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Learn How. Discover Why. Build Better. - Christopher Schwarz


 
 

Endurance Test by Christopher Schwarz

     

Blue Spruce Marking Knife - Handmade and perfect in every detail

When people ask for my recommendation on almost any kind of tool, I attempt to give them several choices: Iíll recommend Tool A if youíre this kind of woodworker; Tool B if youíre another kind of woodworker.

However, this is not the case when it comes to marking knives. I have only one recommendation: Buy a marking knife from Blue Spruce Toolworks of Oregon City, Ore.

In the last decade I have used more than a dozen different marking knives from all over the globe Ė some antique, some newly manufactured, some shop-made. After I sharpen them and force myself to use them for a month or so, I put them in the top left drawer of my tool cabinet with all my other marking knives.

My fingers always go back to pick up the Blue Spruce for my day-to-day work. Itís not just because itís an attractive and shiny tool (though it has good looks in spades), itís because it is perfectly suited to so many tasks, is well-balanced and well-made by hand. It is the embodiment of what I try to achieve when I build a piece of furniture.

I know youíre probably thinking, ďYeah, right. What could be so special about a piece of steel in a stick?Ē Letís take a lose look, starting at the business end of the tool.

The blade is unique. Itís remarkably thin at just 1 ⁄32" thick and stiff. Why is thinner better? If you cut dovetails you already know the answer Ė the thin profile allows you to sneak into the tightest dovetails to mark the mating section of the joint. Most knives (and marking awls) are simply too thick to get into London-pattern dovetails.

The spear-point shape of the cutting edge is also a big advantage when dovetailing. It allows you to mark on the left and right side of a tail or pin without resorting to another knife. Put the flat side of the blade against the joint and mark Ė you donít need to tip the knife like you do with an X-Acto or jack knife.

The blade is just the right length Ė itís 15⁄16" from the ferrule to the tip. That length allows you to reach into deep places some knives wonít go. And, as I mentioned earlier, the blade is quite stiff Ė this is thanks to the two brass ferrules on the tool, which lend a bit of extra (and needed) support.

Another sometimes-overlooked detail is the angle of the spear point itself. The two edges form a 55į angle on the latest version of the Blue Spruce. This is a good balance.

Knives with higher angles work better for marking dados and tenons. The lower angles work better for dovetailing, allowing you to apply more downward pressure as you mark your joints. The middling angle works well for both operations.

The handle of the knife is available in a variety of woods. Cocobolo and rosewood are the standard choices, though Dave Jeske, the owner and maker, is happy to customize a handleís shape or species.

And that detail is one of the other delights of this tool. Each knife is made to order by one person, a long-time woodworker who does excellent work. The handle is an exquisite piece of turning and finishing. The blade comes well sharpened and ready to use.

I cannot say that the knife will make you a better woodworker, but it sure feels like it does. The Blue Spruce marks more precisely than any pencil, and as you pick up the tool for the hundredth time during a project, its excellent workmanship will encourage you to bring your own work to that high level. PW

ó Christopher Schwarz
Editor - Popular Woodworking

Related Info

  Christopher is a long-time amateur woodworker and professional journalist. He built his first workbench at age 8 and spent weekends helping his father build two houses on the family's farm outside Hackett, Ark.  He has journalism degrees from Northwestern University and The Ohio State University and has worked as a magazine and newspaper journalist since 1990.

Copyright 2006 Popular Woodworking, used with permission.


 
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