The Best Woodworking Marking Knife

by | Nov 2, 2017 | 40 comments


strong marking knifeAll my tools are fairly rough and basic.

I’ve never had much bother finding tools that work, although two things have always troubled me.

The first; finding drill bits that don’t rag out the work in slow hand powered drills.

And finding a good marking knife.

The drill bit hunt is still on, but I have finally got on top of the iron dagger.

My favourite knife for many years was a bit of old hacksaw blade, sharpened to a spear like point, so it could be used right or left-handed.

The handle was made of tape and rag.

I liked it because it could be used for the real fine stuff; like dovetails. But also worked well on the bigger stuff.
It would mark nice and deep.

That’s the problem for most.

A Stanley knife’s good for the rough stuff; them craft knives will only do the delicate.

The cheap traditional English pattern ones are serviceable, but I can’t find a real nice one that clicks.
And by the time you’ve remade it, you may as well have made it.

I find the worst type of knife to be those real posh things, that are beautifully handmade with turned handles and all that.

So what was wrong with my bit of snapped off hacksaw blade?

Well… it snapped off and half of it went up me finger nail…
You want to try digging that out with a bradawl. That’s one to do with the kids.

the best all round marking knife

I like minimal tools. So a marking knife that’s both fine and sturdy ticks all the boxes for me.

Replacing My Marking Knife.

Recently, I was doing that thing with an online order, where you’re trying to get your basket to the free delivery point.
When you knowingly end up spending more just to get it.

Well I stumbled across some Japanese knives, did a bit of an ‘ip dip’ and chucked one in the basket.
It turned a boring order of glue and screws into bloody Christmas. Blimey Charley, the knife was perfect.

It looks dead crude, but it’s dead comfy.
The steel is that fancy laminated stuff, so it’s fairly easy to sharpen, but then never needs sharpening. And it doesn’t half take an edge.


scoring half blind dovetails with a marking knife, woodworking marking knifeThe design is very similar to the one that shived me.
Only it’s thicker so it can take a fair bit of force for those heavy marking jobs.

I’m even finding that I’m using it for more than just marking.
Where I would normally use a chisel to deepen a shoulder line for example, I’m using this knife.

And it’s the best skew chisel I’ve ever had. Perfect for half-blinds and the like.

The only real limitation is if you like to do those very fine pinned dovetails.
Which I don’t.
But I suppose you would nearly always need something fairly dedicated for those anyway.

If I could change anything I would lengthen the cutting point. Basically make the spear-shaped angle more shallow.
I’ve always found longer points to run down a straight edge much better.

I could probably do this myself, we shall see.

Just need drill bits now… got any leads?

Note: We don’t do sponsored posts. This is simply my thoughts and experience with this knife. But since you’re probably wondering, here’s the link for the knife that I bought.

Want to know my two pence on other tools?
The Bevel Up plane (One plane to rule them all??)
Chisels for dovetailing
Chisels for all needs (Almost)
ECE Hand plane review

Plane Build Video Series

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About Richard Maguire

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs 'The English Woodworker' as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn More About Richard & The English Woodworker.


  1. Ken Haygarth

    Hi Richard, nice making knife mate, I have one the very same. 😉

    • larry

      Yes, love the knife. Please explain the cork on the tri-square.

      • Adam

        It’s reflection, not cork

      • Martin

        I can see what you mean about the ‘cork’ but it’s more solid than a reflection: it’s that bit of the tri-square base that sticks up at 45° but the light is hitting at an angle to highlight it.

    • Simon Troup

      Do you mean Star-M from Workshop Heaven, Patrick?

      • Patrick Anderson

        Yes I think they’re also called Wood Owl

  2. Arthur van der Harg

    Yeah, they’re nice knives! Just be careful when using it as a skew chisel. The hard steel is kinda brittle and might chip when you pry with it.

  3. garrick

    lee valley hss brad points . Got some for christmas and will never use anything else

    • Jeffery Oliver

      I would look into Fuller brand Brad Point Bits, made in the northeast. The are probably some of the best wood bits I have used (available in inch and metric), available through Tools for Woring Wood.

  4. Jim

    Yup, I’ve got one too.

    I laughed when the link takes you to Axminster and the knife is £15 but they’ve got a frequently bought together suggestion asking for £143!

    You’re right, Richard, it’s easily done.

    • Bob L.

      Made a marking knife just like it from an auto leaf spring. Knifemakers use leaf springs quite often. High carbon steel with chromium. 5095 steel IIRC, been using it for years. Never thought of using it as a skew chisel, thanks!

  5. Tom Angle

    I bought an old #7 too quickly at the yard sale on my lunch break. When I got it home I found the iron to be snapped in half long ways. I been rolling around the idea of making a marking knife from the two halves. I think you just pushed me over the edge.

      • Matthew Platt

        Hi Mike,
        The 1594’s are a true lip and spur drill, superb for drilling into the side of timber and the faster they go the better they perform.
        The 601’s are much better at lower speeds, they have auger like wings and a U shaped cutting edge. If you try carving a circle with a gouge and then with a chisel you can feel how much smoother it is with a curved edge.

  6. Salko Safic

    I use Colt brad point bits, mostly. Nothing, in my view is more accurate and smooth cutting as these bits. They’re not cheap, but they’re worth it.

    To help with your hand drilling experience, try and back off the downward pressure.

