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I have always used generic knives for marking as per the two Stanleys (other makes are available!) below, my favourite being the grey one:

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The cheap-n-cheerful Stanleys have always worked well, leaving a nice fine line and they double up as a handy tool for shaving off saw 'fuzzies' and sharpening pencils etc, plus the folding/retracting blades mean I can slip it in a pocket and so avoid loosing it under shavings.

However, when marking out a job yesterday I got to wondering - there are a lot of knives marketed specifically for marking like these two:

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Marking knives of the pattern of the lower pair seem common in many professional YouTube woodwork videos (though I note that Paul Sellers uses 'my' grey one above - which influenced my choice originally). So my question is, are there advantages in a specialist marking knife over what I am using and if so, what are they? The lower one doesn't look any more useful than my Stanleys but perhaps the beveled one has a special advantage (though I'd expect the chunky bevel to effectively move your knife mark over (the bevel on the Stanleys is so thin it's never a risk).

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The usual reason given for the need for a dedicated marking knife is that it is bevelled on one side only, the other side flat, and this flat side allows precise vertical alignment of the knife against the rule or square. This yields a knifed line precisely where you want it and not offset slightly as can happen with a standard knife blade that is bevelled on both sides.

While this is true, when knifing with a normal knife the offset is at most half the thickness of the blade.... I just measured the knife I most commonly mark with and that's <0.2mm (under 8/1000"), a level of accuracy more than good enough for a lot of woodworkers*. I'd suggest that this is why in the past and still today you'll see Stanley knives and X-Acto knives quite commonly used for marking in professional shops, because in practice they are good enough.

So why is there a market for dedicated marking knives? There are multiple reasons but it's important to recognise one important one, that there's a certain fetishistic desire for beautiful tools amongst woodworkers today, amateurs and pros alike. There's no denying how lovely some marking knives are and some people just want one because of this, not because it will make their marking significantly more accurate..... even if they justify the purchase to themselves (or their partner!) in this way ^_^


*In addition, you can simply tilt a double-bevel knife outwards slightly and mostly or completely eliminate this tiny offset.

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    With my skinny blade I don't need to worry about which side I put the square on (so long as it is againt the reference face/edge), whereas (IMHO) that bevel is asking to cause a visible error from inadvertantly having it the wrong way around. Re fetishism in woodworking, the more I dig into the subject the more this becomes evident - not just tools but work benches and vices especially (I'll get advice from Pandora on how to close THAT can of worms). My mind is at rest - I shall continue to use my little grey knife and save justifying purchases to my partner for something REALLY shiny :) – MappaGnosis Nov 23 '18 at 12:36
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    Re. the little grey Stanley knife, the fact that it's good enough for Paul Sellers I certainly feel is enough of a recommendation all by itself. And I say that as not a Sellers fanboy. "...save justifying purchases to my partner for something REALLY shiny :) " Just make sure that's not any of the high-end planes :-))) Despite them genuinely being heirloom tools their price is hard to legitimately justify, given planes that cost a tenth as much (less than this even) can do similar work, and sometimes exactly the same work. Properly shiny though, no denying that! – Graphus Nov 23 '18 at 13:13
  • "Just make sure that's not any of the high-end planes" - I have a suite of 1960s Stanley no 4 and no 5 from Ebay all liberally elbow greased until they give fine shavings with a satifying swoosh sound (which is surely the gold standard?). I know collectors hate people restoring these old tools, but what's the point of a rusty plane you can't use? My pride and joy is a 1960s Record 45. It's showing its age but works like a dream and is so often out of its box that, perhaps I'll save my partner justifications for a Stanley/Record 55 (I could then mate them and breed little shoulder planes) – MappaGnosis Nov 24 '18 at 14:16
  • Yes the swoosh sound is the gold standard :-) Collectors be damned! But anyway most collectors wouldn't care too much about planes of that vintage, the 60s are way past the point they think standards fell so far that they aren't worth owning any more (thankfully for users). – Graphus Nov 24 '18 at 16:47
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Aside from what has been mentioned already, razor knives or something like an exacto knife, can flex and if I am not paying close attention will grab a grain and run down it. I try to make sure my square is on the side I am keeping, so it isn't a big deal, but it can and does happen more than I care to admit. Seems to be worse on softer woods where the blade sinks further than I intend. On the plus side, I have a half dozen razor knives laying around, my "marking knife" is around here somewhere....

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  • True. I always do a very light pass followed by one or more heavier passes and that avoides "getting stuck in the tram lines" – MappaGnosis Nov 24 '18 at 14:06

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