The contour gauge, sometimes known as the profile gauge, is one of those simple, but indispensable tools, that performs a function that cannot be done by any other tool.
It is the perfect tool for tracing contours and cutting lines precisely and for transferring these to the workpiece.
If you are a metalworker, woodworker, or architectural restorer, it is a tool that you can’t afford to be without.
After researching the various contour gauges on the market, I selected the user-friendly Varsk Contour Gauge Duplicator as my top pick. It offers all the features that are important in a tool of this kind. It can copy virtually any shape and create a template for curved and oddly shaped profiles quickly and effortlessly.
It is not the only contour gauge I can recommend though, so have a look at my top 6 best contour gauges.
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|Best overall contour gauge: VARSK Duplicator with lock|
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|Best precision contour gauge: General Tools 837 Metal|
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|Best plastic contour gauge: LUTER Plastic 10 Inch Profile Gauge|
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|Best contour gauge for use on metal: Beewarm Contour Duplications set|
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|Best 20-inch contour gauge: FUN-TEK 20-Inch Profile Measure Ruler|
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|Best value for money contour gauge set: NadaKin Plastic Shape Duplicator Kit 3 Pieces|
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In this post we'll cover:
- What is a contour gauge?
- How to choose the best contour gauge: buyer’s guide
- Best contour gauge review
- Best overall contour gauge: VARSK Duplicator with lock
- Best precision contour gauge: General Tools 837 Metal
- Best plastic contour gauge: LUTER Plastic 10 Inch Profile Gauge
- Best contour gauge for use on metal: Beewarm Contour Duplications set
- Best 20-inch contour gauge: FUN-TEK 20-Inch Profile Measure Ruler
- Best value for money contour gauge set: NadaKin Plastic Shape Duplicator Kit 3 Pieces
- How do you lock a contour gauge?
- Can you use a contour gauge for multiple shapes?
- Are contour gauges worth it?
- What is the longest contour gauge?
- What is a contour gauge used for?
- How do you trace a contour with a contour gauge?
- How do you cut an awkward shape in wood?
- How do you transfer a curve to wood?
- How to use a contour gauge?
What is a contour gauge?
A contour gauge is a tool that allows you to trace contours, and transfer the traced lines precisely to a workpiece.
The contour gauge consists of a set of plastic or steel pins set against each other in a frame. The frame keeps the pins parallel in the same plane.
Each pin’s movement is perpendicular to the plane and independent of the other.
When the contour gauge is pressed against an object, the pins conform to the shape of the object, and the profile of the object can then be copied or drawn onto another surface.
Learn more on how to properly use a contour gauge here
The typical contour gauge is made of heavy-duty metal or durable and lightweight polyethylene.
The pins can be either plastic, for use on sensitive objects, or steel, for less sensitive surfaces.
The gauge may be fixed for smaller objects or adjustable when larger surfaces need to be profiled.
An adjustable gauge comes with varying lengths of detachable extensions, or it can be combined with other compatible adjustable models.
The typical gauge often incorporates a metric/imperial ruler and edge magnets may be included to keep the gauge in place when profiling metal surfaces.
How to choose the best contour gauge: buyer’s guide
The main factors to keep in mind when choosing a contour gauge for your specific needs are size, pin depth and material, and resolution.
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 for most woodworking and home improvement applications.
Smaller gauges are available in 5-inch and 6-inch widths, which are useful for tighter spaces where a larger gauge may not fit.
Some adjustable gauges come with varying lengths of detachable extension modules so they can be made into a much longer tool.
Pin depth and material
Pin depth on contour gauges can be anywhere from two to five inches.
Two inches is usually sufficient for your typical baseboard and siding needs and enough to trace most trim and moldings.
Pins are usually made from either ABS plastic or stainless steel. The plastic pins are not as durable and are prone to breaking, but they are better for use on more sensitive surfaces.
Steel pins have a longer lifespan and are better suited to rougher surfaces, but they may rust over the long term.
The more pins per unit of length, the better the resolution.
- For very intricate siding with a lot of detailing, embossing, and grooves, a high-resolution contour gauge with many pins will provide greater precision and accuracy.
- For ordinary siding or base boarding needs, an average resolution contour gauge will be more than adequate.
ABS plastic pins are thicker than steel pins and generally offer a lower resolution.
