You might not know it yet, but you need a marking knife. Yes, you should definitely buy a marking knife.
A marking knife is used for creating crisp layout lines in wood materials. It lays down a finer line than the thinnest pencil tip, and although all knives will slowly dull and eventually require a little honing or even replacement, good marking knives hold their edges and fine points for a very long time.
Sometimes I use a marking knife by itself, other times I follow it with a pencil to darken the line in busy woods.
If you’ve never tried one before, you owe it yourself to be open-minded.
There is a wide range of woodworking marking knives available, ranging from easily affordable to heirloom-quality pieces for discerning and deep-pocketed enthusiasts.
If you want to give things a try without spending a penny, you can use a utility knife, outdoors knife, even a kitchen paring knife, at least for proof of concept.
Shown above is a Blue Spruce Toolworks marking knife. They’re a company whose customized tools we recently posted about. I used the image because it perfectly illustrates the use of a marking knife. I use marking knives very often, but am not quite ready to splurge for a premium-priced model yet.
Here’s a closer look at one of their models, with spear point blade, curly maple handle, and stainless steel ferrule.
See what I mean about some models being for deep-pocketed enthusiasts? Although, considering how often something like this is used, and how much other woodworking hand tools are priced, it’s not that unreasonable, right? This is the curly maple-handled version, the cocobolo and African blackwood versions are a bit pricier.
On the other side of the price range, this Big Horn marking/striking is priced at $8 and change. This is one of the distinct styles of marking knives, where you have a flat back and double beveled spearpoint-type blade shape on the front.
Because of how it’s shaped, you can slide the flat back across your square, rule, or other measuring apparatus, allowing for a precise line to be scribed exactly where you need it.
You can buy a knife like this to determine if marking knives are right for you, and if you prefer this style of blade. Once you determine your preferences, you can decide your upgrade path from there. Or, you might be happy with something like this as your one and only marking knife.
I should point out that reviews are mixed, with many users loving it, and others complaining about cheap build quality. For under $10, don’t expect much.
Narex is a good name when it comes to woodworking tools, or at least I think so. I bought Narex chisels because they were lauded by Lee Valley and on woodworking forums, offering a good value for mid-level tools at mid-level pricing.
They’re a step up from entry-level pricing, and a big step up in quality from entry-level tools.
This marking knife is a different shape than others, almost comparable to #11 hobby knife blades. At this time I would advise against using X-Acto or other hobby knives as marking knives, as they seem too fragile for something like this.
The Narex marking knife blade is 2.75″ long and the handle is 4.125″ long.
Reviews on this one are mixed too, with some saying it’s too sharp and delicate for their use.
Narex describes this scalpel-shaped knife as a marking knife as well, but I’m a little skeptical about the blade shape. Could be worth a try, but personally I’d steer closer towards a more traditional blade shape.
This Crown marking knife is also beveled to one side. It’s considered a “right hand” marking knife, as the flat is on the left side for sliding along rules and squares.
Generally, one could make due with a “right handed” or “left handed” marking knife, corresponding to their dominant hand, or get a set of knives so that you can mark in either direction.
This also helps to explain why many marking knives are dual-beveled as with the Big Horn and Blue Spruce models shown above. Dual bevels on one side of the knife allow for marking with the flat back in either direction.
As with some of the other inexpensive marking knives, this one has mixed reviews.
Honestly, you get what you pay for. You can’t get premium steel, high hardness, and perfect sharpening at entry-level pricing. You get a basic tool that does its job but probably requires a little more maintenance for exceptional results.
This Mora knife is a small fixed blade knife, meant for outdoors applications. But hey, there’s no reason it cannot be used as a starter marking knife, right?
Once you know marking knives are right for you, you can upgrade to a better woodworking-specific knife and use this one for… I don’t know? It’s very popular with outdoors enthusiasts and I’m fond of Mora knives in general, and so it seemed like a fitting mention.
Lee Valley’s Veritas workshop striking knife looks to be all function, zero form. That’s okay, it means that the bulk of the price goes towards making the knife a strong performer.
I’d rather have a good performing knife than a good-looker, although a good-looking high-performance knife would be best if you have the cash for it.
This knife is made with A2 tool steel and is 6-5/8″ overall. It’s made in Canada.
Unlike some of the other knives shown here, this one might be more tailored towards precise and tight space marking tasks, as opposed to general layout work. In Veritas’ intro video, it’s shown being used between dovetail tails to lay down marks for the pins.
Lee Valley also sells the Utilitas marking knife, which is made to their exacting standards.
It features a hardwood handle, and flats to help prevent rolling.
Do you have a favorite marking knife you’d like to recommend?