in Swellendam, the mountains are beautifully capped in snow and my workshop wood stove is burning furiously. 

Before I get into the maze of marking out tools, I thought I would share my latest purchase with you. I bought a few 4' LED tubes to replace the current flourescent lights in part of the workshop. Having not used the  tubes before, I decided to buy only a few to test, before I laid out cash on the entire lighting system.

I paid about R75.00 per 20 Watt T8 LED tube. Fitting them was very easy. I disconnected the existing wiring, ballast, starters etc. All that I left in the housing were the two wires which go to one end of the fitting. Connecting up was then very easy. With LED tubes, you don't need anything else other than a positive and a negative wire that run to one end of the fitting. I removed all other wiring. The tube must be installed with the end that has the writing on, towards the fitting that is wired and that is it! (The original earth wire to the metal housing remains in place).

In short, I am extremely happy with the result. The light emitted by the tubes is very good (Definitely better that the old tubes) and considering that the old tubes each drew 40W and the LED tubes draw 20W, I will now halve my workshop lighting electricity consumption for the same amount (I think a little more) of illumination! 

So, T8 20W LED tubes get a definite thumbs up from me!


Now, to the Scantillion we go! 

Having dealt with squares last week, I thought that following up with Scantillions would be the next logical step. 

"Scantillion" is the original English name for a Marking Gauge and the name dates back to at least to the 14th century!

Above is a drawing of a Scantillion salvaged from the wreck of the "Mary Rose"

What woodworking tool has a more wondrous name that the Scantillion?

"And do we well and make a tower, with Square and Scantyllion so even, that may reache higher than heaven"

According to remarkable woodworking tool specialist and historian, Roy Underhill:

"It is no accident that the Square is paired with the Scantillion in the above quotation, because they are used together in truing rectangular stock. The Scantillion is the equivalent of the modern Marking Gauge, used to scribe a line parallel to an opposing surface. Stock that is prepared in this way is called "Scantling". Thus we have from the 1556 book "The Spider and the Flie", the following quotation: Whiche Sqwyre shall Sqware Me, a Scantling well bent, for a right rewle, to shew me innocent".

Ok, enough with the history lesson!

All Marking Out Tools that are used to scribe onto your wood, fall into four broad categories:

  • Pin Type Gauges
  • Blade Type Gauges
  • Wheel Type Gauges
  • Marking Knives

Pin type instruments were the standard for many years and they were what I was taught on in school, although the ends of those pins were generally bent and most often extremely blunt!

Shown above is a Stanley #61 Marking Gauge

The basic design of the Marking Gauge is the same whether you use a pin, blade or wheel style. Simply defined, they all consist of a headstock, a shaft (beam) that slides through the head, with some way of locking the shaft in a specific position, thus setting the pin, blade or wheel a specific distance from the bearing surface of the head. Whether your tool is Japanese, American, English or any other style, the principle and usage remains the same.

Pin type Marking Gauges work well when marking out with the grain, however when it comes to marking across the grain, they fail miserably. These gauges tear the fibres as opposed to cutting them cleanly, and the nett result is that the scribe line is "furry" and rough and requires further work to create a crisp edge. One way around the problem if you own a pin type marking gauge, is to sharpen the pin into more of a blade shape, with the cutting edge parallel to the face of the headstock of the gauge.

This modification of the pin will make a massive difference to your scribe quality and accuracy when marking out across the grain, as in tenon shoulders and panel work.

In the Orient, pin type gauges are not common, and the Japanese and Korean Marking Gauges are all of the blade type of marking gauge. These marking gauges vary in their locking systems, from a simple wooden wedge that is tapped into place to lock the beam, to those that utilise a thumb screw to lock the beam in position, as is the case in most Western type marking gauges. These Oriental Gauges are also known as Cutting Gauges.

A Japanese Sugi-Keshiki Gauge in White Oak.

Blade type Marking Gauges work well both across the grain and with it, because the blade cuts the fibres cleanly instead of tearing them. There are some great value Japanese Kakuri Marking Gauges of this type available in South Africa, generally made from White Oak. It it also quite easy to sharpen the blade on this type of gauge.

An excellent, exceptional value for money Gauge from Kakuri Japan

In recent years, wheel type marking gauges have entered the woodworking market.


These are devilishly clever, yet remarkably simple devices that use a tiny circular HSS blade that is screwed onto the end on the steel beam. The headstock of these gauges is usually brass or manganese bronze and the beams are highly polished steel.

The Veritas Gauge "B" is the Micro-Adjustable Version.
Veritas Gauge "A" is non-Micro-adjustable.

In my workshop, the gauges that I predominantly use are of the wheel type from Veritas Tools. I find that they have a good weight, sit very very comfortably in the hand, and leave an excellent, fine scribe line. They are available in single shaft/single blade format and double shaft with a single blade per shaft for laying out mortise and tenon joints. The blades are bevelled on one side only, giving you to option of defining which side of the line you are keeping and which side will be the waste. For example, both blade bevels should face each other for marking out mortises, and alternatively both blade bevels should face outwards when marking out your tenons. 

Veritas Dual Marking Gauge

The other really handy feature of the wheel type marking gauge is due to the fact that the circular blade and the corresponding countersunk screw holding the blade recess fully into the headstock, allowing the tool to stand upright for storage. With the Blade and Screw Head also being flush with each other, the gauge is easily used as a depth gauge for a wide range of applications throughout the workshop.

Another type of marking gauge system that should not be left out of this article are the Trammels.

Veritas Trammel Points / Stair Gauges

Trammel heads are basically a pair of steel pins that clamp onto either a wooden rod or a steel ruler (referred to as the "Beam") and are used either as an accurate point to point measuring device, or as a large pair of dividers allowing the user to scribe large arcs for tabletops and similar application.


