When less is more

A recent release from Woodpeckers, this new square is of significant size.

Woodpeckers Mini Square

Woodpeckers Mini Square

Significantly small that is!  When so many other items work to convince you that bigger is better, this goes the other way and proclaims “less is more”

As with other Woodpeckers squares, this is guaranteed square (and to stay square for the gauge’s lifetime) to 0.001″

You may notice inside the stylish container, that Woodpeckers products are made in the USA, and that not only being small, it has decent width.  One use of the gauge is for checking that a sharpened chisel is square to the sides, and that width makes it easier to align the gauge with the chisel edge.

Checking a chisel is square

Checking a chisel is square

This is not the only use for this gauge, as given its small size it can easily get into small spaces (such as a small box or drawer), and check for square.  That ability to fit into small spaces isn’t something to undervalue – resorting to folding a piece of paper to create a makeshift square will not achieve 0.001″ accuracy!

Available in Oz from Professional Woodworkers Supplies for under $40.


Fundamental Rules

Formula. Our lives are defined by formula. The mathematical depiction of reality.

E = mc2


s = ut + (1/2)at2

So many of these derived so long ago, and yet still perfectly accurate. Nature defined.

There is one that is again, so simple, so exact. a2 + b2 = c2 This one has only been around a short while….about 2500 years! Known as the Pythagorean theorum, by the philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras of Samos.

Italiano: Busto di Pitagora. Copia romana di o...

Pythagoras of Samos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is such a simple rule, a theorem in geometry that states that in a right-angled triangle the area of the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the areas of the squares of the other two sides. And the easiest version to remember is a 3-4-5 triangle. If your triangle follows this rule, you are guaranteed that the angle between the two shorter sides is a perfect right angle.

So if this rule is so perfect for ensuring you have a right angle, then why not have a tool based on such a perfect formula?

As a limited run (also known as “One-Time Tools”) from Woodpeckers, they have released a range of “Pythagoras Gauges“, available through Professional Woodworkers Supplies. The link takes you the set of all the sizes available as a set, but you can also purchase them individually, pricing ranging from $30 to $100.

They are accurate (I don’t know to what degree, but Woodpeckers don’t work to coarse tolerances!), and a lot cheaper than the equivalent square. The largest is around 1 metre (on the longest side): a square made to the same tolerances, to the same size would cost a fortune! Or be as (in)accurate as a carpenter’s square. The smallest is 178mm on the longest side, perfect for small boxes.

They look unusual compared to a traditional square, but what is important is accuracy and functionality.

If all three points are each touching a side (or corner), then the object is perfectly square. If not, then it is very easy to see not only which way the side needs to move to achieve ‘squareness’, but by how much.

I see one improvement that could have been made: additional marks on either end of the long side would have been possible to demonstrate to a very fine amount how much off from square the object is.

But other than that, a very interesting application of such an ancient theorum!

Revenge of the Nerds

This is a Super Square! Measuring 300mm x 300mm, 90° and 45°

I have one sitting next to me, and the first thing that is really noticeable is its heft.  A solid design that drips of quality, and so it is no surprise that the manufacturer is Woodpeckers (in the USA).  They are producing this square specifically for the Australian Wood Review.

Made from high grade aluminium, it is anodised and laser etched, so the markings are not rubbing off any time soon.  The anodised finish gives a silky feel, and every edge is lightly chamfered, giving a real quality look and feel.

The edges are tapered so the markings are close to the work, minimising parallax error. The two shorter sides are marked from the 90°, and the long side is marked from the centre, so it can be used as a centering rule.

Finally, because it is one piece and with substantial material thickness, if it happens to get dropped it isn’t going to loose its calibration – the bane of many cheaper squares.  One bounce on the shed floor and they become landfill. Not so with this puppy.

Available from Australian Wood Review‘s online shop, $144 inc delivery to Victoria/NSW, another buck or so for WA.  NZ $152, and airmail to the USA/UK is $156/$160 respectively.

Granite in Woodworking

I like accuracy. Can’t help it. It’s the engineer in me.

Accuracy includes flatness, and there is a slowly emerging trend of using granite to achieve this, with Steel City producing granite topped tools (such as tablesaws). (Aside – there is also a granite block available for a sharpening station – something I am definitely interested in!)

Steel City are starting to branch out with their use of granite into other areas of woodworking, and one very interesting development is the very unusual (if seeing a granite topped tablesaw isn’t unusual enough!) idea of a granite angle gauge. This is will be available in Australia from Professional Woodworkers Supplies, so if you are interested, definitely get in contact with them, as the initial shipment will only be a limited number of units. I’m not sure the exact cost, but around $55 (give or take $10) would be my guesstimate.