  7. Mark Dennehy

    I got the single-edge version of this a while back but the gentle curve from one side down the bevel contrasting with the flat straight-edge on the back of the knife gave this optical illusion of the knife tip being bent over whenever I used it and it drove me nuts so I swapped it out for that stanley knife Paul Sellers uses (and which my dad used to use a lifetime ago so that was a nice symmetry). The “craft” blades (the curved ones) are rubbish for it though, and you do tend to occasionally break off the tip of the blade and then it has to get retired (but they’re cheap as chips). But it has the fantastic advantage that the blade folds away into the handle easily, whereas the japanese knifes can’t – and sooner or later, I’d reach into the layout tool bucket at my bench and grab the sharp end…

  8. Kermit

    If you’re in the US and looking to avoid the $140 or so that they want these days for a marking knife hand-forged in the bowels of Mt Fuji by Japanese dwarfs from lunar unobtainium, Hock makes a right nice one for about 30 bucks. Same steel as their excellent plane irons.

  9. Paul Reichert

    The best drill bits for eggbeaterslow speeds that worked for me are the already mentioned star brand bits and these:
    I think they work exceptionally well. They have cheaper ones made from CV but they don’t have the same cutting geometry. I use them very often with a small drill brace with a hex shaft and they make holes in fir without tearout.

    • Paul Reichert

      I made a mistake in the previous post. The star drill bits are good for slow speeds, but I don’t think they are ideal to use in an eggbeater drill. I thought I would have deleted the word. Sorry.

  10. Steve

    I’m not keen on the japanese drill bits since I don’t like drilling toward my belly.

  11. Duane Peterson

    I just bought an old screwdriver at a garage sale for 50 cents and shaped the point on a grinder, works fine, I use it for just about everything, an old busted up chisel would work too – just shape the tip how you want it.

  12. Henrik

    +1 on Star-M auger bits and +1 on Colt Brad points. Fine-tools in Germany carry an extended range of both.

    +1 on these spear-point knifes. I use my in lieu of a router plane on tenon cheeks and dovetailed dados as well.

    The single- and doublebevelled version cutting knives of the same type are all I use now for cutting and whitling duties. Fairly inexpensive. Thought I would miss the rounded tip of a sloyd Knife but so don’t.

  13. Dan

    This is probably because I’m an amateur, but with dovetails and marking knives, I get cold sweats when marking because when it’s sharp, my knife either dives into the tail, cutting off a sliver, or chooses it’s own path away from tail ‘wall’. Then I worry that my saw will dive into the knife line and screw things up. Until I figure this out, I’m a pencil guy. Easy to see, easy to fix and with a thick enough sharp lead, you can extend it deep within a narrow pin. Always up for suggestions or help!

    • Michael Ballinger

      Only suggestion I can think of is going with a very light pressure. As light as you can. Then with the next pass go slightly heavier. The initial shallow cut helps guide the blade. Also I have found softwoods more challenging than hardwoods because of the hard and soft aspects of the growth rings.

      • Dan

        Thanks Michael,
        I think that should help. I’ll practice more, especially with those softwoods.

  14. joe

    Congrats on finding your knife. I searched for quite a while before I found one that I liked. I tried a couple of expensive ones as well. They worked but it just wasn’t quite right. I stumbeled across a $10 knife in a blog post and loved it. Then, I tried another expensive one ($80) and ended up going back to the $10 one. I am searching for good drill bits as well. Keep us posted if you find them.

  15. Ed

    Thanks for the tip, Richard. I have been struggling with a single bevel marker that doesn’t have the versatility of what found.

  16. gervase

    I think we all have a favourite knife, whether for woodwork, or for preparing food!

  17. Tone

    If you like simple “metal bar” knives like this, you might be interested in the English Paring Knife – intended for leatherworking. They can be had, in or right hand versions for about £5 – NOS (new old stock) by Geo(rge) Barnsley for example. They are not laminated but they are made of good, old Sheffield steel.

    The Swedes make laminated steel tools (mainly knives these days), they can be expensive but Mora/Frost mass produce some for wood carving & crafts that are affordable. Their unlaminated carbon steel blades are good too, easily sharpened to an impressively sharp edge. I haven’t tried their stainless steel blade yet but I expect they are ok too. Exchange rates are poor currently but they have knives in the £9-£20 range.

  18. Robert M

    Stanley 10-049 folding pocket knife. Works well, you can sharpen the blades.

  19. Teige

    I ordered the same knife recently and am pondering whether to make a leather sheath for it. How would you guys store this thing, both to protect yourself and the brittle tip?

  20. Jonas

    About the drill bit…The center bit might fit the bill, although AFAIK they can only be used with a brace because of the square shaft, so not suitable for eggbeaters. Haven’t seen anyone that produces them new, but they pop up on fleamarkets now and then…A blogpost (not mine) with more information:

  21. Jeffery Oliver

    Pfeil actually makes a handled marking knife that works quite well.

  22. John W Dougherty

    I carry a “stockman” style, three-bladed pocket knife with the typical clip, spey and sheep’s foot blades. I use the sheep’s foot for all marking calling for a knife line. The others all have uses in the shop. Since I use it for everything from cutting clippings from news papers to whittling pegs, it is always in my pocket.

  23. Micheal Kingsley

    I ended up making a pair of marking knives out of a couple of 1/2″ flag bits. I had one that was broken, so I turned a handle for it on a small lathe I have, then ground it back with a grinder. Nice steel that sharpens great. I did a crude single edge fairly pointed right down to the hole in the middle of the flag. I even use it for a skew chisel from time to time. Soon as anyone sees it, they go home and make one. Try it. dead cheap and easy to resharpen.

  24. B Pinto

    Am I the only one that wants to hear the story about when you got shived?


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