Milford Brown writes: Since you are interested in the older hand-powered woodworking, I wonder what, if anything, you know about the history of marking knife use?
I recently had occasion to dismantle an old pine blanket chest (because of extensive powderpost beetle damage in the sapwood edges of its top and bottom boards) that had been assembled with the later-style cut nails, and had hinges attached with screws that had no point, but with the top of the head showing circular machining marks, which from what I could find, dates it to somewhere after 1837.
I found also that in places such as rabbets for corner joints and cuts to inset the hinges and the small inner compartment, the necessary lines had been cut rather deeply with a knife.
The joiners that Joseph Moxon (“Mechanick Exercises”) wrote about had pin-style marking gauges that followed an edge, but in either the original or your easy-to-read version, I didn’t see anything about how other cuts were marked. According to the Wikipedia article on pencils, various writing sticks with graphite cores were available long before this chest, but its maker, as many now, preferred a knife. Web-searching for marking knives located a variety of modern products, such as the ones you wrote about, but I didn’t find anything in the way of history. Did you?
You’re right that Moxon, a 17th-century source, doesn’t mention a marking knife. He discusses the pricker, which seems to be an awl-like tool used for marking joints.
The earliest image of a marking knife that I’m aware of is from Joseph Smith’s “Explanation or Key to the Various Manufactories of Sheffield” (shown above). It’s a circa 1801 source. The striking knife shown there was the dominant form for many years , you can still find examples being made today that look like this (though I don’t recommend the modern version).
I browsed through Andre Roubo’s books this morning and couldn’t find a marking knife (if someone else has found one, let me know). I did find a “la point a tracer,” which translates as “scriber.” Roubo’s description says it is a round steel tool with a handle that comes to a peak. Sounds awl-ish to me.
I’ll check my other books at home. If you know something, fess up in the comments.
– Christopher Schwarz
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