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Chris Vesper: Flawless Layout Tools by Chris Schwarz
Copyright 2010. This article originally appeared in the Fine Tool Journal

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Meet a young Australian toolmaker who takes marking and measuring tools to an astonishing level.


Chris Vesper holds up one of his sliding bevels. He slides its blade out and locks it down. Then he does something that most people would think is profoundly stupid.

He hands the tool over to a customer and says:  “Here. Move the blade.”

Everyone knows that even the best sliding bevels can be knocked out of alignment with ease – it’s the Achilles heel of this form of layout tool.  I personally have searched for years to find one that is acceptable for cabinetwork (it’s a $2 Craftsman that works like the Samuel Sargent 1873 patent tool).


Chris Vesper holds one of his sliding bevels. Based on a 19th-century patent, his bevels hold their setting remarkably well.

The customer pushes on the blade. Nothing.  He pushes harder.  Nope.  Then he bears down hard enough to emit a little grunt and the blade moves a tiny bit.  The customer hands the tool back with an enormous grin on his face.

The 28-year-old Australian toolmaker smiles back.

Vesper’s sliding bevels are based on the famous (and desirable) St. Johnsbury Tool Co. bevels of the late 19th century. These bevels, which were protected by patents issued in 1870 and 1878, have a unique locking mechanism that secures the blade by twisting a thumbscrew at the butt of the tool.

The thumbscrew pushes a bar inside the bevel forward. The bar has a wedge-shaped end that wedges the blade into its locked position. Vesper says it took him about a year to work out the particulars of the mechanism in his shop in Somerville.

The workmanship on all of the Vesper Tools I examined was spot-on.
The infills were let seamlessly into the bodies. All surfaces were flush.

“All I had was a blurry patent drawing,” he says. “And then, ‘A-ha!’ – I had it! The end result is they lock down better than any other bevel.”

Like the St. Johnsbury Tool Co., Vesper makes the tool in a variety of sizes (4”, 7” and 10” blades) and they are built to a high level of workmanship. 

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