Positive points of the granite angle gauge: very dimensionally stable, even over a wide range of temperature. Accuracy over the life of the tool. And because of the cheapness of granite compared to the cost of an equal thickness of more traditional angle gauge materials, it has significant weight and substance- including being quite stable when free-standing.

Negative points: If you want thin, it isn’t going to be granite! And don’t drop it on a concrete floor. I don’t know how survivable a drop onto a hard surface would be, but I’m not going to try it!!!!

So onto the tool itself.

Storage Case

Storage Case

Subtle – understated.  Just the way I like it for professional tools.

Setting 45 degree stop

Setting 45 degree stop

So here ’tis.  A chunk of accurately machined granite, with a 90 degree and 45 degree angle.  Although it is very thick (which makes free standing a breeze), the edges are tapered to only a few mm, so it is narrow enough to fit easily between the carbide teeth so the angle is against the meat of the blade as it should be.  The thickness also helps, so you can really see when the gap between the gauge and the blade disappears.

Top view

Top view

Setting 90 degree stop

Setting 90 degree stop

When I first placed the gauge against the blade at 90 degrees, there was a gap that shouldn’t have been there.  Strange thought I, so I compared the granite gauge to my other squares.  They seemed fine, so back to the saw, and it was that my stop wasn’t as accurately set to 90 degrees as I would want.  I then used the other squares to compare, and the gap was discernible, but it was really obvious with the granite gauge.

It was then adjusting the stop that I really began to appreciate that it was free-standing, as it freed up a hand to work on the blade angle stop, or wind the blade angle wheel to get back to exactly 90 degrees.

The gauge isn’t something that you’d use on a day to day basis in your woodworking, but knowing you have such an accurate reference for your other gauges and squares, and for setting up your tools is definitely an asset.

The Quest for Accuracy

I’m not sure what it is that is driving me to seek ever increasing degrees of accuracy in my tools. Is it because I need everything to work perfectly to counteract my lack of skill and/or practice? Is it because I’m an engineer (in mind if not by vocation)? Or do I secretly wish I was working with steel rather than wood? Perhaps I’m just a bit AR (and if you don’t know what the acronym is – Google it…..add “freud” (no, not the blade!!))

Irrespective of the cause, I do like accurate tools, and gauges etc. I’ll do a full expose’ in an upcoming video, but have thrown a few things together here:

Precision Measuring Tools

From the left side, heading clockwise, is a digital protractor (accurate to 1/10 degree), digital angle gauge (also 1/10 degree), the Woodpeckers Saw Gauge (accurate to 1/1000″, or 0.02mm), a digital height gauge (0.1mm), Incra rule (0.1mm), and Incra square. In addition, there is the Wixey Digital Fence Gauge, and of course the tablesaw itself is part of the picture (figuratively and literally), and that is also deliberate. No point having accurate measurements if the tools themselves are not part of the equation.

Episode 14 E = mc Square

Episode 14 E=mc Square.

Squares (or tri-squares) are an essential part of every toolbox. In this episode, we have a brief look at various types of squares, from the cheapest through to some superb versions that are available. We also look at how to test a square for accuracy before buying it.

Particularly featured is Incra’s Guaranteed Square, available from Professional Woodworker Supplies. Their guarantee is that the angular accuracy, from heel to toe of this square is accurate to within 1/1000th of a inch, making for a square with incredible accuracy. Cost is $A112.50. It is made from a hardened material (not sure what the base material is), which has been anodised for durability and finish. Also from Professional Woodwork Supplies is a Wixey Digital Angle Gauge. Not strictly a square, but it is easy to use it as such, and accurate to within 0.1 degrees. This one will set you back $77.50. Since getting to use both these around the workshop, I have found them essential tools, and both can now be found in my shop apron, as they get used constantly.

From Australian Wood Review magazine is their multi-square. This is an accurately machined 45-45-90 set square, and is excellent for both measuring and checking angles. It is excellent for setting blade and bit heights, as well as checking for square (and checking other squares). Cost is $35 for the imperial version (currently on special), and $45 for the metric version. Drop this one on the floor, and you don’t have to think about buying a new one!

Finally, for those who love quality hand-made hand tools there is a Colen Clenton square, with an ebony stock, and a recalibratable blade. This is a fine tool, beautiful to look at and use. They are available through the HNT Gordon website.

BTW, sorry about the quality at the start of the video – think a camera is definitely needing a service. Hope the other videos shot around the same time are not too badly affected 😦

Update: Having a look at some of the feedback, and yes, there are a whole heap of other squares on the market, including some combination squares that are apparently very accurate. Unfortunately, I can only review what I have, or have come across (or in a couple of instances were generously supplied), which is pretty much the same situation for many woodworkers. If other suppliers/manufacturers would like to have their items included in a side-by-side review, please drop me an email.

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