Updated August 28, 2018 by Sam Kraft

The 7 Best Chalk Lines

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This wiki has been updated 14 times since it was first published in October of 2016. When building a wall, laying flooring or installing joists in a ceiling, applying a straight marker guide is essential for a properly finished project. These chalk lines will enable any contractor or at-home amateur carpenter to easily finish a job with precision and accuracy. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best chalk line on Amazon.

7. M-D Building Contractor

6. American Tool Strait-Line

5. Stanley 47-442

4. Milwaukee Bold

3. Keson Little Giant

2. Shinwa Neo

1. Tajima Chalk-Rite

Putting An Old-School Tool To Good Use

Load the tool with chalk, shake it up, then hook one end of the snap line to your starting point.

Today’s students are fortunate enough to have myriad learning tools at their disposal — computers, tablets, dry erase boards — but this wasn’t always the case. Those of a certain generation fondly (or not so fondly) remember days in the classroom getting their hands dirty as they scribbled notes and equations on a good, old-fashioned chalkboard.

Many of those same folks probably haven’t given chalk a second thought since, relegating it to memories of their early education. If they entered the trades, however, that likely isn’t the case — indeed, plenty of professionals in these occupations still use chalk on a regular basis.

Take a roofer, for example. When a roofer lays shingles, he or she will want to make sure to lay them out along precise horizontal and vertical lines. An accurately applied chalk marking makes simple work of this task, generating a clear outline that indicates exactly where to deploy each row of singles.

For carpenters, electricians, and plumbers, marking straight lines on a job site is commonplace, as it takes the guesswork out of laying pipe, installing wiring, and framing walls. Before the use of chalk lines became widespread, some projects would require lining up a long straight edge over multiple segments to achieve an extensive line — doable, but far from efficient. Modern day tradesmen literally accomplish this in a snap.

Do-it-yourself home improvement enthusiasts will find value in a quality chalk line, as well, particularly when it comes to painting striped walls, installing wallpaper, or hanging decorations that they would like to keep level.

If you’ve never used a chalk line before, that’s nothing to fret about — a few straightforward steps, outlined below, are all it requires:

Load the tool with chalk, shake it up, then hook one end of the snap line to your starting point. If it has a crank, use this to minimize the strain on the line.

Hold down the end point firmly with your thumb, or, if the line is quite long, drive in a temporary screw or nail at the end point to keep it in place.

Make sure the line is taut against the surface with no gaps. Then, draw back the line about an inch — like you would a bow and arrow — and snap it.

Voila, you’ve marked a clear, straight line. That wasn’t so difficult, was it?

Does Your Device Measure Up?

Though most chalk lines are similar in design, there are certain attributes to keep in mind depending on your personal preferences and the type of jobs you have planned.

Right off the bat, you should carefully consider the color of the chalk, because in this case, not all colors are created equal. Blue is the most common, all-purpose color, since you can easily remove it from a non-porous surface. It’s ideal for use on white or light-colored surfaces, making it suitable for indoor projects like hanging drywall, trim work, and installing flooring.

Blue is the most common, all-purpose color, since you can easily remove it from a non-porous surface.

When your job takes place out in the elements — roofing, road work, or a similar application — permanence is a higher priority. Black and red work well in these situations, depending on the color of the surface to which you’ll be applying the line. Plumbers and electricians who spend time working in low-light areas like crawl spaces and attics tend to prefer fluorescent orange or yellow for high visibility in these dark spaces.

You’ll also want to assess how you’ll be holding the tool, as a strong, comfortable grip can make all the difference in the world, especially if you’ll be using it for extended periods of time. The same goes for its rewind mechanism — you’ll want to make sure this is smooth and easy, which will save you time and help prevent the onset of fatigue.

If you’re a professional in the trades, durability is a key factor. It won’t take long for a rugged work environment to dispose of a cheap, flimsy chalk line. A tough, resilient casing is critical, preferably one made from aluminum or stainless steel for resistance to corrosion.

A chalk line is only as effective as its hook, so make sure you take the time to examine this component of the tool. Ideally, it’s a large, versatile end clasp that you can easily attach to nails, screws, ledges, and other common surfaces to ensure it doesn’t detach itself in the middle of a job.

From Prehistoric Rock To Modern Day Tool

Chalk originated about 90 million years ago — that’s 24 million years before the dinosaurs went extinct, for those of you keeping track — in northern Europe.

As microscopic shells called coccoliths extracted calcite from sea water over millions of years, they gradually built up layer by layer until they consolidated themselves into rock. Eventually, earth movements raised these former sea-floor deposits above sea level, which would eventually make them accessible to humans.

In the early days, chalk often generated a cloud of dust, which was unhealthy to breathe in and a nuisance in the classroom.

Once our early ancestors found chalk in nature, they used it to craft some of the first cave drawings. In later centuries, artists formed chalk into sticks, which they began to utilize for drawings and sketches.

It was not easy for these early creative folks — in order to turn natural chalk into an easy-to-wield artist’s instrument, they had to first grind it into a fine powder. They would then combine the powder with water and clay for binding, add pigments to alter the color, and roll the substance into individual cylinders, which they would allow to dry until they hardened.

Once the 19th century rolled around, chalk became a standard item in the classroom. Classes were growing larger, and teachers needed an efficient way to convey information to large groups of students simultaneously. It was still expensive to produce paper during this time, which is one reason small individual chalkboards became so popular, especially for young students.

In the early days, chalk often generated a cloud of dust, which was unhealthy to breathe in and a nuisance in the classroom. Today, almost all chalk is practically dustless, which manufacturers accomplish by baking the chalk longer to make it extra hard.

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Sam Kraft
Last updated on August 28, 2018 by Sam Kraft

In addition to his corporate career as a marketing and communications professional in Chicago, Sam runs a popular blog that focuses on the city’s flourishing craft beer and brewery scene. He received his degree in journalism from DePaul University (which spurred his interest in freelance writing) and has since spent years developing expertise in copywriting, digital marketing and public relations. A lifetime of fishing, hiking and camping trips has left him well-versed in just about any outdoors-related topic, and over several years spent working in the trades during his youth, he accumulated a wealth of knowledge about tools and machinery. He’s a travel junkie, a health and fitness enthusiast, and an avid biker.

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