Toolipedia: Chalk Line
This is the place to come if you want to learn everything there is to know about chalk lines.
What is a chalk line?
A chalk line is used to mark straight lines on flat surfaces between two points. A chalk line is also referred to as a chalk box or chalk reel.
Most chalk lines are essentially small containers that hold chalk and string wound around a reel. The case, or housing, is made of metal or plastic and is often shaped like a teardrop. There is a hole in the case where one end of the string sticks out. There is a hook, or clip, on the end of the string that is used to attach it to an anchor such as a nail or the edge of a board or panel. The hook also prevents the string from being pulled back into the case, making it inaccessible. A retracting handle, or crank arm, is used to wind up the string once it has been dispensed. The chalk is added through a resealable opening on the case.
Chalk lines are known to be first used by the ancient Egyptians.
How is a chalk line used?
To mark a straight line, the hook end of the string is secured to an anchor point or held by an assistant. The chalk-covered string is stretched the desired distance and pulled taut. With both ends laid flat on the surface, the string is pulled up and then let go, causing it to snap back onto the surface, depositing the chalk in the process. Chalk lines can also be used as plumb bobs.
Chalk lines are often used by carpenters, siders, roofers and other tradespeople who need to mark long, straight lines.
What are the types of chalk lines?
Chalk lines are available in many sizes, but most are about 5” x 3” x 1”. The line is often made of nylon and is available in various thicknesses. Some chalk lines have a geared reel to pull the string in faster.
What makes a good chalk line?
- Durable string
- Doesn’t dispense too much chalk / creates crisp lines
- Water-resistant case
- Speedy gear ratio without too much bulk
- The crank arm should be easy to pull out and retract and should stay retracted when not in use
- More aggressive hook teeth to grab onto plywood
Tajima makes one of our favorite chalk lines.
Chalk Line Tip:
Avoid snapping super-long lines. Keep long lines straight by having someone in the middle hold a finger onto the line somewhere near the middle and snapping each side separately.
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