My own set of antique (Late 1800's) Silver Plated Trammel Heads

with Micro-Adjuster & Honduras Mahogany Bars

Veritas makes a superb set of Trammels which doubles up at a pair of Stair Marking Out Gauges when the sharp trammel points are unscrewed and removed, the clamping heads are then used with a steel Framing Square.


These Veritas Trammels are excellent value and will last a lifetime or more if well cared for!

Finally, we get to our Marking Knives. Historically, these instruments were called Striking Knives. There is endless discourse regarding Marking Knives and plenty of arguments for one type over another and vice versa.

Let us take a careful look at the purpose of the tool and how we get the most accuracy from it.

The principle of the Marking Knife is to cut a shallow scoring line using a square as the reference for the knife, that's it! This scored line is then used to reference a chisel in it, a saw against it, and for some woodworkers, just to look really cool.


The Excellent Double Bevel Narex Marking Knife

Whether you use a Double Bevel or Single Bevel style Marking Knife is you own indaba, but it is wise to bear the following in mind: If you use a single bevel Marking Knife and are required to score a line where your waste is on the left as well as scoring a line where the waste is on your right, you will either be required to turn the working surface and your Try Square 180º in the horizontal plane to score the second line, or be a talented contortionist to accomplish the task. 

Alternatively, you could buy a set of knives in opposing bevels for left and right scoring.


Another option is to use a Double Bevel Marking Knife, which makes our woodworking life much more enjoyable,  because it can be used in both left and right scoring formats. These are great when doing lots of hand cut dovetail joints.

In my opinion, the most inexpensive, decent quality Double Bevel Marking Knife available to South African woodworkers is made by Narex.

Narex also make both left hand and right hand Knives, and for really beautiful single bevel laminated White Steel Knives, The Kakuri and Tomoe Japanese Kiridashi Knives are wonderful!

In my workshop, I use a wide variety of Marking Knives. From Tomoe Japanese Kiridashi Single Bevel, Narex Double Bevel, to #4 Scalpels, homemade, X-Acto and Chip Carving / Whittling knives. Each of them have specific tasks in the shop, I don't have a "one size fits all" knife.

For a first time purchase, I would recommend a Narex Double Bevel Marking Knife. It won't break the bank, sharpens well and will serve you for many years.

In closing, I reckon it is time to take your Scantillion in hand and create something beautiful!

Until Next week, Let's keep making shavings, not dust.






Previous article Hand Tools #5 - We Plane, We Saw, We Conquer!
Next article Hand Tools #3 - The Importance of Being Square.


Tobias Lochner - July 18, 2018

Hi Don. I am glad that you have discovered the wonderful attributes of wheel style marking gauges. In my book, they beat the old pin style hands down. And yes, our workshops should constantly evolve. Mine has been evolving for years! Adding things like tool tills for easy access, assembly tables, bench hooks, planing stops, shooting boards, clamp racks and so on, make workshop life more efficient, easier and way more pleasurable.

Don - July 13, 2018

Yebo Guy! The wheel type scantillion is the only way to go. No torn fibers, extremely accurate and easy to use. I have a Luban one and have been waiting in excess of 3 months for Veritas to deliver. I also have a Japanese Kakurimarking knife. It is beautifully sharp but the one sided bevel annoys me. A double sided Narex is on the list. Say what you like, my motto is, ‘the workshop is a place of constant improvement’.

Tobias Lochner - July 13, 2018

Hi Brandon, thanks for commenting. I am humbled to read that I am inspiring you! When your new Marking Knife is ready, please would you share some pictures and maybe a short article on how you made it?

Brandon Winks - July 13, 2018

Thank-you Tobias for this scintillating article on the scantillion. I have a few pin type marking gauges, both the single and double pin for setting out mortices. I recently spoiled myself and bought a Luban with tungsten marking wheel. ( The same one you featured on this site which I friction polished the wooden grip on. ) I thought it would overcome my problem of a fuzzy cut across grain. It did! I love it for its beauty and micro-adjusting feature too. For too long I’ve been stuck in the schoolroom habit of marking out with a pencil. You have inspired me to make myself a two-way marking knife, for left or right side marking in the near future. It will have to have a Wild Olive handle and brass ferrule, not copper, I know this would irk you. I look forward to your next blog. Regards from rainy Cape Town.

Tobias Lochner - July 6, 2018

Hi Hentie, good to hear from you and thanks for opening the comments. I fully agree that the older we get, the more light we need. In the article, I did not mention that I also use a few LED floodlights for close up work at the lathe, bandsaw, assembly table, workbench and my sharpening area. Regarding the Veritas Bar Gauge Head Set, I love mine. I have three sets on different length bars and they are the quickest and most accurate way of checking for square in the rush of a glue up that I know of!

Wheel Marking Gauges are also one of those tools that when you have one, you can’t imagine working without it. I agree that for an all round multi-purpose wheel type Marking Gauge, the Veritas Dual Gauge does everything.

Hentie - July 6, 2018

my bad – I see you do have the veritas bar heads on the site

Hentie - July 6, 2018

Hi Tobias.

One thing you did not mention is that the older we get – the more light we require.

The marking tools are the ones we use most, and the ones we most likely will not be able to do without. I am actually thinking of getting the kids make a set of marking gauges next.

I have never used the trammels – don’t have a set – and do not see a need for it – yet. The veritas bar gauge heads does tickle my fancy for checking square, but I don’t see it on the toolcraft site – only a full bar gauge set.

I don’t have a wheel marking gauge, I was looking at the luban one in the store specific for the depth portion of mortises – taking out the Vernier seems complete overkill. Now the double (based on this article) looks like a future purchase as well.

Even though they are not purchasable tools as such – a plain wooden story stick works wonders. and you can write on it.


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