marking knife

What Makes A Good Marking Knife

Definition Of A Marking Knife

A Marking Knife is used to create small lines within wood. The lines are typically created by light scratches or cuts into the grain.

Normally the Marking Knife is used for cross grain marking but can be used in other ways. Many prefer a scratch awl for marking when going with the grain.

Purpose Of A Marking Knife

The purpose of a Marking Knife is to allow for a visible line to be followed while cutting. Historically this was common when using hand saws.

The same function can be served when using wood chisels of different varieties. The lines serve as a marker of where wood material will be moved.

For those who enjoy hand planing wood you will discover a love for this knife in what it can offer. You gain the ability to see where the plane should go. This is better than many other guiding methods.

What Is The Best Marking Knife?

In my opinion there is not a best brand of Marking Knife. Rather the design is what becomes important irrespective of brand.

I prefer a spear tipped blade which allows the bevel to be used accurately with either the right or left hand. Without this feature, the side which the bevel is on typically would dictate whether it is intended for a specific hand.

You will find some Marking Knives which also have a scratch awl at the opposite end of the handle. Many consider these dangerous to use. Personally I do not like this feature as well.

If I wish to use a tool I prefer that it be built to the purpose of which it is intended. While making marks into wood one does not wish to add variables to allow accidents.

The last feature I prefer is a handle that allows me to use the Marking Knife like a pencil. This is the way in which the function and use of the blade is intended.

How To Use A Marking Knife?

While it is designed to work more readily across the grain it can be used in other ways. Nevertheless most commonly the Marking Knife lightly cuts a line along a straight edge in order to create a visible line.

Once completed other tools such as a scroll saw, coping saw, or other woodworking blades can be used. The line serves as a defined boundary which the artist wishes to stay within.

Alternative uses can be found in how the Marking Knife can “cut trace” some designs. A similar principle is found here where the trace which was cut then allows for wood carving tools to follow.

How Much Should You Spend On A Marking Knife?

There is no question as to the value of a Marking Knife in wood carving. Yet I would not spend a lot of money just for this purpose alone.

You can find these blades easily online ranging between $15 to $30 and most would serve you well. It is really an uncomplicated process which the blade performs.

Normally the Marking Knife is made from tool steel. The edge will need to be sharpened regularly for consistent performance. Nevertheless I do consider the blade to be disposable.

This is a tool which I would purchase what I need, and then expect it to be replaced. Certainly maintain and take care of it, but also do not be afraid to perform rough jobs.

Is It Worth Buying A Hand Forged Harima Marking Knife?

If you read my blog you know I love Japanese wood carving tools. Most either outperform Western versions or outlast them.

When it comes to a Japanese Marking Knife this can be give or take. The tool is called a Harima and a genuine hand forged blade can run well over 100 dollars.

If I were wanting a Harima it would be for more than marking. This blade is intended to be used in other ways outside of this one simple function.

While it can perform the job of a Marking Knife, it also is used within wood art for intricate cutting. The ability it serves in giving fine details or cleaning cuts from larger tools is invaluable.

From a wood artists perspective the Harima is like a scalpel. It performs many cuts that other woodworking tools simply cannot do.

In this regard if all you wish to have is a Marking Knife then I would not purchase a genuine hand forged Harima. I would remain with the far less expensive options.

Blades You Should Never Use As A Marking Knife

The anatomy of a Marking Knife requires a rigid tip that is sharp. It must create a line while also not flexing along its guide.

Due to this, using things like razor blades for the purpose of a marking should never be allowed. A razor blade is too flexible and can break. In turn these are prone to cause accidents.

A bench knife should also never be used as a Marking Knife. The tool is too large and the bevel is not consistent with what is needed.

By using a bench knife you introduce a myriad of potential problems mainly focused within the accuracy of the line you have traced. The tip of the blade also does not fit the proper profile.

Generally speaking most woodworking knives do not have the tip or bevel to perform to the degree of accuracy desired.

This of course would leave out pocket knifes or whittling knives. I simply never would imagine using one of these for this purpose.

In a pinch I have seen some people use chip carving blades to make some marks. On small projects one may be able to get away with this.

The problem with using a chip carving knife is that the handle is made to be gripped like a knife, not a pencil. The ergonomics can make it difficult to deliver the performance you may desire.

The steel of the blade is also not the same tool steel. A cheap chip carver is commonly designed to work with soft wood like balsa.

Obviously no one would ever want to use these tools as a standard go to Marking Knife. Yet we have all implemented with what we have on hand at different times.

Of the blades I have mentioned here there is only one which really causes me great concern. Simply never use a razor blade for this purpose even if in a pinch.

Can A Marking Knife Trace Intricate Designs?

Generally speaking a Marking Knife is not best used for tracing highly detailed intricate designs. I still find it best to trace by pencil and then begin using wood carving tools.

There are some designs which it can perform with no problems. Yet the more detailed the design is the more frustrating your efforts will become.

The greatest problems you will face will be as you attempt to create rounded shapes, or turn the cut with the grain. Definition is lost and on a curved marking line the blade will slip.

If one is using a stenciled pattern block to mark against it becomes somewhat easier. Nevertheless care is still needed.

It will take some time for one to discover what some Marking Knives can or cannot do. Not all are made equal.

Nevertheless there are simply better tools for tracing highly detailed designs before wood carving.

How Do You Sharpen A Marking Knife?

You sharpen a Marking Knife much in the same way as a wood chisel. Most of these knives have a bevel on one side.

Those which are spear tipped will merely require sharpening on both sides of the tip. It is rather uncomplicated but best done on your choice of water stone and with a guide.

The Marking Knife depends heavily on that fine tip and a very sharp edge. As mentioned earlier it is the woodworkers scalpel.

Many are made of tool steel so they will sharpen nicely. The longevity of the blade should not be an issue if cared for properly.

Common Causes Requiring A Marking Knife To Be Replaced

The most common cause which requires a Marking Knife to be replaced is due to accidents. Dropping them on their tip can cause damage which is a pain to repair.

If one is accustomed to breaking in a Japanese chisel then you can know the process required to repair this kind of damage.

Another cause is when one is marking along a guide that is steel or aluminum and the blade digs into the guide. Marking Knives of poor quality are less resilient and can be difficult to reshape the bevel.

Situations such as these are what will more often than not require you to replace the knife. Otherwise it is a straightforward tool that should last for some time.

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