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. And check out our list of some of the best contour gauges for woodworking that you can buy.
- BEST OVERALL: LUTER Plastic Contour Gauge, 10 Inch Profile
- RUNNER-UP: VARSK Contour Gauge Duplicator
- UPGRADE PICK:Saker Contour Gauge (10 Inch Lock) Profile Tool
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: NadaKin 3 Pieces Contour Gauge Kit
- BEST LARGE: Werkzeug Contour Gauge Shape Duplicator
- BEST IN STAINLESS STEEL: GENERAL TOOLS, 837, CONTOUR GAGE, 6-Inch
- BEST WITH MAGNETS: Beewarm Contour Gauge with Lock 10 Inch and 5 Inch
- BEST WITH LOCK: RAK Contour Gauge Shape Duplicator
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 Material
Most 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 list of contour gauges is based on the considerations above. They are made with durable materials and create high-resolution duplications. Some offer additional helpful features, such as locking mechanisms and tension adjusters.
With its simple design, durable build, and high degree of precision, this contour gauge is an excellent option for both DIYers and professionals. This 10-inch gauge is long enough to handle most contouring needs. It’s made from durable plastic and features razor-thin pins for high resolution contouring. For its low price, it also features a surprisingly high-build quality. Its sturdy metal core helps this gauge endure a lot of use.
Small Phillips-head screws on either end of the gauge allow for fine-tuning the pin tension, while an integrated ruler provides convenient standard and metric measurements. LUTER offers a 4-inch gauge and a slightly more expensive 5-inch option.
With its high tooth count and durable locking mechanism, this contour gauge from VARSK allows you to duplicate pipes, trim, car panels, and other irregularly-shaped objects. It features high-grade plastic construction with a metal-locking mechanism at its core.
Each pin is just .05 inches wide, allowing for detailed resolution. You can fine-tune the pins with adjustable tension, so they’re neither too loose nor too tight. A metal lock holds the pins firmly in place after an object has been contoured, allowing you to easily trace it onto linoleum, carpet, tile, or other materials. The VARSK Contour Gauge offers up to 2.5 inches of contouring width, making it a great option for trim and molding. The core also features a double-sided ruler with standard and metric measurements.
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.
For DIYers looking for contour gauges that can handle home projects ranging from contouring molding to laying tile, this set of three gauges might be a good choice. It features two 5-inch gauges and one 10-inch gauge. With narrow plastic teeth, this gauge set offers a high degree of accuracy. These gauges feature durable ABS plastic construction, making them a good option for the home woodworker or DIYer.
The gauges in this set include both standard and metric markings. In addition to the gauges, this package also contains three pencils for marking, a pencil sharpener, and a stainless steel ruler. However, this set of gauges does not include a locking mechanism.
Duplicate accurate shapes with this high-quality contour gauge from Werkzeug. The 10-inch long gauge is wider than standard gauges at 5.1 inches, providing 1.5 inches more depth. This enables you to contour deeper forms. It also includes durable plastic and metal construction with narrow teeth for a high degree of resolution.
A locking feature keeps the teeth firmly gripped after a shape is contoured, allowing you to trace the shape onto your workpiece easily. Teeth on contour gauges can become loose after multiple uses. This contour gauge includes tension adjusters, ensuring the teeth have just the right amount of tension for making accurate contours. The center of the gauge also doubles as a ruler with both standard and metric markings.
This stainless steel contour gauge offers durability and a high level of resolution with 35 pins per inch. Its metal construction allows the pins to be finer than plastic pins, helping it replicate contours with a high degree of accuracy. In addition to offering a precise contour, these stainless steel pins provide added durability as they won’t break as easily as plastic.
Although it lacks the locking mechanism and tension adjustment of other models, its gauge is wide enough to measure up to 3.5-inches deep, making it usable for duplicating deeper shapes such as pipes and thicker baseboards and trim. An integrated ruler includes standard measurement markings.
With magnets integrated into its side, this set of magnetic contour gauges is an excellent option when contouring metal materials. Each gauge includes durable plastic pins that are fine enough to create a high degree of resolution. The larger gauge offers a total width of just over 5 inches, while the smaller 3-inch gauge has a depth of about 4 inches.
Each gauge features magnets that allow you to attach it to a metal surface for easy tracing and measuring. This contour gauge package includes an angle measuring tool and black carpenter pencil for assisting with measurements. The smaller gauge features a pin-locking mechanism while the larger one does not.
Being able to lock the pins is a valuable feature in a contour gauge. RAK offers a locking feature that allows you to trace the shape and duplicate it accurately on another material without worrying about the pins moving, potentially making the piece you’re cutting inaccurate.
This 10-inch long gauge features paper-thin .05 inch-wide teeth that provide high resolution contouring. The gauge is 4-inches wide with a contouring depth of about 2 inches. The all-metal locking device ensures that the pins stay locked in place for tracing. The gauge also includes an integrated ruler with both standard and metric marking for quick measuring.
FAQs About Your New Contour Gauge
If you have more questions about contour gauges, this section may help. Below are some of the most popular questions and answers about how to use a contour gauge. Read on for more detailed instructions.
Q. How do you use a contour gauge?
A contour gauge is an easy tool to use. There are four steps to follow.
- First, align the pins by pushing the tool up against a flat surface.
- Next, push the gauge evenly against the irregular shape to create a contour of it.
- Then, if the gauge has a locking mechanism, engage the lock to hold the pins in place.
- Last, transfer the gauge to the material and trace the shape. Then make your cut using a jigsaw, coping saw, or band saw.
Q. How do you lock a contour gauge?
Contour gauges with a locking feature typically have a small metal lever or switch on the end of the gauge. After you have used the gauge to create a contour, lock the pins in place by moving the switch to the locked position. Now you’re ready to trace the shape onto the material you are using.
Q. Can you use a contour gauge for multiple shapes?
Contour gauges can be used for many different kinds of shapes. However, you can only create the contour of one shape at a time. To create contours for longer shapes, you may need to use multiple gauges that hook together.