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Most of us think that knives are meant to help with kitchen chores and various tasks while on an adventurous trip. Well, the fact is that knives are just not made for only these two purposes. Rather, they are also made and used for craftwork.

Knives are handy for simply making a straight line on a surface or scraping wood. So, what kind of knife is suitable for these purposes? Obviously, a kitchen knife is not! This is where a marking knife comes into the picture. It looks similar to a scalpel and usually has a wooden handle. It is one of the tools recommended for fine woodworking outcomes.

When it comes to woodworking tools, hand tools that cut and trim such as saws, chisels, and planes tend to get all the credit. However, even the most accurate outcome with these tools is impossible without the precise and preceding layout.

What is a Marking Knife?

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A marking knife looks like a simple tool that seems to be nothing more than the blend of a blade and a handle. However, this tool is essential for fine craftsmanship. It is considered the most accurate tool to etch layout lines for any kind of fine joinery to be made or cut by hand.

It has two unique uses; one is for making a razor-clean line on a wooden surface that nobody can erase, and another is for severing the wood fibers to deliver a super-clean outcome. It can make a very fine line more precisely than a pencil. The best marking knife will cut the fibers cleanly, making a crisp line deep enough to secure a chisel.

A marked or scored line is an accurate seat for other tools. As this knife marks the wood fibers, for other tools, it sets a shallow trench. This allows you to chisel to a line precisely while squaring off a directed mortise.

The knife line acts as a demarcation, particularly across the wood’s grain, which aids the process of subsequent tools. For instance, the line outlining a tenon shoulder performs as a halt while making a V groove.

Unlike most knives, this tool is beveled on a single side only with the other side being flat. This is the most optimal shape for precise, fine woodworking outcomes.

The latter is held against an edge of a reference such as a steel square, rule, or wood for guiding it in creating the mark. In other words, the flat back is held against the shape to be drawn, and the consequential scored line accurately recognizes the cut line.

Composed of a high-quality steel blade, a marking knife is ambidextrous, meaning you can use it with your left or right hand. Usually, the wooden handle is round, due to which it fits comfortably in your hand to ensure precise markings. It comes with flats on each side to keep the risk of its rolling on your worktop away.

Many woodworkers use a marking knife while transferring the shape of dovetails. Once sawn out, the shape is transferred to the pinboard. Here, this knife excels due to its edge’s geometry. A knife beveled on both sides is unsuitable here, as it is less trustworthy for indexing a beveled edge against the surface being outlined. This is because the blade can involuntarily float away a bit or cut into the tracked piece.

Typically, users select a knife as per the type of work to be done. Thus, they buy more than one marking knife for different tasks such as marking dovetails, marking for a banding, tracing a hinge, and tracing the rim of an inlay mortise.

5 Best Marking Knives in 2021

Igaging Marking Knife

Ideal marking knife for budget woodworkers looking for precision in laying out dovetail joints or cut in at the corner without the saw jumping out on the first draw. Typically, dovetail joints are a challenge. However, with this knife, you can achieve pinpoint accuracy in outlining these joints.

The knife seems to work great on soft wooden surfaces such as pine or cedar although it works satisfactorily on hard wooden surfaces such as oak. The 7-inch long knife features an inch-long blade made using tool steel, a kind of carbon and alloy steel used widely in making tools for its unique hardness, retention of the edge at high temperatures, and resistance to abrasion and distortion.

This tool steel blade may not come too sharp, but its existing sharpness severs wood fibers effectively. This results in a precise line for making accurate cuts using a chisel or a saw. The blade is double-beveled to facilitate left- or right-hand use.

The handle is made up of hardwood and features a smooth finish coat. Its flattened sides ensure that the knife does not roll away while at work.

Pros

  • Good look
  • Good feel in hands
  • Thick
  • Sheerness
  • Stays sharp
  • Easy to sharpen
  • Value for money

Cons

  • Not razor sharp out of the box

Kiridashi Knife Right Hand 24mm

With the ability to hold a terrific edge that is ground flat, this Japanese knife is capable of performing a variety of tasks such as carving, marking, and smoothing little edges and chips. When it comes to marking, it performs well and retains a straight track on any grain orientation. Use it for laying out a small mortise and you will be happy to see the beautiful cut into a hard piece of white oak.

The Japanese term Kiridashi literally means cutting. Thus, this is a professional cutting knife made authentically with the help of traditional techniques. There is no visible distinction between the handle and the blade but it holds quite comfortably in your hand. Its body reflects a finished surface known as Tsuchime, which is a hammered finish.

It is a right-handed knife with a long-angled blade beveled on only one side. This means the blade’s rear is flat. Due to the single bevel, the blade is quite easy to sharpen.

