In Defense of the Spear-tip Knife

Comparing marking knives is akin to comparing wives. It is ill-advised.

But what the heck. I use a spear-point marking knife for almost everything relating to marking out handwork. I settled on this knife after using lots of knives, both bought and borrowed.

The primary reason I like it is its shape. The thin profile gets me inside joints when transferring layout. The flat back of the tool allows me to register it against my work. And if I’m attacked in the shop, it’s good for plucking out eyeballs.

The two primary criticisms of the knife are as follows.

1. It’s not traditional. Well, neither is air conditioning, but it’s a modern invention that makes Kentucky livable. While I usually prefer traditional shapes, I have compared them to this knife and prefer the spear-point. I have room in my heart for progress.

2. The spear tip becomes rounded over in use, rendering it useless until you re-sharpen. When you see this criticism you should translate it as, “Blah, blah, blah, I don’t have much experience with spear-points.” Dude, you want a rounded tip. You should desire it. You should even create it using your stones. A rounded-over tip (see below) makes the knife track better, especially when working along the grain. And it doesn’t affect its ability to make a line. It just doesn’t.

If you want to try out a spear-point knife without plopping down a sizable payment on a Blue Spruce or Czeck Edge knife, here are two recommendations: Make one from a 1/4” spade bit. I’ve done this many times on a grinder. Cost: $1.

Buy one of the new plastic-handled marking knives from Lee Valley. These are less than $10. The Lee Valley knife is the perfect thickness and shape for handwork. Its only demerit in my book is the plastic. But you cannot beat the price and it functions just as well at the bench.

— Christopher Schwarz

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25 Responses to In Defense of the Spear-tip Knife

  1. Jay Oyster says:

    I consider myself a woodworker, but sometimes I just have to say, “You people argue about the silliest things.”

  2. frpaulas says:

    got mine from Hock and put a handle around it. love it. Add to that I get extra husband points when I say to SWMBO, “Look, I built my own tool!” – there are no questions about the cost of the build.

  3. Robert Justiana says:

    I had been lusting after a spear-point knife for quite a while and couldn’t resist the 3/$20 offer when the Veritas knife was introduced. The only downside for me is that now I have THREE nice marking knives, and may never get my Blue Spruce. :( Perhaps a couple woodworkers may get one as a stocking stuffer this year…

    P.S. I thought you might like to know that someone has Photoshopped a clean-shaven, baby-faced fellow into pictures in your recent PW blog.

    • Robert Justiana says:

      Oops, my mistake. It’s not your blog, but rather an ’05 PW article on building an “Asian Coffee Table”.

  4. Thomas Priest says:

    Love my Kerf Kadet Czeck Edge, perfect size handle for my hand. Shim stock works great for making your own.

  5. Kevin says:

    I used to use an X-Acto knife when I was starting out and learned first hand how a sharp spear point isn’t desirable, the fine tip always wanted to dig in and would wander like crazy. After meeting Dave Jeske at WIA a few years ago I upgraded to the Blue Spruce, couldn’t be happier.

  6. abtuser says:

    I did same as Robert J above, ordered the three knife special from Lee Valley. I thought I might customize one of two of the knives blades for specialized work, hence the rationale for the size of the order.

  7. John Cashman says:

    Many years ago, when I first began using sliding dovetails, I bought an Ulmia dovetail plane. I still love it. The cross-grain nicker is a spear point blade, and the first time I used it, the tip snapped. I resharpened with a rounded tip, more exaggerated than the rounding on Chris’ image. I never had another problem with it, and had stumbled on the solution entirely by accident.

    I modified my Blue Spruce marking knife whem I first got it, and later saw a video with Dave Jeske demonstrating the same thing.

    I consider the Blue Spuce marking knife and mallet to be among a small group of the only “perfect” tools I own.

  8. fitzpatm says:

    I just tested this knife for the next issue of PW. In short, I agree with Chris (shocker there, I know): Really nice tool for the price, though I prefer my “premium” version. On the plus side, if the Veritas one were to get knocked off the bench during a photo shoot, well, I wouldn’t be so miffed when the tip breaks. (Yes, I’m still holding a grudge about that, four years later. Irish mafia does not forget.)

    • Dean says:

      I’ve always been taught that if you are responsible for damaging or breaking someone else’s property, that you are also responsible for replacing said property. I’m under the impression that this may not have happened in your case(?).

  9. Ron Dennis says:

    I agree that the Veritas® Workshop Striking Knife (http://www.leevalley.com/US/wood/page.aspx?p=69870&cat=51&ap=2) is one of the few truly great values in woodworking today.

    However, DO NOT choke-up on the knife and hold it by the blade! I was very surprised to learn (the hard way) how very sharp the four sides of the Striking Knife blades are extending from the spear point back to the handle. A few laps on a 325 mesh diamond stone cured the problem by forming a roundover.

    Food for thought.

  10. Brian Eve says:

    I love my spear point marking knife. It is the only one I have ever felt comfortable with. I am also glad I didn’t know about the Veritas one, as I would have had a hard time justifying to myself the expense of the Blue Spruce with the cheaper option available. My Blue Spruce is one of the most elegant tools I have and it inspires me to do more precise work as well as inspires me to take good care of it. With a cheap plastic handled one, the temptation to open a paint can might liead to it’s early demise.

  11. George J. (Germany) says:

    What is the traditional way, if not a (spear-pointed-) marking knife? Never thought about it, but now Chris’ comment intrigues me!

  12. Jamie Bacon says:

    I love a spear point for marking dovetails. I have the large and small ones from Blue Spruce and they’re both fantastic. But for marking a line across a board for cross-cutting, I really prefer the heft of a traditional striking knife. http://planeshavings.blogspot.com/2010/05/striking-knives.html I prefer the shorter ones with the twist in them. They feel really natural in my hand. One of them is always on the bench next to my bench hook.

  13. robert says:

    The knives shop made from old spear-point bits are best. Save my dough for planes.

  14. Graham Burbank says:

    I stumbled upon this shape years ago when I needed a thin blade to slip into the sawkerf when marking out pins from single entry tails. I was flummoxed by my xacto bevel not laying flush to the sidewall, so I ground off the teeth of an old sawzall blade. Bingo! The spear point was the obvious solution to not fooling around with left and right handed knives. I had been using the blades for scratch stock blanks prior to this. You can grind them quite thin on a horizontal wet wheel grinder without trashing the temper(or your own). Yeah, I’m cheap. But I can’t see tossing perfectly good steel in the trash with so much life left in it.

    • Graham Burbank says:

      oh, and it’s not a four year burr in my bonnet when it hits the floor. Actually, as it lays totally flat on the bench, I’d say its darn hard to knock it off by mistake.

  15. rwdawson says:

    I thought it was moonshine that made Kentucky livable.

  16. Bryan Robinson says:

    I bought mine at Woodcraft

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