An additional feature to look out for in a contour gauge is a good locking mechanism. A mechanism that locks the pins in place makes tracing the shape much easier.
It will also ensure that the pins stay in place after you make the imprint so that you can successfully transfer it without losing any of the shapes.
Pins in a contour gauge will often loosen over time so it is useful to have a tool that allows you to adjust the pins’ tension.
This enables you to loosen the pins if they are too tight and tighten them when they become too loose to hold their shape.
Best contour gauge review
Now keeping all that in mind, let’s see why the contour gauges below are so good.
Best overall contour gauge: VARSK Duplicator with lock
The Varsk motto is: Copy it. Lock it. Trace it.
The user-friendly Varsk Contour Gauge Duplicator offers all the features that are important in a tool of this kind.
It can copy virtually any shape and create a template for curved and oddly shaped profiles quickly and effortlessly.
Its high pin count and strong locking mechanism make it ideal for duplicating pipes, trim, car panels, and other irregularly shaped objects.
Made from heavy-duty aluminum with durable ABS plastic pins, this gauge will not scratch or damage the object being duplicated.
Each pin is just .05 inches wide, allowing for detailed resolution and the 45-degree pin tooth design maximizes the accuracy of the measurements.
Using the supplied Allen wrench, the pins can be adjusted to ensure they are neither too loose nor too tight.
A strong metal lock holds the pins firmly in place after an object has been contoured, allowing you to easily transfer it without any loss of shape.
The VARSK Contour Gauge offers up to 2.5 inches of contouring width, making it a great choice for trim and molding.
The core also features a double-sided 10-inch ruler with standard and metric measurements.
- Size: Features a 10-inch double-sided ruler
- Pin depth & material: Pins are 0.05 inches wide, Aluminum body, ABS plastic pins
- Resolution: High resolution
- Locking mechanism: Strong metal locking mechanism
- Adjustability: Pins can be adjusted
Best precision contour gauge: General Tools 837 Metal
The General Tools 837 6-inch profile duplicator offers the thinnest and deepest pin assembly of all the models we will be looking at.
If precision is what you are looking for, then this is the tool for you.
It has a 0.028-inch resolution and a pin depth of 3.5 inches which makes it ideal for very accurate shaping.
The gauge is made of enamel-painted brass with extra thin stainless-steel pins which makes it rust-resistant and long-wearing.
Its smaller size makes it ideal for working in tight spaces and the 6-inch length is especially suited to:
- measuring moldings for reproduction
- fitting flooring around moldings
- copying curves
- duplicating spindles on the lathe
- and a variety of other contour matching jobs
- Size: 6-inch size ideal for working in tight spaces
- Pin depth & material: Pin depth of 3.5 inches. Made of enamel painted brass, with extra-thin stainless-steel pins
- Resolution: Has a 0.028-inch resolution
- Locking mechanism: The 6-inch version of this tool doesn’t have a locking mechanism, but does stay in place fairly well. The 10-inch version comes with a built-in lock
- Adjustability: You can adjust the tension so that the pins slide more easily
Best plastic contour gauge: LUTER Plastic 10 Inch Profile Gauge
Made from tough, durable ABS plastic, the Luter Plastic Contour Gauge is a sturdy and well-built tool that will last.
It is particularly suited to measuring irregular items such as winding pipes, auto metal sheets, circular frames, pipes, tile, laminate, wood planking, ducts, flooring, and molding.
The pins move easily when pressure is applied and they hold their shape when being transferred to another surface, even though there is no locking mechanism.
The product is fairly accurate on angles and cuts.
- Size: 10-inches
- Pin depth & material: 4-inch ABS plastic pins
- Resolution: Relatively high resolution
- Locking mechanism: This tool does not have a built-in lock
- Adjustability: Easily adjustable
Best contour gauge for use on metal: Beewarm Contour Duplications set
If you work mainly with metal, then the Beewarm Contour Gauge is the one to look at, especially as this package offers very good value for money.
It is the ideal tool for contouring metal materials as the built-in magnets allow you to attach it to a metal surface for easy tracing and measuring.
This contour gauge package includes two different sized gauges – a 10-inch and a 5-inch. The smaller size is very handy for tight spaces and smaller cuts.
Each gauge has durable plastic pins that are fine enough to create a high degree of resolution.
