Updated March 28, 2020 by Rafael Perez

The 9 Best Chalk Lines

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This wiki has been updated 19 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. We have included large models for construction and framing, along with smaller variations for detailed work. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. If you'd like to contribute your own research to the Wiki, please get started by reviewing this introductory video.

1. Milwaukee 48-22

2. Dewalt 47142

3. Tajima Chalk-Rite

Editor's Notes

March 25, 2020:

Added the Dewalt 47142 and the Stanley FatMax 47-487L.

When looking for a chalk line, there are a few things that really make a huge difference in how much time you'll be spending on lay out. The first thing you want to look for is a chalk line that will adequately cover the line with chalk so that your line is clear and so that you won't have to respool and repeat it. The Milwaukee 48-22 and the Dewalt 47142 both do a great job at this, along with having a convenient quick-release on their handles. Simply put, it makes a chalk line very annoying to use without the quick-release function. When you're laying out a line (particularly in construction), you'll often set the hook and then walk back to your end point. Without a quick-release, what happens is that if your hand isn't clear of the handle (which it often isn't), it'll get caught and jam the mechanism.

The Milwaukee sets itself apart with its 6:1 gear ratio. All this means is that the input gear (attached to the handle) is larger and has a higher tooth count than the output gear (the output gear spools the line). Since the gear ratio is 6:1, for every full revolution of the input gear, the output gear spins six times, which means that you can wind the line very quickly and save time.

4. Stanley FatMax 47-487L

5. Irwin Tools Strait-Line

6. Keson Little Giant

7. Shinwa Neo

8. Stanley 47-442

9. M-D Building Contractor

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Rafael Perez
Last updated on March 28, 2020 by Rafael Perez

Rafael Perez is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Rochester. His primary focus is the metaphysics of time and the philosophy of mind, with a particular interest in artificial intelligence and antirepresentational models of the mind. He has extensive experience as a mechanic, a construction worker, and a general repairman. This has allowed him to gather a wealth of knowledge on automobile repair, auto parts, carpentry, masonry, welding, and the tools used in those trades. In his spare time, he enjoys playing guitar, woodworking, and fishing.

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