Timber Scribe Tools

Written by tamasin wedgwood
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Timber Scribe Tools
Compass-style scribers can copy the shape of one surface onto another. (the compasses image by Oleg Verbitsky from Fotolia.com)

To scribe is to mark an outline into wood by scratching with a metal point. Scribe tools are used to transfer the shape of one surface onto another. In this way adjoining parts can be cut so that they interlock -- for example, cutting the logs in a log cabin where they join at corners. Another application is where wood has to be cut either to replicate or to fit around an existing antique moulding.

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Compass-style Scribers

Scribers for transferring complex shapes resemble a pair of dividers or compasses. Shaped like an inverted V, with a screw adjustment at the apex, these can be opened up to increase the radius. They can be used with a spike in one arm and a pencil in the other -- or used with two spikes, or even two pencils. Spikes may be straight for use as compasses or curved for scribing. As one point is moved along the shape of a moulding or joint, it's outline is marked onto the adjoining timber by the spike in the other arm.

Mackie Scriber

This is a more elaborate form of compass-style scriber, adapted for use building log homes. Designed by B. Allan Mackie, the scriber is aluminium with a stainless steel point and brass screw mechanisms. It can be adapted to take a pencil and has integral bubble levels to ensure accuracy. Several companies produce similar lightweight aluminium scribers. In many the level rotates through 360 degrees, permitting flexible positioning.

Pencil Inserts

Most compass-style scribers can be adjusted to hold a pencil in place of the scribing tool. Specialised scribing pencils are available. These tend to have either harder tips than standard pencils, or indelible pigments, which mark with minimal pressure. Choose from indelible pencils, pencils containing coloured ink, or scriber pens. The latter usually require adaptors to fit them to the scribe tool.

Log or Line Transfer Calipers

This scribing tool is semicircular rather than the v-shaped form. Its larger diameter and curved shape allows designs to be duplicated from one side of a timber to another.

Template Scriber

The simplest scribing tool is the handheld screwdriver-shaped scriber, used to mark around a variety of templates or along a steel rule. The scriber is held firmly against the template and moved along with a smooth motion, scoring the wood. This can be used with a curve gauge for scribing rounded surfaces. Tools that may be used with this type of scriber to mark lines and angles include combination squares, bevel protractors, sliding bevels, mitre squares and mitre rules.

Marking Gauge

A marking gauge is an arrangement of wood bars containing a metal spike for scribing. It is fitted closely against the timber and drawn along to mark a line (see Resources.) A mortise gauge contains two spikes for marking parallel lines simultaneously -- one is fixed; the second adjusts using a brass screw and sliding bar. Anther variation is the cutting gauge -- scoring lines with a blade rather than a spike, this works better for marking across the wood grain. Panel gauges and bevel gauges have scribing arms that slide along a wood bar to mark parallel lines.

Timber Scribe Tools
The spike in the end of a marking gauge scribes straight lines. (marking gauge image by dwags from Fotolia.com)

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