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Mark Your Mark

Probably the most used tool in your shop is one you might overlook; your pencil.

It makes sketches, computes figures, marks parts, lays out mortises, erases mistakes, and a hundred other tasks around the shop. A common school pencil is fine for most purposes, so long as it is kept sharp, but for me, there are four prime marking tools in the shop: A mechanical pencil, a carpenter's pencil, and a white colored pencil.



Probably the most used tool in your shop is one you might overlook; your pencil.

It makes sketches, computes figures, marks parts, lays out mortises, erases mistakes, and a hundred other tasks around the shop. A common school pencil is fine for most purposes, so long as it is kept sharp, but for me, there are four prime marking tools in the shop: A mechanical pencil, a carpenter's pencil, and a white colored pencil.

The mechanical pencil is my primary marking tool. It maintains a consistently fine line, and is inexpensive. I keep them all over the shop including in my apron. It does the majority of my marking chores. I prefer the 0.07 pencils; they are a bit tougher than the 0.05, and break less often on open grains. The carpenter's pencil has a big, tough lead that does an excellent job of marking on rough lumber. It makes bold marks when processing your stock, but the lines are too thick and clumsy for detail work. The flat body keeps it from rolling away, and it fits easily in a pocket or box. Normal pencil leads work very well on most materials, but for very dark woods, the lines can be impossible to see. For these occasions, reach for a white colored pencil. When very sharp, it leaves a nicely visible line on your dark surface. Furniture makers who work in walnut keep a box of these on hand. These three choices serve most of my marking needs, but for real accuracy, like marking out mortises and dovetails, a striking knife is the best choice. The knife cuts a line that is far finer than any pencil will make, and guides your chisel or saw when cutting. For getting really accurate marks, the blade should be flat on the bottom, allowing it tight against your straightedge or part. Try working with these four simple tools on your next project. Marking accurately is the first step to accurate cutting, and will follow through the entire project.



When evaluating antique furniture, one of the things appraisers search for is the fine lines and marks left behind by marking knives and marking gauges. These can be found on the inside of legs, around dovetail joints and near mortise and tenon joinery. These marks can help separate hand made from machine built furniture. We've already looked at marking knives in this series, so this time it's the marking gauge.


Pencils and marking knives are valuable tools for laying out your work, but having a good marking gauge or two around can save time and make repeated marks accurately.


Whether bought premade, or shop-built, a marking gauge sets a stop along a bar with an edge or point at one edge. Clamp the stop at a fixed distance and the same measurement can be laid out over and over.


This shop-built gauge uses a sharpened pin for scratching the layout line. It is very simple in construction, and the head is reversible. One face is flat for straight edges, and the other is rounded for marking along curves.


Mortising Gauges are marking gauges with two adjustable pins for laying out both sides of a mortise in one pass. The pins are adjustable in width, and the bar adjusts the set from the edge. Note that the other side of the bar has a single pin for other types of layouts.


Rather than a sharp point, this marking gauge uses a sharpened wheel at the end of the rod. It cuts a line rather than scratching it, and is excellent for veneer work.


The marking gauge in woodworking can be used for layout, transferring small, accurate measurements, and marking out mortise and tenon joints. If you flatten your stock with a handplane, the marking gauges can set a line around the board edges for hand planing it to final thickness.


Bought or shop built, learning to use a marking gauge will improve your accuracy and increase the efficiency of your wood projects.


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