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JOEL Joel's Blog

Ode to X-Acto Number 11


My X-Acto knife
My X-Acto knife

We offer a huge range of marking and layout knives, many quite beautiful. I'm pretty sure we can all agree that they all work - and that laying things out accurately with a knife is critical to success in joinery. There is less agreement, however, about which marking knife you should have.

My own personal favorite is an X-Acto knife with the Number 11 blade. I probably own at least three. The one that's actually in my workbench and used for woodworking layout is the oldest. I bought it when I first started woodworking because the teacher recommended it. I have replaced the blade many times.

Many moons ago, an X-Acto knife was made for X-Acto by a company called Zona. X-Acto moved its production to Asia, and Zona started selling knives, which are still made in the USA, under their own brand. We stock them here. The Zona knives have a rear lock, which is a little safer and also works wonderfully. They're what I recommend for pretty much anyone who comes in and needs a layout knife.

Here is what I like about the X-Acto and Zona knives: They work. They are inexpensive and they come blisteringly sharp. Having one gives a beginner a chance to start their woodworking on the right foot.

Because the blades are replaceable, the only time I've ever sharpened one of those Number 11 blades was when I couldn't find my pile of replacement blades. I love the fact that the blade is a little flexible, so when I push it up against a ruler I know I'm flush against the ruler and my hand doesn't need to be that steady. The blade is also beveled at on both edges, which means that the part that bears against the rule isn't going to cut my rule. This, apparently, is not a problem if you know what you're doing -- but I guess I don't, so I prefer the extra bevel. The double bevel also means that I don't have to pay attention which side of the blade is against the rule. This is actually pretty important because at least 43% of the time I'm trying to do a layout at a weird angles, and a knife that works on both sides makes that easier. If you are wondering how I manage to easily take into account having the edge a little bit away from the rule because of the bevel, click here for a blog I wrote about that exact issue although in that situation I used an awl for marking, which has the tip even farther away from the rule.

My other favorite is it the extreme end of the price point: a Colen Clenton marking awl which we used to stock and hope to stock again (Colen is a favorite here but cannot keep up with domestic demand, much less our importing.) I love the awl beyond its obvious gorgeousness because it because it feels good in the hand and its weight actually gives you a slightly steadier line. In addition, as an awl, it's not as sharp as a knife and therefore more likely to dent the fibers of the wood than cut them, which leaves less of a mark. But frankly I'm more likely to grab an X-Acto knife than anything else.

We also stock a retractable layout knive which uses the same No. 11 blades (or any blades in that series that fits the regular layout knife). It's flimsier, with a plastic body, but if you are traveling, having something you can safely put in your pocket is a great idea.

Join the conversation
07/05/2023 Eric J Commarato
Being an architect for almost 40 years. We always had a couple Xacto knives with No.11 blades on the desktop. They were our go-to when cutting Crescent matt board for model building. We even had guys that kept a honing stone on their desk top to re-sharpen them. Although we don't really build models any longer, I still keep a bulk 100 pack of No.11's on my desk.
07/05/2023 Sam
Wow I thought I was the only one who uses that kind of knife for my marking knives. I switched to disposable utility knifes because that handle in your photo tends to come loose on me. But the bendable blade is fantastic for even more reasons. Example you want to scribe a board but your mating piece is rounded, making it so there is no flush flat surface. With this kind of knife you can push up higher on the flatter part, and it will bend to the right location further down. Single bevel cannot do this if the board is bigger than the knife.
07/05/2023 OaklandPaul
@Sam. Yes, that’s a problem with the knife pictured. I just put a piece of tape around the locking mechanism and the body and it keeps it there until you need to change the blade. I’m in the re-sharpen camp by the way.
07/05/2023 Brian in Dublin, OH
Wow Joel… I’m glad I’m not alone! Years ago, my wife and kids gave me a pair of very nice marking knives… one long and one short. They work good and feel nice in my hand, BUT… you have to pay attention to the flat side, the blades aren’t flexible…etc… For a number of years, I exclusively used them and awls for layout… Fast forward about 10 years, and I was at our son’s house, now grown, coping in some mouldings for him and needed a marking knife… none to be had. I picked up the next best thing he had available… the X-Acto no. 11. Wow! I now use it almost exclusively and have also found the carvers blade with a little hook, works very well for me when I’m laying out curved pieces.
Full disclosure… I did recently treat myself and ordered a “layout” knife from Mathias Fenner in Germany. I haven’t received it yet, but have heard great things and the shape of the blade is what I’m after. Part of the logic in doing so, was triggered by our youngest son, now also grown, who wanted to know why a “woodworker” didn’t fashion a wood handle for his X-Acto blades…I didn’t have a great answer other than I hadn’t thought of it… so this is a compromise… a woodworker’s layout knife NEEDS a wood handle and “this has a walnut one.” At least that’s how I explained it to my wife…
07/05/2023 Kerry Doyle
Having worked with models over the years and also been a woodworker almost as long, I can attest to the utility of the xacto knife and blade.
About 27 years ago I was introduced to the #11 blue blade of pincover industrial supply of New York. I find them slightly superior to xacto s blade.
Perhaps TFWW would consider handling them?
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The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.