Woodworking in the great white north.

Marking knife and scratch awl design

I picked up a couple of Czeck Edge Tools kits for making a scratch awl and two different sized marking knives.

Where these types of kits are concerned, I like the fact that I have a more personal attachment to the tool, a say in how it is designed and naturally the cost savings (given I work for free when it’s for me).

I’ve got three blanks picked out to make the handles for these tools and have to resist the temptation to just go out there and turn a fancy handle and slap it together.  If I’m going to use these tools on a regular basis, I really want the handles to be more ergonomic that pretty.

The internet is a great thing for finding stuff, but finding the right stuff is sometimes harder than it seems.  Apparently anyone who’s written about this subject hasn’t made it too high on the search engine meter.

So what makes a good handle for a marking knife and a scratch awl?

Let’s deal with the common elements….or element as it turns out, since these are very different tools.

The first fundamental problem I see with most turned handled tools is that they roll.  Nothing I like worse than having a gouge or chisel roll off the bench and implant itself in the top of my foot.  There are a few ways of dealing with this:

  • don’t turn the handle – make it out of flat stock
  • create a flat edge on one or more sides
  • have a bent handle

I want to turn the handle, as I feel that I’ve been neglecting my lathe of late, so I’ll dismiss the first.  The picture here shows these options somewhat.

In both tools’ cases I feel that a flattened edge is the way to go.  It allows me to turns the piece and introduce a way to keep the tool where I want it when I put it down.

Here I think I need to depart from looking at these tools together as now the form of the tool is directly tied to the function.  I’ll start with the marking knife.

As far as esthetics go, I’m not keen on the design above, I find it a bit too chunky and it doesn’t look comfortable given I expect I’ll want to hold these knives (one medium, one fine-bladed) as I would hold a pen.  One could argue that given my handwriting, holding it like a pen will not provide me any degree of accuracy, but I’m still leaning that way.

Once again, I experience a lack of information on the traditional (note I don’t say “proper”, who’s to say what’s right for everyone?) way of holding and using a marking knife.  In all the documentation I can find on these tools, there is not a lot on technique.  Maybe once I’ve made them I’ll use them for various purposes and blog about what works and doesn’t.

I now make the leap that I will hold the marking knife like I hold either a pen, or as I would hold an exacto knife.  Looking at a few examples, I’m surprised that more attention isn’t paid to satisfying the user’s ergonomic requirements.


 The veritas one on the top appears to have a flattened handle as well, but  I think the turning where it joins the knife to be a big weak in design and doesn’t look ‘that’ comfortable.  The one in the middle is better but a big chunky still, while the one at the bottom is a bit more elegant looking, perhaps too much so for a day to day tool.

The curves near the ferrule on the bottom knife look a bit closer to what I’m envisioning as a comfortable tool, so I will likely incorporate this somewhat in the design.  Now that I have an idea of the structure of the handle and what I want as far as ‘grip’ goes, I can move on to whether or not it has decoration.

To finial or not to finial?  As a turner (not expert by any means) I enjoy doing the fancy little accents and building up of a fancy finial on the end of any sort of turning, but is it necessary in a hand tool?  Is it indulgence?  Will it improve or detract from the functionality?  My instinct is that the last inch or so of wood will make no difference functionally, so I can indulge myself, but in wanting to make this a day to day tool, I don’t think I’ll embellish it too much.

On to the scratch awl.  Again with the lack of information (perhaps I’m looking in the wrong places) on technique.  Maybe I’m making too much out of the desire to see technique for using a scratch awl, but why not?  I’ve seen plenty of tools used for their obvious purpose, but once shown in a more innovative light with a different technique become a much more versatile tool.

I envision holding this somewhere between holding a screwdriver and holding a small palm gouge.  In both cases, the handle is nestled into the palm of my hand and my fingers would wrap around it to guide the tip.  This is where I want to leap forward to January’s Poplar Woodworking issue where Ron Herman is reportedly going to talk about how to fit tools to the owner (he referenced this during his WIA talk on Chisels).  Alas, I have no patience for waiting, I have tools to make and projects to use them on. 

Going back to ergonomics, I think the awls in the bottom picture are flawed (given my naive technique) in that the knob on the end will be uncomfortable in one’s palm.  It is interesting that the top and bottom designs are quite similar and what I expect is a more traditional shape.  The one in the middle certainly has more appeal as a turner, but I expect the butt end to be less comfortable than the others.

I will probably be going with the more traditional shape, but could probably fit in a bit of embellishment between the two rounded sections.  As with the marking knife, I have no desire to have this sticking out of my foot, so I will also shape at least one side to be flatter to limit how much it will roll.

The only thing left to decide upon is the actual finish that will go on these.  I think every turner has this sickness in them that requires them to seek out the must lustrous shine on their turned projects, regardless of practicality.  I have learned from many a turned pen that with day to day use, permanent lustrous shine is a pipe-dream, but you can get close. 

My best success with this to date has been to use CA glue followed by some HUT PPP buffed onto it….but I’m open to suggestions.

My plan is to resolve any of these debatable points by the weekend and get out in the shop and make them.  I’ll take pictures for sure, video might be more revealing than I want at this point (watch my blank launch itself into my face guard)…I don’t want my woodworking showing up on any epic-fail blogs.

One response

  1. Pingback: Marking tools from kits | Woodcanuck's Blog

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