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Surface Plate & Height Gauge recommendations

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Lee Jones 631/05/2020 11:18:55
245 forum posts
125 photos

I really need to stop SWAGing/eyeing things up!

The time has come to take this to the next level. laugh

However, I am not a professional (obviously), nor a millionaire.

Would you lovely folk be kind enough to recommend some products?

Is there anything I need to be cautious of or look out specifically for when purchasing?

not done it yet31/05/2020 11:26:09
5382 forum posts
20 photos

OK, you are now measuring to less than 0.05mm? How precise do you wish to be? 0.01mm, 0.001mm or better?

It’s the Law of Diminishing Returns unless you really need the precision/accuracy.

John Hinkley31/05/2020 11:38:21
1013 forum posts
344 photos

Unless you're doing ultra-precisiopn wor and you already have a sizeable mill, I'd use the mill table as a perfectly acceptable surface plate and concentrat on the height gauge part of the equation. I have a digital height gauge from ARC (where else?) and it is quite adequate for my meagre needs.

Height gauge


steamdave31/05/2020 11:39:08
462 forum posts
35 photos

The pauper's surface plate:

Make a framed piece of plywood with a baize top and put on a piece of plate glass. For my 'every day' usage, I use the platen from a retired scanner. Good enough for the girls I go out with!

I also have a second one that I use with wet/dry for smoothing my Many surface irregularities.

The Emerald Isle

Hopper31/05/2020 11:42:05
5063 forum posts
114 photos

Yep. Old scanner glass platten and an old scriber block is all i ever need. I've long lusted after one of those digital height gauges but always get by without it.

Edited By Hopper on 31/05/2020 11:44:54

Phil H131/05/2020 11:51:48
337 forum posts
40 photos

My main interest is steam engines and locomotives - so toolroom equipment doesn't appear to be necessary.

I have a granite chopping board from Wilkos (about A3 size) but I did splash out on a decent vernier height gauge. I use the small milling table to keep locomotive frames aligned.

Former Member31/05/2020 12:16:28

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SillyOldDuffer31/05/2020 12:30:08
6681 forum posts
1501 photos
Posted by Lee Jones 6 on 31/05/2020 11:18:55:

I really need to stop SWAGing/eyeing things up!

The time has come to take this to the next level. laugh


Is there anything I need to be cautious of ...


Main thing to be cautious of is wasting money on tools you don't need! My 'surface plate' is a sheet of plate glass on ordinary kitchen worktop. Worktop is flat and strong enough to support it, and the glass is very flat because it's made with a float process. In practice I don't need a precision lump of granite or cast-iron. Full of enthusiasm I lashed out on a height gauge only to find I don't use it much.

Two reasons, I rarely take measurements off existing items to copy or repair them, and a milling machine with DRO can often be positioned accurately enough to eliminate the need for a height gauge. The mill's table substitutes for the surface plate, and the cutter can be positioned relative to edges or other reference points without messing with a height gauge.

As always much depends on on the type of work being done. Getting started I expected to spend ages blueing, marking up and centre-punching etc. It didn't turn out that way for me. A height gauge is jolly useful when needed, but here that's once in a Blue Moon. My home-made surface plate is rarely deployed, and my scribing block mostly gathers dust. They might be more useful if I worked with castings, but my stuff is fabricated.

In the duffer workshop, I've decided to not bother with a certificated 0.001mm micrometer, slip gauges and surface table. They're just not needed. Instead, spring calipers, steel rules, digital caliper, 0.01mm micrometer, DTI, try-square, parallels, angle gauges and V blocks do most of the work.

In a hobby it's perfectly OK to buy tools for pride of ownership or to enjoy learning them. But if money is short, better to prioritise utilitarian items! What's it for, and how often is it needed? Can the money be spent more fruitfully on anything else?

Though I always ask myself the question, I'm not strict about discouraging answers. Quite happy to waste the kids inheritance on pensioner fun!


Edited By SillyOldDuffer on 31/05/2020 12:31:17

Former Member31/05/2020 13:14:50

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larry phelan 131/05/2020 13:15:41
903 forum posts
17 photos

I was given a large piece of granite worktop when a friend fitted a new kitchen.

