The Best Contour Gauges of 2023 - Picks from Bob Vila

By Tony Carrick | Updated Jan 25, 2023 2:37 PM

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The Best Contour Gauges of 2023 - Picks from Bob Vila

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 can be used to trace cutlines on flooring, tile, and other material.

Those who need a contour gauge tool to help them work around irregular shapes in their next project will want to read on to learn about the features to consider when shopping for one of these handy tools. The following list includes some of the best contour gauges for woodworking on the market.

We used several criteria and extensive research to come up with our list of the top contour gauge tools on the market. Accuracy is key when using a contour gauge, so we chose models that use narrow pins to create more precise shapes than those with thicker pins.

A good contour gauge tool should also provide enough depth to handle a variety of jobs, so we stuck mainly with models that have a max contour depth of at least 2 inches. Length is also key, so we chose gauges with at least 10 inches of depth. Our list includes single-gauge kits as well as those that come with short and long contour gauges, which offer greater versatility. All of the contour gauges we selected are made of either durable stainless steel or high-grade plastic with aluminum cores.

The following list of contour gauges are among the top picks on the market. These gauges 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. The 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. It features surprisingly high build quality for its low price, and iIts 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.

Get the Luter contour gauge at Amazon.

With its high tooth count and durable locking mechanism, this contour gauge from Varsk allows users 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 on this Varsk contour gauge is just .05 inches wide, allowing for detailed resolution. Users 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 users to trace it easily 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.

Get the Varsk contour gauge at Amazon.

For our affordable favorite, we selected the Wolfcraft 6949000 contour gauge for its durable construction and large clamp. Made with fine German craftsmanship, this contour tool provides higher pressure for accurately measuring contours. Suitable for short-range contour lines, this gauge comes with a clamping lever to help the device stay in place while measuring.

This ABS plastic contour gauge also has a max contour width of 130 millimeters, a max contour depth of 30 millimeters, and a pin depth of 1.25 inches, making it ideal for fitting laminate around heating pipes.

Get the Wolfcraft contour gauge at Amazon.

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 floorings a breeze. At 10 inches long by 5.9 inches wide, this contour gauge is capable of taking deeper impressions than most contour gauges, allowing users 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 users alter the tightness of the pins. The Saker contour gauge comes in 10-inch and 5-inch sizes.

Get the Saker contour gauge at Amazon.

Whereas most contour gauges are limited to a length of 10 inches, this model from Jorest can reach a whopping 15 inches. It accomplishes this with separate 10-inch and 5-inch gauges that can be connected to create a 15-inch-long gauge. While this design makes Jorest’s profile gauge ideal for duplicating the profile of larger pieces, it also makes it versatile for smaller objects. The pins on both gauges are also lockable, making it easier to transfer shapes.

In addition to being longer, the Jorest is also deeper, with a 5-inch width and 3-inch max contour profile. This kit comes with a screwdriver for adjusting tension, a tape measure, a woodworking pencil, and eight replacement blades along with the two gauges.

Get the Jorest contour gauge at Amazon.

This stainless steel contour gauge from General Tools offers durability and a high level of resolution with 35 metal pins per inch and greater pin depth than most contour gauges. This metal contour gauge 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.

Get the General Tools metal contour gauge at Amazon, Lowe’s, or Acme Tools.

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 contour depth of about 2.4 inches, while the smaller 3-inch gauge has a depth of about 1.2 inches.

Each gauge has magnetic blocks that allow users to attach it to a metal surface for easy tracing and measuring. This contour-gauge package includes an angle measuring tool and a black carpenter pencil for assisting with measurements. The smaller gauge features a pin-locking mechanism while the larger one does not. Z

Get the Cullaby contour gauges at Amazon.

Being able to lock the pins is a valuable feature in a contour gauge. RAK offers a metal lock that allows users to trace the shape and duplicate it accurately on another material without worrying about the pins moving, potentially making the piece being cut 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.

Get the RAK contour gauge at Amazon.

A lockable design and two different sizes make this set of contour gauges from Pakkyng one of the more versatile options on the market. With its 5-inch gauge and 10-inch gauge, this set is capable of taking measurements for larger pieces while being able to fit into smaller spaces. Both gauges are lockable, making it easy to transfer shapes onto paper or wood once duplicated.

Two hex adjusters allow the user to dial in the right tension for the plastic pins. An aluminum-metal core adds durability to the hard plastic body. In addition to the gauges, this kit also includes an angle measurement tool.

Get the Pakkyng contour gauge at Amazon.

There are several important factors to consider when choosing the best contour gauge for projects, including size, resolution, pin depth, and durability. The following sections contain details about the features that shoppers should consider when looking 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 faced when woodworking or completing 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.

Shoppers will want to pay attention to pin material and depth when selecting the best contour gauge for their needs. 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 users 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.

Although using a contour gauge is pretty simple, there are a few guidelines users will want to follow to ensure they’re getting the best results. Before taking a shape with a contour gauge, make sure to push the teeth against a flat surface to align them. Users should employ the hex adjusters on the couture gauge so there’s enough pressure on the teeth to hold the shape in place after they record it, but not so much pressure that they need to move the teeth forcefully when pressing them against a shape. Applying too much pressure can cause the teeth to bend, potentially damaging the tool. After taking a shape, make sure to lock the teeth in place with the locking mechanism (if there is one) to prevent the teeth from moving while transferring the shape.

If you want more information on 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.

A contour gauge is an easy tool to use. There are four steps to follow.

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.

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.

Since metal is stronger than plastic, metal contour gauges can have finer pins than plastic models. This means a metal contour gauge can take higher-resolution shapes than a plastic model. However, metal pins are more likely to scratch materials while taking measurement.

Bob Vila has been America’s Handyman since 1979. As the host of beloved and groundbreaking TV series including “This Old House” and “Bob Vila’s Home Again,” he popularized and became synonymous with “do-it-yourself” home improvement.

Over the course of his decades-long career, Bob Vila has helped millions of people build, renovate, repair, and live better each day—a tradition that continues today with expert yet accessible home advice. The Bob Vila team distills need-to-know information into project tutorials, maintenance guides, tool 101s, and more. These home and garden experts then thoroughly research, vet, and recommend products that support homeowners, renters, DIYers, and professionals in their to-do lists.

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The Best Contour Gauges of 2023 - Picks from Bob Vila

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