Bevel Gauge - Finding the Right Angle

Most of the wood cutting I do in my shop is nothing more than chopping off the end of a board. That means straight, 90-degree angles without too much fuss to get things set up the cut. In fact, most of the basic stuff I buy for my shop is designed for cutting either 90 or 45 degree cuts and not really much else. So what happens if want something in a 15 degree angle to make sawhorse legs work?

I've thought about just using the little bevel gauge marks already on my circular saw - assuming they're accurate. Even if they are, getting my fingers to perfectly match up the somewhat fat lines adds yet another margin of error to the whole equation. Eventually my skepticism lead me on a quest to find a protractor and check my blade's accuracy for myself (I remembered enough from grade school that a protractor has something to do with angles). However, before heading off to the school supply aisle at my grocery store, I thought I might first check out the tool accessories section at places like Home Depot and Ace Hardware. Surely they have something better suited to woodworking than those little plastic protractors that come in a pencil pouch.

I expected to at least find something similar. I was wrong - nothing even close to what I needed. I did find a couple other handy items for marking bevels, though. Like an adjustable bevel gauge for $4.95. That's a bargain for what this little tool can accomplish. The sliding bevel gauge doesn't really solve my original problem, though. Sure, you can set up a bevel all any angle you want. It just doesn't tell you what that angle is. It's really more suited for copying what might be an irregular angle on one thing (like the edge of a board).and then replicating that angle on something else (another board that butts up to it).

So my next thought was that surely someone makes a version of the typical sliding bevel gauge that includes the marks for knowing exactly what angle you're working with. Well, no, not really. Every sliding bevel gauge I've found specifically does NOT have markings. That's fine. The sliding bevel gauge is perfect what it is, so I'm happy to leave it at that. I'm back to the protractor idea now. And with a quick search on Google for woodworking protractor, I'm seeing a confusingly wide range of prices for this simple tool.

Starting on the low end, I can still get something similar to what a fifth grader carries in his or her backpack - a clear, plastic protractor with all the markings.but with the word "woodworking" stamped on it. That for about $2-$3. Some even have a rotating straight edge on one end, kind of like the sliding bevel gauge/protractor thing I was hoping to find earlier. I can get this for less than two bucks at a hobby store. The dirt-cheap protractors seem like they do what a protractor is suppose to do.if they're accurate. However, I think you get what you pay for, so I start looking for something a little more expensive.

Okay - here really isn't anything a little more expensive. Next step up in quality puts me at $59.99 for the Starret Protractor Angle Finder.or the Bosch DWM40L Digital Protractor Angle Finder for $115. Wow.that's some stretch from what I was just looking at. Sure, these are made from steel and have fancy electronics built in.but are they really more accurate than the $.49 protractor at my grocery store?

So here's my test. I found a more reasonably-priced calibration tool called the Wixey Digital Angle Gauge for about $40. I'm reading lots of kudos about the thing, so I thought this little gadget might be just the thing to test the accuracy of the more common (and less expensive) tools I use in my shop. Things like my $5 plastic rafter squares, combination squares, and more importantly, the bevel guide marks on my circular saw. Maybe I can even check out the accuracy of my $.49 plastic protractor.

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