Looking for a perfect, modestly priced item for the woodworker on your holiday shopping list? Here’s a tip: as a gift, digital measuring tools have a lot going for them. For starters, they have great gadget appeal. They’re also surprisingly affordable and much easier to wrap than a table saw. But most importantly, digital tools bring incredible accuracy and almost revolutionary convenience to a host common woodworking tasks. All in all, they’re pleasure to use.
The Wixey Digital Angle Gauge is an excellent example. This unassuming 2” x 2” square box transforms the common and often frustrating task of accurately setting the blade or fence angle on power tools into a foolproof 30-second procedure. The gauge works by electronically comparing a reference angle of zero degrees against an opposing angle anywhere over a range of 150 degrees. To use it, you simply attach the magnetic edge of the gauge to a saw blade or fence and adjust the angle setting until the digital readout tells you that you’re in exactly the right position. It’s that simple. Compared to the usual routine of hunching down and squinting at a T-bevel or a square until you’re pretty sure you have the angle setting just about right, it’s an amazing luxury.
Wixey’s 8” and 3” Digital Protractors work in much the same way, but instead of using an external plane as a reference, they take their reading based on a comparison of the relative position of their two blades. For a woodworker, the benefits and uses are obvious. These “intelligent” squares make it easy to measure and mark off virtually any angle with absolute accuracy. As importantly, they take dead-on readings of the real life angles of wall intersections, existing casework, cut-and-fit constructions and whatever else happens along. Both models have a blade lock-down mechanism for repeatable angle marking. And both have magnetic strips on all blade edges, which means they’ll work equally well for setting up power tools.
The 3” protractor is small enough to fit in a shirt pocket, and works great for quick, accurate tool set ups, marking angles on small parts, and reading angles in tight spaces. A trim carpenter, on the other hand, might appreciate the longer blades of the 8” model. The added blade length is better for reading real-world angles for trim cuts, and can, of course, be used to measure and mark angles on larger stock. Either way, the ability to quickly and accurately measure and mark any angle from 0 to 180 degrees has countless woodworking applications.
Measuring the height settings of saw blades and router bits is another extremely common woodworking task, and almost always a crucial one. Rockler’s Digital Height Gauge makes the process quick, easy and more accurate than virtually any other method. With its heavy steel foot, the gauge rests flat on the surface of the tool of its own accord. Setting a particular blade or bit height is a simple matter of resting the gauge’s measurement arm on the tip of the blade or bit and raising both until the digital readout confirms the exactly correct height.
The gauge’s reach is another important feature. One of the main drawbacks of other height measuring methods is that they make it difficult to measure based on the guaranteed flat permanent surface of the tool - a much more reliable reference point than a table saw throat plate or router table insert. The digital height gauge can take a measurement based on a surface that’s a couple inches away from the blade or bit, on the plane that’s actually supporting the workpiece. The overall results are fewer test cuts, less frustration, less scrap wood, and in a majority of cases, a happier woodworker.
Finally, here’s a digital tool that’s almost guaranteed to have universal appeal. Sooner or later in almost every woodworker’s career, an accurate method for measuring very small distances – the thickness of veneer, the depth of a groove, etc. - becomes an absolute necessity. The tool for that is, irreplaceably, a machinist’s caliper. Fortunately, calipers are now available in two varieties: the traditional dial caliper, which gives its reading via a small circular scale covered with tiny, not-so-easy to interpret numbers, and the modern (vastly preferable, if you ask us) digital caliper, which offers every bit as accurate readings on a large, easy-to-read display.
Almost any woodworker will find endless uses for a digital caliper. They’ll use it for everything from checking the thickness of planed stock to measuring the distance between drawer pull bores. If you do decide to go that route, consider a Fractional Digital Caliper for anyone who’s used to fractional notation. The fractional readings are supplied down to 1/128ths of an inch, which is plenty accurate for most measuring tasks. A press of a button switches the readout decimal form for greater accuracy, or to millimeters.
Finding the perfect gift for a woodworker can be a challenge, especially if you’re buying for someone who already has an elaborate tool collection and strongly held opinions about what counts as a worthy piece of equipment. Even for a veteran woodworker, digital measuring tools are a pretty safe bet. Harnessing modern technology, they offer something every woodworker wants: absolute accuracy the easy way.