Pros

  • Made in Japan
  • Light
  • Sheerness
  • Versatile
  • Razor-sharp out of the box
  • Easy to sharpen
  • Durable
  • Comfortable to hold
  • Value for money

Cons

  • Need of frequent maintenance

Stanley Pocket Folding Knife

Although a pocket folding knife, this tool from Stanley is highly recommended as a marking knife by its customers. This silver knife is known for its precision cutting, and marking dovetails well with its thinner blade than many other marking knife blades.

Most marking knives seem to lack in sustaining a good grip while attempting to deepen a knife line. However, this folding knife sustains a good grip in this case. It holds well and allows pressing tightly for making profound knife lines.

Ideal for DIY users or woodworkers, the double-bevel blade is long enough for ensuring more projection than a standard utility knife. This means you can expect the blade to be at the spot where you need it. Another bonus is that the blade made using stainless steel is replaceable, which means you may skip to sharpen it. However, it is suggested to sharpen it a few times before replacing it so that you can save money.

The safe lock is unlike any other that you may have come across. As a plastic pull tab at the knife’s end, it allows easy operation without wearing gloves. There is no wobbling at all.

The blade goes back into the handle for safe storage. The handle has an indent, due to which it is easy to pull the blade when needed.

Pros

  • Light
  • Thin and sturdy
  • Sharp
  • Folding
  • Replaceable blade
  • Easy sharpening
  • Reasonable price

Cons

  • Cheap plastic frame
  • A bit costly replacement blade

UJ Ramelson Striking Knife

This is another good marking knife for defining a straight line. The most unique aspect of this knife is its dented handle that ensures the utmost comfort while in your hand. With this knife, you can expect a quite finer line than a pencil or an awl, which is exact for running a saw blade or a chisel.

The 1.5-inch long blade is beveled on one side due to which the cut is tight to your square or rule. It is possible to use it at left or right angle. The blade is made using carbon tool steel to ensure long-lasting performance and sturdiness. The handle is made up of hardwood for easy and strong gripping.

Pros

  • Light
  • Thick handle
  • Sharp
  • Thin line
  • Durable

Cons

  • Some sharpening or honing required to get started

UJ Ramelson 6pc Complete Professional Wood Marking/Striking Carving Drawing Knife Set

Consider this set from UJ Ramelson if you are looking for more than one marking knife shipping with a mortise marking gauge, sliding bevel, and wing compass. It is a set of six useful wood carving tools including three different marking knives.

These three knives with steel blades and wooden handles are capable of outlining a line finer than a pencil or an awl. Two of them are single-beveled so that you can have a truly tight cut to your square or rule. One supports the right angle, while the other supports the left angle. On them, the blade is 2-inch long, while the whole body is 6-inch long. The third marking knife has a 1.5-inch long blade and is double-beveled.

The sliding bevel is made using heavy-duty steel, brass, and hardwood. It is useful for highly accurate angle layouts. The gauge is made using hardwood to keep wear and tear at bay and features a sturdy thumb-screw lock. The wing compass with carbide scriber allows making arcs and circles steadily.

Pros

  • Visually appealing
  • Varieties of marking knives
  • Razor-sharp

Cons

  • Not that good factory grind

Marking Knife Vs. Pencil: Which is Better?

One of the essentials to accomplishing crisp and fine work is to place the joints meticulously. For this, getting a clean line for precise cutting by hand or machine is achievable with a pencil or marking knife.

Rather than a thick, hazy pencil line, wood craftsmen prefer an etched line cut into the target surface despite being amidst sweat stains, blurred fingerprints, and wood dust. This is exactly what a marking knife ensures.

It is an essential tool used in the layout process, particularly while preparing to cut carvings by hand. Such a knife is superior to a pencil when it comes to etching layout lines. Its scribed line is more permanent than the line drawn by a pencil. Further, the former is more precise as well.

Let’s assume that you have marked a joint with a pencil. With more usage, the pencil has eroded. That said; your markup lines, although never so thin, have become somewhat wider. Now, you start cutting that joint and you face a moment of confusion as to which side of the line should you start with.

Is it okay to cut right to the line’s edge? Will the pencil line fade after the cut? The difference between these two choices is likely to keep or remove 1/16-inch material. Well, if you had used a marking knife, there would be no confusion, as you would know exactly where to cut. You also could have obtained fewer chips at the cut line.

Thus, a small slit in the timber with this knife, awl, or scalpel is preferable over a pencil line. Often, a pencil line is quite thick for fine work and is almost a bit offset from what you wish to mark. Still, you may first mark with a pencil so that it becomes easy to recognize faces and edges and commit changes before using a knife line.

How does a Marking Knife Function?

