For me, one of the biggest challenges when working with dark-colored woods is marking them out for sawing and chiseling. Knife lines and pencil lines disappear into the tangle of growth rings and – if it’s a porous wood – pores.
I’ve been dovetailing teak this week for a campaign chest I’m building and have had a devil of a time marking out my joints.
Then I remembered a tailor’s marking pencil that a friend had brought to the shop during the summer. It’s made by Dritz, and you can find it at sewing and craft stores as a “Tailor’s Marking Set.”
If you haven’t found a satisfactory way to mark dark woods, this one is worth checking out.
It’s like a mechanical pencil. But instead of a traditional lead, the pencil dispenses a .9mm colored ceramic that has a waxy feel to it – like a tiny and stout crayon. The set comes with green and pink ceramic lead.
For my eyes, it makes a line that is easier to see than that of a traditional lead. I don’t think the photos that go with this blog entry really capture the difference between pencil lead and the ceramic lead. The pencil lead is only really visible when the light catches it at a certain angle, which also happens to be the angle that it appears for photography.
I think it’s also a matter of contrast. I can see a green or pink line against a dark-brown board more easily than I can see a black pencil line.
Of course, the Dritz isn’t perfect. The ceramic lead breaks fairly easily, so you have to be gentle when you mark out. Also, it’s easy to make a line of inconsistent width. So what I do is much like when working with a “pounce bag.” I knife in all my joints as per usual. Then I run the ceramic ink over the line. This reveals the line.
So far, I prefer the Dritz to a pounce bag because it’s a lot less messy – there’s no chalk or talc dust everywhere.
I know there are a lot of solutions out there to the problem of marking out dark woods. If you have found something you are happy with, stick with it. If you are still struggling, the Dritz pencil is something to consider. It’s inexpensive, easy to use and doesn’t make a mess.
— Christopher Schwarz
• More on design: If you would like to read more about my campaign furniture, you can read more blog entries here.
• Good book: “The Foundations of Better Woodworking” by Jeff Miller is a great introduction to building a set of hand and body skills for the workshop.