When I was a boy, I learned a lot of what I know about woodworking from my dad. One thing I remember is that he always had a pencil tucked behind his ear. He was a handyman and did a lot of remodeling projects, constructed built-in cabinets, and had worked on some pretty unique projects in his time.
When I started woodworking, I always had a pencil nearby, usually in my shirt pocket. (I could never keep a pencil in place behind my ear. It was always falling out.) Anytime I needed to lay out joinery or mark a cut line, I used a pencil. This was back before inexpensive mechanical pencils became popular, so I had to learn to sharpen my pencil with my pocketknife. And I learned the trick of “twirling” or rotating the pencil as you draw a line so that the line would be a consistent thickness.
When bulk mechanical pencils became available at bargain prices, I switched to using those. I still use them and have dozens of them scattered in my shop. Yes, the leads can break easily but you learn how much pressure to apply when using them and a new point is just a click or two away.
Click here to download plans for these Shop-Made Marking Knives from WoodsmithPlans.com (affiliate link).
As my woodworking skills increased, I found that a pencil line wasn’t as accurate as I needed it to be at times. This was especially true for making tight-fitting joinery by hand. After all, no matter how sharp the pencil, it still has a width. So the question becomes, which side of the line is the “real” line or do you split the center of the line?
Then I read about marking knives. So I ordered one. My first knife was the Veritas Striking Knife. Yes, it’s a little pricey but I’ve had mine for decades and love it. It fits comfortably in my hand and is easy to keep razor-sharp. There are other, similar knives that perform just as well.
One advantage a knife has over a pencil is that it creates a scribed line that leaves no doubt about the location of the cut line. Another advantage, especially for marking across the grain, is that the knife severs the wood fibers. If you’re using a saw to cut to this line, there’s no tearout or chipping because the knife has already left a clean cut line.
Click here to download plans for these Shop Marking Knives from WoodsmithPlans.com (affiliate link).
If you want to step up the accuracy and craftsmanship of your woodworking, I highly recommend using a marking knife. During my tenure writing for Woodsmith and ShopNotes magazines, I had the pleasure of seeing the marking knives shown above come about. (Click here to download plans.) They’re great, heirloom-quality tools you’ll always want to have at hand.