In Shop Blog, Techniques

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When I first opened the package, I assumed that the tool inside was a prototype that had a plastic blade. That happens occasionally here at the magazine when a manufacturer wants our opinion on a tool’s ergonomics before they crank up production.

But no, the white chunk of stuff at the end of the Gladstone Tools marking knife actually was the working blade. And this was no prototype.

The spear point of this 8″-long knife is ceramic. Ceramax 80, to be precise, a material you can find in a variety of industrial and home applications, including some kitchen knives.

According to the manufacturer, the knife is second in hardness only to diamond and “will never need sharpening.”

That is quite a claim, and so I immediately put the knife to work today to see how it performed. The ceramic blade is a spear-point shape that is about 1/8″ thick. It has the same general shape as the now-discontinued Veritas marking knife we reviewed a few years ago.

The knife’s edges don’t feel as keen as a freshly sharpened steel knife, but the tool does lay down a fine line with little effort. It also offers the same feedback to the user as a steel knife as it makes its mark. I thought the Gladstone might feel a bit gummy (like a stainless tool), but perhaps I was just getting over the shock that it wasn’t a chunk of white plastic.

The handle that was shipped to me is not the same shape as shown on the Gladstone Tools web site. This knife has two pronounced flats that prevent the tool from rolling on the bench (always nice) and has a thin neck for your middle finger while marking joints.

The padouk handle (it’s also available in zebrawood) is well finished. It’s not as nicely turned and finished as the Blue Spruce knives, but it is nicer than most manufactured knives I’ve used. The price is $29.95 for the padouk and $31.95 for the zebrawood , those are fair prices for a nice piece of work like this.

Will the edge hold up? I sure hope so. Gladstone Tools is run by a man that many of us simply know as “Manny,” who runs Manny’s Woodworkers Place in Lexington, Ky. When I was first taking woodworking classes, I and my fellow students would hang out at Manny’s place and drool over the amazing selection of books (still the best, even today) and hand tools. Manny was always patient with us as we would fondle the Japanese chisels but purchase a small set of brad points.

Though Manny carried a few machines and power tools, the majority of his inventory has always been hand tools, including many hard-to-find things. When I first started woodworking seriously, it was Manny’s place that made a huge impression on me. I thought all furniture making used both hand and power tools. (A rude awakening was to follow.)

If you purchase this knife, add a comment below after you use it for a while and let me know how it held up. I’ll use it exclusively for a while and report back as well.

If Manny has come up with a way to ensure that I have one less tool to sharpen, that’s a pretty amazing accomplishment.

– Christopher Schwarz

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