Colonial Chalk Line Reel

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Project by ElroyD posted 11-10-2018 01:25 AM 772 views 2 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch

For the 2018 Layout and Marking Tool Swap, I tried my hand at a colonial style chalk line reel. These chalk lines were used in the 18th century to snap straight lines along timbers being shaped for cabins and ship-building. The head of the reels spins on the handle, allowing it to be quickly deployed. I also added a small round container to hold chalk dust as an accessory.

My rough prototype version was made completely from green wood cut from a maple in our back yard. I shaped it with a pocket knife, and just bent it by hand. The final version is a mixture of green and dried wood. The bow, this time, was steam bent, and thinned along the entire length. I don’t have a lathe, so the handle and chalk container were slimmed down with a pocket knife then smoothed with sand paper.

-- Elroy

10 comments so far

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

3555 posts in 909 days

#1 posted 11-10-2018 01:41 AM

Nice job, Elroy! I wouldn’t have thought of a chalk-line but that just shows my brain sometimes doesn’t work all that well.

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View swirt's profile


3783 posts in 3299 days

#2 posted 11-10-2018 02:01 AM

Nice rustic chalk lines. The spalted maple is a nice touch.

-- Galootish log blog,

View EarlS's profile


2649 posts in 2675 days

#3 posted 11-10-2018 04:02 AM

I thought your chalk line was the most unique item in the swap. Even if you hadn’t told us that it was a reproduction of a colonial chalk line that would have instantly been my first guess. It looks exactly like something from that period should be; minimal, functional, but with an understated simple elegance. Making it with hand tools only seems natural as well.

Your projects are always something I look forward to studying because one look isn’t enough. There is a lot to learn from them.

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

View Oldtool's profile


2761 posts in 2517 days

#4 posted 11-10-2018 04:15 AM

Nice and unique tool from the 18th century. I wonder what they used for chalk, and how they applied it. With the string all exposed on the spindle, I suppose the marking material could just be sprinkled it before use, and maybe fire ashes were used as the chalk. Interesting to ponder, those old timers were pretty resourceful.
Nice build.

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

View Bill Berklich's profile

Bill Berklich

741 posts in 715 days

#5 posted 11-10-2018 12:32 PM

Wow Elroy great job – pocket knife? I’d be short fingers after trying to execute this. You do the coolest stuff! With the simplest tools.

-- Bill - Rochester MI

View jeffswildwood's profile


3884 posts in 2304 days

#6 posted 11-10-2018 12:34 PM

I never thought chalk lines were used in those days, this says they were. Very nice!

-- We all make mistakes, the trick is to fix it in a way that says "I meant to do that".

View HokieKen's profile


8920 posts in 1465 days

#7 posted 11-11-2018 02:58 AM

Superb Elroy! Thanks for bringing some history and making it fun and useful. An excellent entry for a swap!

-- Kenny, SW VA, Go Hokies!!!

View John Smith's profile

John Smith

1746 posts in 489 days

#8 posted 11-11-2018 11:48 AM

chalk lines were used in the building of the Egyptian Pyramids 5,000 years ago.
not much as changed about the tool or technique throughout the ages of time.
as the recipient of this fine tool for the swap, it will have a distinguished place
in a tool box that I am assembling for tools that my fore-fathers used back in their day.
Thank You Elroy for taking your time to share your skill and knowledge of the 18th Century.


-- Failure is proof that you at least tried ~ now, go do it again, and again, until you get it right --

View GerardoArg1's profile


991 posts in 2320 days

#9 posted 11-12-2018 12:50 PM

Beatiful. Very useful and simple. Congratulations

-- Disfruta tu trabajo (enjoy your work) (Bandera, Argentina)

View Woodknack's profile


12726 posts in 2707 days

#10 posted 11-13-2018 05:14 PM

I enjoy seeing recreations of primitive tools, nice work.

-- Rick M,

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