Saturday, December 5, 2015

Fingers In the Till - Sterling Tool Works Precision Protractor

I will admit this up front - this post is more of a new tool review rather than a grabbing of a random tool in my chest, but I thought it would be good for this series of posts anyway.

A couple of weeks ago I ordered a batch of tools from Sterling Tool Works, and as an afterthought, I threw in the precision protractor.
Nice and simple.
In short, I was astounded at how well made and useful this dead-simple design is for woodwork.  I never knew before that I couldn't live without it!

In long, here are the details:

The first thing I noticed about it is this isn't one of those flimsy 99 cent protractors you can get at the Borg.  It is hard to see in photos, but this protractor is made of some substantial steel.  Nice and hefty for it's small size.  That alone speaks quality to me.

The turn bolt is comfortable and cinches down tight, even though it is a bit small for my fingers.  It doesn't get in the way of anything, though.

The metal is brushed, so there is no glare.  At least with the lighting in my shop.  The numbers are all deeply engraved, dark in color and easy to see.

The best part about this tool is it's simplicity.  There is no learning curve.  I dare you to pull it out of it's plastic sleeve and screw up a measurement.

The ruler moves in and out so it can be made longer or shorter depending on your needs.  The first thing I did with it was measure a moulding plane I recently made to ensure the angle of the bed was exactly the way I thought.

It was.

That tells me that I was getting accurate results with my INCRA protractor, but it is a bit fiddly to use and takes me a while to ensure I am getting an accurate measurement.  Also, it is just one size, so if it isn't appropriate for what you are doing, tough luck.

This Sterling Tool Works protractor is adjustable for size. It locks in a specific angle or measures an already established angle simply and intuitively.  It is worth the price tag just for that.

My guess is woodworkers will be put off of by spending the $50 this tool is priced at because of the photos.  There are some nice ones on the website, but you really can't see the quality of this tool in them.  Trust me, it is not slim, flimsy and light like you think it is.

For full disclosure, I did notice that I was cranking down really hard on the adjuster to keep the arm locked tight.  In the above photo I was using this tool to ensure my stopped, tapered chamfer was staying at 45 degrees.  Expecting a lever to stay put like this might be a bit much to ask.  It will stay put for measuring and marking an angle, but hard use over and over presents opportunities to knock the ruler a degree or two out of whack.  You could always use this protractor to set the angle on your t-bevel if you need to keep that angle locked in solid.

For my two cents, the price is right there in the sweet spot of affordable for a tool you will find indispensable forever.

While you are at this site, take advantage of the fact that some other toolmakers' goods are available.  You can save on shipping!  I bought things made from Hamilton Woodworks and Texas Heritage Wood Works.  All went in the same box.

Happy birthday to me!
In conclusion:  trust me, you need one.


  1. Good review Brian I have numerous angle setter, finder what have you, the one i reach for often is that small plastic protracor from Japan, CCKL. Work fine, but i often have to refer back to the instruction to figured it out... Big learning curve, the price one pay for versatility I guess. That one is simplicity itself as you stated.

    Bob, back from holding bags a la Ralph :-)

    1. Hey Bob!

      I have a crappy yellow plastic one, too. I found myself using that a lot. Not too terribly accurate. Now I'll be able to retire it.

  2. Btw quite a box of goodies in there. Looking forward to your review of the dovetail square and the Hamilton marking gauge. Bob drooling on his IPad :-)

  3. Haha, I tricked you. I already have the dovetail square (I like it), the thing in the box is a dovetail square holder, by Texas Heritage. It looks great, but I haven't installed it yet. The Hamilton gauge is awesome. Order one so you don't have to wait for my review!