This thing is as big as a double sink and about 40mm thick.

Not tool room quality, but a lot better than my bench top [when I can see it }

Former Member31/05/2020 13:39:10

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Henry Brown31/05/2020 13:45:03
398 forum posts
91 photos

I picked up a 24" x 18" cast surface table for £30 from ebay, when I arrived to pick it up the owner told me his son had made it as an apprentice when he worked for Rolls Royce. It has a few rust stains on but was reasonably flat when blued against an AA grade granite table.

For marking out I use a scribing block I made as an apprentice, like others I'm very tempted to get one of the 300mm height gauges from ARC Euro, I can't see me ever needing a 600mm high one and it would probably get knocked over, but have so far resisted but when they have a special % off day, well...

Lee Jones 631/05/2020 14:23:26
245 forum posts
125 photos
Posted by No-one In Particular

What are you going to use it for?

I wish people would stop asking me that. smile p

The truth is; I'm working backwards into this hobby. Unlike the majority, I'm not working against a requirement or a specification. I'm not into building models, nor refurbishing motor vehicles (motorbikes or cars) and the like.

I've always liked building and fixing things and fancied a foray into working a little with metal (mainly to get me away from the computer!), so I bought an angle grinder and welder. It was quite fun, so I bought a better (TIG) welder and a second angle grinder (and a chopsaw and a bandsaw etc - you know how it goes).

The next step for me was a milling machine, so I bought one. And what's a milling machine without a lathe, eh?

Now it turns out that I quite like building tools for the aforementioned machines, which leads us to where we are today. I'm in the process of building some toolholders for the lathe and a sine table for the milling machine. After watching some YouTube videos on sine tables, as you do, Stephan broke out the ${SUBJECT} items and put them to good use, soooo. I guess you can see where this is going. smiley

Lee Jones 631/05/2020 14:29:29
245 forum posts
125 photos
Posted by Barrie Lever on 31/05/2020 13:39:10:


I would add that decent second hand 0.001mm digital micrometers can be had for S/H £25.00 they can easily be calibrated against a 1" standard. Why not buy good gear at this price.

Surface plates are not so easy that is why granite is good, it does not move much !!

I have just bought an unbelievably good micrometer (£1000.00 new) for £40.00 and it makes the digital 0.001mm jobs look like a blunt instrument, like I said earlier if you dont open the door you don't know what is on the otherside, you might think you do but who knows?

Obviously this is exactly what I'm after.

I have set the usual eBay saved searches, but I'm not holding my breath.

pgk pgk31/05/2020 14:46:55
2024 forum posts
290 photos

I must admit I've resisted buying a surface plate and (when required) use the mill tbale. I can see me buying a secondhand surface plate and vanishing down the rabbit-hole of wondering how flat it really is and either hunting up semone to re-surace/certify it ot buying more stuff to try and check it with. You only need to look st some of Tom Lipton's Youtube vids to see how small a deviation can be measured and how much you really need a surface grinder and....


Former Member31/05/2020 15:11:48

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Former Member31/05/2020 15:16:38

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Andrew Johnston31/05/2020 15:37:44
5828 forum posts
662 photos

Posted by Lee Jones 6 on 31/05/2020 14:23:26:

Unlike the majority, I'm not working against a requirement or a specification.

The corollary of no specification is that it doesn't matter what you buy - anything will do. smile

I chose to buy the following, all from Ebay at a total cost of less than £150 including delivery of the 3ft x 2 ft surface plate from Nottingham to Cambridge for £40:


The vernier height gauge is dual scale and was made by Etalon and the surface plate is Crown Windley.


duncan webster31/05/2020 15:45:02
2946 forum posts
34 photos

I've got a small surface plate, I might be able to find it. I use it very rarely. If I had £350 to spend I'd find something a lot more useful. If I'm machining something I work to the DRO, if it's a sawing/filing job then odd-legs/squares/rulers, or sometimes use the drill m/c table as a reference

Former Member31/05/2020 16:02:21

[This posting has been removed]

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