A Marking Knife Bakeoff for the Budget Conscious

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Blog entry by Brad posted 08-16-2015 02:11 PM 8265 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

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:

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:

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:

Round 1-Pine crosscut

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

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

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.


-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

5 comments so far

View JayT's profile


6431 posts in 3449 days

#1 posted 08-16-2015 04:01 PM

Nice write up and test, Brad. I went through a couple marking knives (one purchased and one made in the shop) before investing in a marking knife from David Barron a couple years ago. Have never regretted that decision.

-- - In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.

View Woodknack's profile


13584 posts in 3618 days

#2 posted 08-16-2015 04:13 PM

Interesting test. Why do you believe some knives performed poorly; or to put it another way, what trait of the best knives allowed them to cut better?

-- Rick M,

View Brad's profile


1147 posts in 3978 days

#3 posted 08-16-2015 06:13 PM

Well Rick, I think that the Stanley blade edge is finer and longer. My spearpoint shopmade edges just didn’t cut as well. Maybe you have had better luck.

-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

View Brad's profile


1147 posts in 3978 days

#4 posted 08-16-2015 06:16 PM

JayT, the David Barron marking knives are certainly beautiful. I like the finger-grip dimples, brass ferrule, blades and wood species. However, their high price puts them in the same category as the Blue Spruce knives in my opinion.

-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

View Woodknack's profile


13584 posts in 3618 days

#5 posted 08-17-2015 06:15 AM

I was just asking. I have a marking knife made from a Swann Morton blade which is very similar to your #3. I like it but the blade is a bit long and flexible but it works very well. I also made a knife from a sawzall blade and it works well. I haven’t done the same head to head testing though to directly compare them but I might now.

-- Rick M,

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