Measure and mark for better accuracy
Be sharp to make your mark
Let's focus first on the most basic item -- what you mark with -- and how it affects accuracy. The thick lead of a carpenter's pencil draws a line 1/16" wide, right. Cutting to one side of the line yields a far different result than cutting to the other side. Accurate layout of parts and joinery requires the fine line drawn by a pencil with a 5H lead, available at office-supply stores. The harder lead sharpens to a finer point and holds that point longer.
Save your carpenter's and no. 2 pencils for writing notes and marking machined surfaces, center right, where bolder marks are easier to spot at a glance, letting you know what operations are completed and which need to be done on a board.
A pencil won't leave permanent marks on a workpiece; the marks erase or sand away easily. To avoid leaving a mark in the first place (such as when marking a finish-sanded part), apply a piece of masking tape and write on the tape.
When marking a line that will be cut away or hidden by other parts, switch to a marking knife, bottom right. The beveled face and flat back of the knife put the cutting edge right next to a straightedge for a surgically precise mark. And a sharp marking knife severs the wood fibers, creating a shallow kerf -- the ideal starting point to register the blade of a chisel or the teeth of a handsaw. The kerf creates a shadow, which is easier to see on the workpiece than a pencil line.
To use a marking knife, place a steel rule on the "keeper" piece and, with the flat face of the knife against the rule, draw the knife along. If the knife should stray off course, the mark ends up on the waste piece.
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