My Favorite Marking Tools

I buy them by the box.

Over the years I have tried many different methods of marking. The best marking tool I have yet tried is the extra soft #1 pencil. This tool produces dark lines that are easy for my tired old eyes to see, but the biggest benefit is the pencil marks are very easy to remove. Because of this pencil’s softness it must be sharpened more often and therefore it doesn’t last long. This I don’t mind because it is cheap so I buy a box at a time. This soft pencil leaves thick lines unless it is freshly sharpened so it is not the best tool for precision work. On those occasions I choose a mechanical pencil with a 0.5mm lead. This tool will not mark a line wider than 0.5mm or 0.02” (twenty thousandths of and inch)  thus if you split the line you are within 0.01” (ten thousandths of an inch) of your dimension. But beware! The lead for these mechanical pencils usually is hard. This small diameter hard lead will leave scribe marks in your wood that will have to be sanded out. Now I don’t know about you, but I hate sanding so tread very lightly with this fine hard lead.

Rarely do I ever use a knife for marking out. For a time the knife was my marking method of choice for those times when I needed more accuracy. As my eyes got older I found I needed to mark the incised lines with a pencil so they were more easily seen. Now my marking was taking two steps. I began to think since I had to use a fine pencil to make the lines more visible why not stop using the knife altogether and just use the pencil. Over time I learned that I could achieve all the accuracy I needed with the mechanical pencil using 0.5mm lead and it was easier to see than an incised line and easier to remove when the project was finished.

The extra soft #1 pencil and a mechanical pencil with 0.5mm lead will serve for 99% of all your marking needs. Try them. They are cheap and easy to carry around the shop in an apron pocket.

As always thanks for stopping by. I hope this information is of some use to you and of course please feel free to leave a comment if you are so inclined.


Professional furniture maker and restorer. Dealer and collector of vintage and antique woodworking tools.
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4 Responses to My Favorite Marking Tools

  1. LonnieG says:

    I too use mechanical pencils as well as regular pencils for marking. I also use marking knives. It all depends on the situation. I am sure you are aware that mechanical pencils come in smaller diameters than .05mm. A .03 is also available. As for the leads for mechanical pencils most over the counter pencils come with HB lead, which is equivalent to #2. For a softer, darker lead, try a B lead equivalent to #1 or a 1B which is even softer. The softest darkest lead is a 6B.

  2. Van Hudson says:

    I appreciate your detail and preciseness in choosing your pencils. I have spent thousands of hours on the board drafting with every type pencil available with every type of lead and ink.
    I have gravitated to a #HB2 Mirado Black Warrior pencil made by Papermate. It is the finest pencil made in my opinion. They stopped making them for a while and I complained. They sent me a free box of other #2HB, but nothing compares. This year they are back and can be found in the local office supply stores.

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