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Brian Martin,Freelance adviser
16,324 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
“Basics of Basics” Using a Tram Gauge
By Brian Martin

The “Tram Gauge” is one of those tools that often is thought of as a specialty tool that isn’t needed in the home hobbyist garage, I disagree. It is the most practical tool for measuring just about anything. I have used mine even while working on my house. The big difference between a Tram Gauge and a measuring tape is the area between the two points you need to measure can be full of obstructions. Let’s say you have a frame without a body on it and you want to check if it’s square. The engine and transmission are sitting on it, how in the world do you across the frame with the engine and trans in it? With a Tram Gauge, it is easy as pie. You can measure from the farthest points on the frame right over the top of the engine and transmission. Without the Tram Gauge you would be doing some plumb bobs marking the floor or something like that then measuring across those points on the floor, a LOT more work. With the Tram Gauge in seconds you would know if that frame was square.

Now like every tool you can go out there and spend crazy money for the latest and greatest, but you don’t need it, a very basic Tram Gauge will do everything you need, I personally find the digital high buck Tram Gauges to be a clumsy joke. They are simply overkill plain and simple. They go for $300 bucks or more and they can keep them, I will use my basic old one and get the job done just as fast.

All you need is to make a rod with adjustable pointers; you usually don’t even need to know the distance between those pointers. You are checking one side to the other, just so you have the pointers set, that’s all you need.

In this photo #1 you see a basic “Pro” Tram Gauge made by “Mo-Clamp” a professional frame machine accessory company and even this basic Tram Gauge is $500!

It has one piece of tubing that goes into the other to slide in and out changing the length of the gauge. The smaller tubing you can see has a measuring tape right on it that is viewed thru the window. #2

Now let’s go to the other end of Tram Gauge quality, photo #3 shows a home made one that will set you back about $10 and do the EXACT same thing as the big boys!

It’s made out of conduit! Photo #4, just a sliding pointer made from a little larger tube and a metal rod welded to it, the larger piece of tubing has a nut welded to it with a T bolt so you can easily loosen it and slide this piece up and down the long piece of tubing to put the pointers anywhere you want.

And then in the middle of the road there is my Tram Gauge that I bought for about $150 25 years ago. Photo #5

Photo #6 shows how it’s made up of a few pieces of square aluminum tubing with one end of the pieces having a smaller piece permanently sticking out of the end that the extensions can be slid over making it all different lengths. This is only to make the tool longer it doesn’t have anything to do with the sliding pointer. I can make it anywhere from about 4” to about 16” by simply changing or adding tubes in seconds.
You will also see that it has a measuring tape on it. Having this measuring tape is wonderful but honestly, it is not needed, a simple measuring tape to measure the distance between pointers is all you need if you want to know the distance.

Photo #7 shows the sliding pointer, just a piece of tubing with a pointer welded to it and the nut welded to the top side where a handy little bolt with a knob on it can be tightened when you locate it where you want.

Photo #8 shows the end of the tube with a hold drilled thru it, a nut-sert in place for a bolt to hold the pointer in place. This is your stationary pointer, other than putting a longer pointer in there, it stays just like this while you move the other end changing the distance between the pointers.

Photo #9 is of the bubble balancer on my Tram Gauge. This is by no means a must have, but it just makes the tool a little more versatile. It’s made from tubing and holds this level that is adjustable with the bolt you see just right of the level. You turn that bolt and it raises and lowers the end of the level. The whole piece comes off with the bolt on the side, just loosen it up and pull it off the Tram and keep it in your tool box for when you need it. More on the use of this later.

Ok, let’s see how this simple tool can give you a helping hand. In photo #10 you can see an engine compartment location marked A is the motor mount welded to the frame rail. Location B is a little hole up on the cowl. If the engine was in here there is no way this could be measured with a tape, but with the Tram Gauge and a longer pointer installed in the stationary end, it’s a piece of cake.

As photo #11 shows, I put the longer pointer down into the hole on the motor mount and I have slid the shorter pointer that slides on the long tube until it goes into the hole that was marked B on the cowl.

Photo #12 shows me on the other side with the Tram putting the pointers in the same holes and WHAM, I know if this engine compartment is out of square. I don't have to know the distance, I never even looked at the ruler, is it the same, that’s all that matters in this case, if it’s the same, than it’s square.

Photo #13 shows it in place. How would this have been done if that motor was there? I have it done in seconds with the Tram Gauge.

