Don’t let those odd corners and complex shapes bring your project to a halt. A contour gauge can help you trace those shapes to make the perfect cut.
Whether you’re installing flooring, siding, tile, or some other material, you may eventually run into a door frame, set of pipes, or odd-shaped trim that you’ll need to work around. Rather than using a piece of paper and pencil to trace the shape, or applying an obscure equation from high school trigonometry, consider using a contour gauge.
These simple but invaluable tools resemble a comb with a long row of thin pins. When pushed against an object, the pins conform to the object’s shape, creating a mold that you can use to trace cut-lines on flooring, tile, or other material.
If you need a contour gauge to help you work around irregular shapes in your next project, read on to learn about the features to consider when shopping for one of these handy tools.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Contour Gauge
There are several important factors to consider when choosing the best contour gauge for your woodworking projects, including size, resolution, pin depth, and durability. The following sections contain details about the features you should consider when shopping for a quality contour gauge.
Size is a significant factor when choosing a contour gauge. The larger the gauge, the longer the contour it can duplicate. Most contour gauges are 10-inches long, which is more than enough to cover typical door frames, trim, molding, and other common obstacles you face when woodworking or during home improvement projects. Smaller gauges also are available in 5-inch and 6-inch widths, which are useful for tighter spaces where a larger gauge may not fit.
Pin Depth and MaterialMost gauges are about 4-inches wide. That width includes the housing that holds the pins together. The actual pin depth, which is the maximum depth that the gauge can duplicate, is about 2.5 inches for a 4-inch gauge. That’s enough to trace most trim and molding. Wider 5-inch gauges, which have a pin depth of 3.5 inches, can contour materials with greater depth, such as a pipe that runs through the floor.
Pin material is either metal or plastic. Metal is more durable than plastic, which can break or wear out if you push the tool too hard against an object. However, metal contour gauges are not indestructible. Metal can bend if the tool is improperly stored or pressed against an object with too much force. The metal pins also can become loose from the housing if proper care is not taken. High-quality plastic pin gauges use a metal core to hold the pins in place.
How accurately a counter gauge silhouettes an object depends largely on resolution. As with pixels, which determine the resolution of a TV or computer display, the more pins in a contour gauge, the more accurately it will duplicate the irregular shape. Contour gauges with smaller pins will match the object’s shape more accurately than larger pins.
The purpose of a contour gauge is to transfer the shape of an object as accurately as possible onto paper, wood, or another material. A mechanism that locks the pins in place makes tracing the shape much easier. Some contouring gauges have a locking clamp that firmly holds the pins in place, allowing you to trace the pattern onto wood, tile, or another material. After it is clamped, it should be very difficult to dislodge the pins.
Most contour gauges have a maximum length of 10 inches. While that may be enough for most woodworking applications, it may not be long enough for every space. If you’re using a single gauge to contour a wide space, you’ll have to take repeated readings, making the process more tedious and increasing the likelihood of mistakes from accidental overlapping. Some gauges have parts that allow you to join multiple units together, allowing you to accurately contour longer spaces.
Some contour gauges feature edge magnets, enabling the gauge to stick to metal objects. The magnets can make it easier to apply and set the gauge when tracing metal. They also allow you to conveniently store the gauge against a metal surface, like in a workshop or on a truck, making it easier to locate when you need it.
The more you use a contour gauge, the looser the pins will become. Look for contour gauges that allow you to adjust the pins’ tension with two screws on either side. This enables you to loosen the pins if they are too tight and tighten them when they’re too loose to hold their shape.
Our Top Picks
The following contour gauge is based on the considerations above. It is made with durable materials and create high-resolution duplications. And it offers additional helpful features, such as locking mechanisms and tension adjusters.
This contour gauge from Saker offers durability and accuracy, making it one of the top contour gauges on the market. The large size makes fitting tiles, laminate, and other flooring a breeze. At 5.9-inches wide and 10-inches long, this contour gauge is capable of taking deeper impressions than most contour gauges, allowing you to contour large objects, such as plumbing pipes and door frames.
Made of metal and high-quality ABS plastic, which is harder and stronger than typical plastic, it features small pins for a high accuracy level. A lock switch holds the pins firmly in place after it has contoured an object, allowing for easy tracing. An adjuster on the side lets you alter the tightness of the pins. The Saker Contour Gauge comes in 10-inch and 5-inch sizes.