the humble marking knife

After I burned out the motor on my table saw and finally decided to get serious about hand tool woodworking I spent a good deal of time reading about the craft and watching videos online to pick up the finer points of technique. I watched a lot of videos by Paul Sellers at the time because I found his no-nonsense style to be engaging, and I feel silly for saying this but it took me a while to pick up on something very obvious. He wasn’t marking things with a pencil.

A marking knife? What strange dark sorcery is this?

I was practically born with a Dixon Ticonderoga no.2 behind my ear (my poor mom!) but I immediately set out to figure out what kind of knife he was using. I tried a utility knife, a smaller utility knife, my pocketknife and all sorts of other marking and scratching implements that worked to a greater or lesser degree, and I was just about to order one of those Stanley knives when I did a Google search for “marking knife.”

Huh, turns out these have been around for a while.

Like any tool-related quest in the internet age I had no shortage of options to get into the marking knife game. From the dubiously frugal to the luxury line and everything in between. I ended up splitting the difference with my first marking knife and bought this one.

It is a great knife, and it has taught me what I want and need in a marking implement. It also made me curious about making one of my own.

Yesterday, I gave it a whirl.

A few months back I restored a saw for my daughter and in the process I had to remove some of the saw blade. That left me with a couple of knife-shaped bits of steel and I’ve been thinking about how to turn them into marking (and/or carving) knives ever since. I had the rare occasion to fire up the bandsaw yesterday so I grabbed a scrap of walnut from the burn bin, roughed in a knife handle and then cut the blank in half.

My non-traditional idea for making the knife was to excavate the cavity for the blade in one half of the blank and then epoxy the whole thing back together and shape it. A couple of hours later it was ready for the spokeshave and files, and what I ended up with was this:


The blade sharpened up pretty well after a short trip to the grinding wheel and my water stones. I like the single bevel because lends itself to pulling in tight to the square.

I’m not really trying to show off the final product here, but I did learn something in the process of making it that I felt was worth sharing if you’re considering a marking knife (or making your own). What I realized was that there were three main ways that I hold a marking knife, and I wanted a design that would encompass all three.

The first way is like this:

It lends it self to the standard sort of marking right-handed folks generally do.

A slight variation I find myself using is this, where the butt of the knife rests up in the pad of my hand by the crook of my thumb.



And then, because this is a right-handed knife and sometimes you need to mark the other side of the square, there is this:



Notice how the knife handle sits comfortably in a reverse position as well.

In any and all of these positions I have a solid hold on the knife and can direct its point as I wish giving me total control over markup and clean solid lines to work from. I never would have considered this if I wasn’t holding the piece as I carved it, so I thought I’d share.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Brian Clites says:

    My mainstay is the plastic Lee Valley, which tuns only $9 USD. Although it leaves eons to be desired in terms of aesthetics, it marks more precisely than even a BlueSpruce right out of the box.


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