Sliding Bevel Gauges – The impossible tool?

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Sky hooks, perpetual motion machines, cold fusion and sliding bevel gauges that lock in place. These are all wonderful theoretical concepts, and were they realised, their application to global problems would be nothing short of breathtaking.

Of course I’m being a little hyperbolic, because you can buy sliding bevel gauges that do lock in place. But the likes of Vesper’s units, which admittedly are beautiful tools with a solid reputation, start at $250, and Starret’s #47 comes in close to $200 too. I’m not doubting the value in the high end versions but boy, that’s a lot of money.

Let me introduce you to my bevel gauges, Slippy and Slidey.

Slippy, the one on the right was actually a present for my wife many many years ago. It’s a Johnson B75, which on it’s manufacturers page proudly states “Made in the USA”. It’s even stamped on the blade like it means something. It doesn’t. Short of resorting to a pair of plyers and pushing the wing nut to within an inch of it’s manufacturing specification, there is no way to get this thing to lock. It just hangs out with my other tools because I can’t bring myself to throw it away.

Slidey, on the left, is a fancier timber/brass looking generic unit I bought a couple of months ago. It’s got a larger locking wheel which should provide more torque. Like a propeller hat though, this looks good but serves no function, certainly not that of a sliding bevel gauge.

It’s hard to understand why a manufacturer would make something which doesn’t do the one thing it is designed to do. I understand the business rationale behind building an inferior product, but not a useless one.

Of course there are the highly regarded vintage Stanley #18s, but despite looking for a while, I’ve not found any second hand. Sorry, that’s a lie, there have been two which sold for around $100! Unfortunately out of my price range.

Venerable Stanley No. 18. Highly regarded but hard to find.

I have made numerous attempts to fix Slidey. From removing the burs on the blade to cleaning up the slot and finally gluing some 400 grit wet and dry paper into the slot. Sadly Slidey continues to live up to it’s name.

I have searched high and low for alternatives. There seems to be some promising contenders in the $50-ish bracket, namely iGaging and Shinwa units. the problem is that I am now gun shy. Having been burned twice any review I read where someone mentions “hard to lock in place” has my left eye twitching and me throwing my hands up in exasperation before putting off buying a sliding bevel that works to a later date. Yes, I do acknowledge that putting too much credence in Amazon reviews from random strangers is folly.

I can’t/don’t want to afford the Mercedes of sliding bevel gauges, and the Trabants have proven useless (though this is probably unfair, because even the worst car in history still performed its most basic function). All I want is to find the Toyota of the sliding bevel gauge world. Simple, reliable, and does what it needs to do without any fuss.

I have a plan out of this slip and slide predicament though. I am going to order one of the above contenders from a supplier who will let me return it if I am not totally satisfied. If the first one is no good, I will try the other.

If all options prove unsatisfactory I am going to have to accept that a sliding bevel which locks is simply more complicated to manufacturer than I ever imagined, and accept that sometimes a Mercedes is the only option.

Now it’s time for me to hang my workshop apron in the sky hook next to my bench and say goodbye.

April 2020


  1. I recently purchased a 6″ Stanley No. 18 from eBay for $26 shipped, and a 10″ one for $30 shipped. Both in excellent condition. They aren’t exactly unobtanium, nor outrageously expensive. I won’t use anything else.

    1. What a great find!

      I see that you’re in the US, whose used tool market is unfortunately, chalk and cheese with that of Australia. None the less, perhaps one day I’ll find one at the right price to allow me to join the #18 club.

      Kind regards,

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