This contour gauge package includes an angle measuring tool and a black carpenter pencil for assisting with measurements.
Only the smaller gauge features a pin-locking mechanism.
- Size: The pack comes with 2 different sizes: 10-inch and 5-inch
- Pin depth & material: Durable plastic pins, the width of the 10-inch contour gauge reaches 5-inches, while the width of the 5-inch contour gauge reaches 3.84-inches.
- Resolution: High resolution
- Locking mechanism: The smaller contour gauge has a locking mechanism. Both have magnets to keep the pins still
- Adjustability: Both adjustable
Best 20-inch contour gauge: FUN-TEK 20-Inch Profile Measure Ruler
There are some jobs, like bricklaying and more complex siding designs that require a contour tool that is larger than the standard 10-inch tool.
If you work in an industry where you frequently need a larger than normal contour gauge, the FUN-TEK 20-Inch Contour Gauge 20-inch is an excellent product for the price.
This contour gauge is made from high-quality ABS plastic. It is lightweight but sturdy and designed to last.
Being plastic, it won’t scratch the shape being duplicated and it works particularly well on the traditional wood molding shapes.
It does not have a locking mechanism, but the pins are designed to hold their shape over the long term.
- Size: 20-inches, but lightweight and very sturdy
- Pin depth & material: High-quality ABS plastic pins
- Resolution: High resolution
- Locking mechanism: Includes locking mechanism
- Adjustability: You can adjust the screws on both sides to loosen or tighten it
Best value for money contour gauge set: NadaKin Plastic Shape Duplicator Kit 3 Pieces
“An absolute bargain price” & “Highly recommended for both the casual DIYer and the professional tradesman”.
These are comments from happy customers who have purchased the NadaKin Contour Gauge Kit.
The package comes with three contour measurement tools, made of ABS plastic. The blue one is the largest at 10-inches and the other two are smaller, at 5 inches.
The gauge has an in-built scale on either side, which allows easy measurement in both inches and centimeters. The high-definition laser cutting line is clear and easy to read.
The pins, which are adjustable, are just .05 inches wide and offer a high degree of accuracy. Pin depth is 2.36-inches and pins can be adjusted to make them looser or tighter.
The set of contour gauges comes with a storage bag, 2 pencils, a sharpener, and a quality metal ruler.
- Size: The package comes with three contour measurement tools: 10-inches and two 5-inch tools
- Pin depth & material: Pins are made of high-quality ABS plastic, depth is 2.36-inches
- Resolution: The high-definition laser cutting line is clear and easy to read
- Locking mechanism: They don’t include locks
- Adjustability: Pins can be adjusted to make them looser or tighter
- Includes a storage bag, two pencils and a metal ruler
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.
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.
Are contour gauges worth it?
Contour gauges are tools used to measure, copy and transfer the pattern of an object into another material as accurately as possible.
According to Finish Carpentry TV, it is a handy tool, especially if you are doing trim works.
What is the longest contour gauge?
The 20-inch plastic contour gauge.
What is a contour gauge used for?
A profile gauge or contour gauge is a tool for recording the cross-sectional shape of a surface.
How do you trace a contour with a contour gauge?
Using a contour gauge is easy: just press the pins against the shape while holding the gauge 90-degrees to the surface.
Once all the pins are pushed down tight you can lift the gauge and trace the shape.
How do you cut an awkward shape in wood?
Scroll saws are used to cut curves and other irregular shapes in your wood like jigsaws, for example.
With a scroll saw, you get more delicate, more detailed cuts than you would have by using a jigsaw, for example, and they are easier to make.
How do you transfer a curve to wood?
Lay the block on the deck with one side against the wood. Lay a pencil on top of the block, with its tip touching the wood.
Now hold the pencil and block tightly together, and slide them up and over the deck, drawing a line on the wood as they go. This line will exactly mirror the curve of the deck.
How to use a contour gauge?
The use of contour gauge is very easy. Just simply press the tooth against the object to match the contour and then track the shape needed.
Whether you’re installing a new floor, cutting tiles, shaping pipes, or doing woodwork, there’s an ideal contour gauge that will suit your needs perfectly.
If you need to do tiny, detailed work or larger projects, we’ve identified the best tools on the market today that will suit your situation and your budget.
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.