Now, this is one little trick that you MUST do when using the Tram Gauge. You want it to be “happy” when you put it at its points. After you set up the Tram as in photo #11 you want to lift it up, then put it right back down on points you just set it up on and confirm you have it right. You can’t believe how many times I have seen guys “force” it into place! They literally would set one pointer in a hole like this then at the other end push or pull on the Tram to MAKE the other pointer go into the hole. Just an odd thing we humans do, we want to be right. You don’t want to force it into place, you want it to go where it’s set up to go, so GENTLY set one side on it’s mark and lower the other side to it’s mark, gently so nothing changes. Understand that these long pointers can get bent very easy. And I don’t mean damaged bent, I mean just flexed where they are still “straight” and not damaged but the distance between the two pointers will change VERY easily, don't let that happen. Gently put it into place so you get a true reading.

Photo #14 shows me measuring across the hood opening, simply to holes for rubber bumpers. (C ) Now, this can be very misleading in that those holes may not be accurate. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use them, you just need to go to a few other points to VERIFY that the holes are believable. If you were to measure three or four different points on this engine compartment opening, maybe down to the hinge bolts, to that center hole up by the opening over the hinges, you measure a few points and they all tell you the same information, it’s off ¼” or it’s perfect or what ever, you can trust that if four points are telling you the same thing, it can be believed. You ALWAYS want to measure multiple points to confirm your findings.

How about photo #15, you can measure ANYTHING with the Tram Gauge! Point D is the frame rail end, point E is a hole for the head light. If I have measured the frame properly I now would know if the end of the fender was square. I will use this repairing a fender, it got hit on the side and end is all bent, after getting it back close I will use a measurement like this to confirm I have it right.

And you don’t have to have some perfect hole or bolt you are measuring to. Photo #16 shows that the corner of the cowl where the windshield is mounted is a point you can use. As long as you go to the same point on the other side, and you take it for what it’s worth, we aren’t measuring a crank bearing here folks, we are not talking about a flawless measurement to a thousands of an inch. But with this and other measurements to verify, you can find out anything you want.

Photo #18 shows how you can measure across a door opening even when there are no clear points to measure to. You can move the pointer up and down in an arch finding the furthest point of that arch (G) to find the very corner of this door jamb for instance. Go to the other side and you an accurately locate that point.

Photo #19 shows how you can go to the hole at the H and even being a little off like this, forcing it into the hole is only going to lie to you a bit. It’s easy to force it as I said, the pointer will flex a little very easily. Be honest, bring that pointer down and know EXACTLY what you are dealing with not what you “want” to see.

Photo #20 shows the level at work. I have put the Tram Gauge across these two holes at the top of this cowl. With the thumb screw I adjusted the bubble balancer level.

Photo #21 shows me with the level at the front of the engine compartment to see it’s the same as the rear. You don’t touch the bubble balancer setting, you use the setting that was at the top and it will show you if these points are the same. Wham, you know if the front is sagging or up on one side compared to the other side.

Now understand, you aren’t checking it to the earth, you are checking it to IT’S SELF with this method. You are comparing the cowl to the front of the engine compartment. The car doesn’t even have to be level, that doesn’t even matter; you are checking it within it’s self! In my photo it looks like it’s leaning really bad but that is my poor photography not the car.
Think about this, you could put the car on jack stands with one side on a lower adjustment hole on the jack stand, one side of the car is an inch lower than the other side. You STILL could use this method because you would be comparing one point of the car to another point of the car, NOT to the earth. You don’t want to do this of course you always want it as level as you can get it, I just want to make the point clear, you are measuring to another part of the car using this method, not the earth.

Hope this gets you thinking about going out and making yourself a Tram Gauge so you can measure your work faster and more completely.

Brian Martin,Freelance adviser
16,324 Posts
Discussion Starter #2
Frame (and structure) measuring examples: You simply to go like points to cross measure. From #6 to #7 then #5 to #8 to see if they are the same. #1 to #4 then number #2 to #3. Measuring #1 to 3 to 5 as well, compare it to the other side.

To place that axle, #2 to #10 then # 1 to #9, then #4 to #9 and #3 to #10, you be sure the axle is perfectly placed.

Checking multiple locations is always what you want to do. A to B then A to E get as many as you can to confirm your findings. You don’t want to “see what you want to see”. You want FACTS!


Brian Martin,Freelance adviser
16,324 Posts
Discussion Starter #6
Nothing what so ever has happened on it. I am planning on getting it in the garage so I can push him on it a little. I need to DO it to get him to I am afraid.

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