Make a Marking Knife

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Give new life to an old jointer blade.

By Geoffrey Noden

When it comes to scribing tenon shoulders, dovetails, hinge mortises, and other joints and recesses, it’s hard to beat a traditional V-shaped marking knife. Beveled on only one face, the opposite one can register intimately against a square, straightedge, or other reference surface for a precise layout line. The V shape permits pulling the knife in either direction and using it right-handed or left-handed. Unlike a pencil line, a scribed knife line cleanly severs wood fibers in advance of a saw cut and provides accurate registration for a chisel when paring to the line afterward. Compared to handled marking knives, I find that a simpler flat-bladed version is easier to register against broad surfaces and better suited for reaching into tight spaces. 

Marking Knife
Commercial marking knives can cost upwards of $40, but you can make one yourself in an hour or so. All you need are some basic sharpening tools and a piece of tool steel about 1⁄16" thick. Good tool steel is available in the form of old high-speed steel planer or jointer knives that have become too narrow to fit the machine. If you don’t have any, you might be able to get one from a woodworking pal or friendly local sharpener.


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