A Marking Knife Bakeoff for the Budget Conscious

When I was new to woodworking, I didn’t see much use for marking knives. But, people whose work I admired used them regularly, so I tried them. And my joinery improved. Marking knives have contributed to tighter, more accurate and better-fitting joints for me.

Mind you I’d prefer to own one of these exquisite beauties by Blue Spruce Toolworks:

P01-A-Marking Knife-Blue Spruce Toolworks Offerings

But the $65+ price tag was more than my limited tool fund and priorities could bear. So I drafted knives lying around. And I made a couple of my own. Soon, I had six knives cluttering precious bench space. So I resolved to whittle them down to one by testing each in pine, oak and maple end grain.

Here are the marking knife contestants:

P01-Marking Knife Lineup

1. Utility knife (box cutter)
2. Swiss Army knife (main blade)
3. Stanley 10-049 utility knife. Paul Sellers turned me on to this option in his post here.
4. X-ACTO blade (#26 Whittling Blade)
5. Homemade marking knife with repurposed sabersaw blade
6. Homemade spearpoint marking knife, with repurposed sabersaw blade

And here are closeups of the cutting edges:

P02-Marking Knife Cutting Edges

Round 1-Pine crosscut
P03-Marking Knife-Crosscut-PINE

Well, the utility knife (1) and both my shop-made (5, 6) knives performed poorly. The remaining three (2, 3, 4) were judged on the criterion of clean, crisp and narrow gauge. Based on that, I ranked them 3, 2, 4. Round 1 goes to the Stanley utility knife.

Round 2-Oak crosscut
P04-Marking Knife-Crosscut-Oak

All six were competitive, but again the bottom three marks were 1, 5 and 6. Following the same criterion as above, I ranked the remaining three: 3, 4, 2. Round 2 goes to the Stanley utility knife.

Round 3-Maple endgrain dovetail marks
P05-Marking Knife-Dovetail-Maple

For dovetail marking, I eliminated 1 and 5. 6 did ok for one mark but not the other. 2 also did ok but the mark was not well defined nor deep. That left 3 and 4. And to mine eye, 4 made the better cut with 3 close behind. Round three goes to X-ACTO.

And the winner is…
1. The Stanley utility knife (3.) It was the best all-around and is a very reasonably priced tool suitable for marking.

2. Coming in second was the X-ACTO knife (4) #24 whittling blade. Some users may prefer the pencil-style handle versus the flat handle of the Stanley.

3. Taking the Show Position was the Swiss Army pocketknife (2.) I liked the curved blade which consistently severed the wood fibers effectively and easily. However, its large size made it cumbersome to mark tight dovetail spaces.

I should note that both my homemade equivalents did poorly. That made it easy to get rid of them. I also found new places for the other marking tools. So today, my sole marking knife is the Stanley10-049 utility knife.

© 2015 Brad Chittim, all rights reserved.



About The Write Biz

By day, I'm a mild-mannered copywriter who harnesses frontal-lobe creativity (right brain) to help B2B marketers generate leads and sales. By night I pick up hand tools to create wooden masterpieces...and give my black lab Bella the "red dot" laser to chase after.
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3 Responses to A Marking Knife Bakeoff for the Budget Conscious

  1. Valerie Gee says:

    Nice cross comparison! I’m impressed with the performance of the swiss army knife, I suppose it really is the all round go to tool. And I’m surprised that your home made knives didn’t get the job done! I need to do something similar with some of my tools and make me a nice photo comparison of them like you did.

  2. Eric Potter says:

    I also use the Stanley knife, thanks to Paul Sellers. As you tested it out of the box, it comes with the heavy sheepsfoot blade which is pretty good. For a couple of dollars more, I think it becomes a much better marking knife if you replace the stock blade with the 11-041 (can be found on Amazon and sometimes at non-big-box hardware stores). The 11-041 blade is a little thinner, and has a pointy-er tip. This makes for a finer line in general, and is great for getting inside to mark pins/dovetail sockets.

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