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A marking knife is handy for scoring guidelines that can be straight lines or dents before cutting. It is also called a striking knife, as it strikes a guide to mark from where a saw or chisel cut is to be made. It is mainly made for use across the grain, which can be difficult for beginners. This is because the blade’s tip will always follow the grain, which can put it astray and result in an imprecise guideline.

The grain is the texture and direction of the patterned fibers making up the wooden piece. Such a knife functions by cutting through these fibers to create a guideline. This results in neat woodwork that has no evident fibers.

To minimize the risk of splitting the wooden piece before chiseling, consider making a couple of cuts with this knife across the area to be removed. This will minimize the probability of the chisel working as per the grain pattern, which otherwise, can split or damage the piece.

Unlike other marking tools such as scratch awls that also remove fibers, a marking knife slices via the fibers to leave a fine and smooth line that you need not sand. In the case of former tools, marking produces tearing of the guideline due to which sanding is required for removing the residual fibers.

What Type of Marking Knife Should I Consider?

Several marking knives have thronged the market, ranging right from highly economical to valuable pieces for judicious users. It is also possible to make your version by grinding a used, small file.

Many experts simply use a Swiss Army knife for marking, as they like its rounded end that helps in getting a smoother cut. Several home users prefer a pointed, bevel-edged model, as they know that the flat back when held against a straight edge or a ruler will result in the most precise outcome.

For most tasks, woodworkers prefer the Stanley knife or a carving knife. Many people love the spearpoint knives with a single bevel, which are only useful for marking.

The Kiridashi (Kogatana), a Japanese marking knife is also popular despite one needs to have them in pair of left and right beveled. The Japanese consider them as multipurpose knives. Their smaller models without a handle are used for accessing the very tight spots.

Thus, it is evident that personal preference plays an important role in making you choose the best marking knife. Truly, it depends on you! This preference depends on what work you wish to do. The Japanese, Western, and Stanley models seem to be more adaptable than the spearpoint ones that are purely only for marking.

For example, for veneering of any type, a single-bevel version is ideal. This is because it functions better with a straight edge for long/wide sheets of Veneer where precision without deviation is needed.

Above all, all these knives are available at affordable rates. As they are not expensive, you can easily consider trying more than one knife. They are more affordable than band saws or routers.

Based on the design, there are two main types of marking knives. The difference exists in the design of the blade and the handle, apart from the material using which they are made. Following are the two types, each having a unique type of blade or design:

  • Single-bevel: Features a blade with a single-bevel edge and a flat back that is positioned against a guide. This blade is ideal for different woodworks such as tracing hinges, marking along a straight edge, and marking angles. The flat back should always remain against the guide; or else, the bevel will result in a small gap between the cut and the guide. This kind of knife has a right- or left-sided blade.
  • Double-bevel (spearpoint): Is versatile, as it can cut in almost any orientation. You can use it for several tasks, such as offering guidelines for joints and marking with a straight edge. This knife is identical to the left- and right-sided version having a single bevel.

FAQs

Can a marking knife wear off or get defaced?

Yes! Although the materials using which it is composed may be of high quality ensuring strength and durability, a marking knife is subject to wear and tear over time. The more often you use it, the higher is the probability of it to wear. It will wear early if you do not take its care or use it inappropriately.

How do I sharpen a marking knife?

If you need to put more pressure on your knife for cutting or it feels tougher to mark along a surface, it is time to sharpen its blade. A water stone is an ideal tool for sharpening a marking knife. As these tools vary by grit fineness, a grit of 4000 is recommended for sharpening extremely hard steels. In the case of a single bevel, you should sharpen only that bevel. In the case of a double-bevel one, you need to sharpen both bevels.

What is the difference between a precision knife and a marking knife?

A marking knife comes with a single- or double-bevel blade, due to which you can cut in a variety of directions. On the contrary, the blade of a precision knife has only side beveled. This means you need to turn the piece or move around the piece to each area. Still, it is best for marking against a straight edge or slim joints. It is not ideal for the outline of joints with profound areas. On the other hand, a marking knife is more apt for any kind of wood marking. It is relatively tougher and longer.

Is a scratch awl better than a marking knife?

A scratch awl is perfect for working along the grain, while a marking knife is for working across the grain to gain more accurate, finer marks.

Conclusion

A marking knife is a woodworking layout tool made for marking wooden surfaces precisely. It cuts a smooth visible line that is then used to direct a saw, plane, or chisel for making joints. It is typically meant for marking across the wooden grain. Apart from making crisp layout lines, this tool lays down a finer line than the pencil’s thinnest tip. The best marking knife will retain its edge and fine outcome for a long time. It is the preferred tool for those who want the utmost precision in lines.