On The Level: Keson and SOLA: Must-Have Marking Tools for Masons – Part Two, Writing Tools

Words: Todd Fredrick

Every trade has particular tools designed specifically for it. Keson and SOLA are in the unique position of providing tools critical to “the trades” in general. We aspire to be the world’s most trusted source of measuring and marking products. Our mission is to provide reliable, innovative, and easy-to-use measuring and marking products to people who are passionate about their work and getting it done right. Many of these customers are masons. What follows is a list of tools of particular interest to masons of every skill level, education and age. 

The adage “measure twice, cut once” leaves out the critical role of the marking the measurement, so we’re including some of those here. 

Marking tools: handheld-stylus type (pens, markers, etc.)

There is a story (and we were told it is a myth and a recent search seems to confirm this) that during the Space Race with the Russians in the 50s and 60s, NASA spent millions to invent a pen that wrote in zero gravity. Their Soviet counterparts had a different solution. They gave their cosmonauts pencils. 

These implements were likely for taking notes and figuring out calculations, but the gist of the story points to a bigger issue: A worker needs the right tool for the job. This is not so different from what’s needed on our terrestrial jobsites. 

Without a mark, a measurement is next to useless. We would bet that in the homes of nine out of ten readers of this article there is a door jamb with pencil marks (often with names and dates), tracking the growth of each child in that home. When painted wood is the surface, a pencil’s going to work just fine. What if those jambs were made of brick, glass, wet lumber, rubber, stone or any of a dozen other materials? Finding the right tool to make the mark is as critical as the measurement itself. 

There are hundreds, if not thousands of options. It’s not tough to see why there are some many: varieties of marking material X delivery container X thickness of mark X color X other attributes. It is interesting to think that each of these products came out of a need in a market or industry. Some worker somewhere didn’t like how they were marking their job. The product used left a mark “too light, too dark, it lasted too long or not long enough, it was too thick or too thin, the tip scratched the surface, etc.” Fortunately, there are a lot of needs and products that are designed to meet them. 

We sorted the possibilities by marking material (Chalk, Clay, Graphite and/or Wax, Ink, Paint), and touched on the most popular. 

Chalk Most popular? Powder (chalk line reels) or Stick

Attributes Impermanent, not that bright or bold, not very weather or sun resistant, lasts longer on porous surfaces

Pros Inexpensive, reasonable color range, relatively easy to clean up or erase

Cons Not the strongest material, often requires a holder, can be messy

Surfaces Metals, Wood, Concrete, Rock, Textile, Ceramics, Rubber

Industry Construction, Parking lot & roadwork striping, Residential & commercial decoration

Available in Chalk stick, sphere/half sphere or powder (for chalk line reels)

Clay Most Popular? Lumber Crayons

Attributes semi-permanent, typically the brighter and bolder than chalk, more weather and sun resistant

Pros Inexpensive, reasonable color range

Cons Not the strongest material, often requires a holder, can be messy

Surfaces Wood, Concrete and stone, Metal, Plastic, Rubber

Available in Lumber crayons of different colors and formulas

Grease or Wax Pencils Most Popular? China Markers

Attributes grease or wax cylinder wrapped in a paper cylinder, semi-permanent, typically the brighter and bolder than chalk, more weather and sun resistant, smooth surfaces are best. 

Pros Inexpensive, 

Cons Paper waste and delicate material

Surfaces Paper, Cardboard, Steel and iron, Pipes, Stone, Tile, Ceramic, Lumber, Cloth and fabric Glass, Plastic

Available in Pencil style implement, there are mechanical versions of this product type. 

Graphite and/or Wax Most Popular? Pencils, Carpenter’s Pencils, Mechanical Pencils

Note Like the ball point pens, standard pencils are very popular and so omnipresent that we are not addressing them here. 

Attributes graphite or combination graphite and wax cylinder wrapped in a wood (pencil) or metal/plastic (mechanical) shroud. Graphite is brittle and grey. Waxes add malleability, durability, and color. Bigger, broader pencils are better for rougher surfaces. 

Pros Inexpensive, but can get much more expensive with delivery device (mechanical) and special blends of marking materials

Cons marks can be difficult to see, impermanent, options are virtually endless, marking material is brittle and can be frustrating 

Surfaces Paper, Cardboard, Steel and iron, Pipes, Stone, Tile, Ceramic, Lumber, Cloth and fabric Glass, Plastic

Available in Pencils, Carpenter’s Pencils, Mechanical Pencils, Mechanical pencils with special tips and leads (inserts)

Carpenter pencils can be used on all types of surfaces.  At SOLA, we have several different types of pencils to choose form. See chart below to find the right SOLA pencil for you.

Ink Most Popular? Permanent Markers, then tip type and width. 

Note Like the standard pencil, ball point pens are very popular and so omnipresent that we are not addressing them here. 

Attributes from ultra-fine to broad and bold, ink can cover just about any need a builder has, as long as they don’t mind the marks lasting for a long time. 

Pros huge variety in style, color, and price. Also “dry erase” versions give less permanent options in this category, 

Cons once a surface is marked, it’s marked; if you touch it before it’s dry, it will smear; if your tip gets screwed up before the ink is gone, you’re likely going to toss the implement out of frustration

Surfaces Smooth surfaces are the best so as not to damage the tip of the marker, Paper, Cardboard, Steel and iron, Aluminum, Wood, Glass, 

Available in So many types: How long do you want it to last? How big do you want the mark to be? 

Paint Most Popular? Paint Sticks and Paint Pens

Attributes with ink, the longest lasting marking material, good for all surfaces and the most common temperature ranges

Pros huge variety, long lasting to permanent marks, 

Cons takes time to dry and can be messy

Surfaces most, steel and iron, pipes, rubber, lumber, plastic, glass, concrete, stone, 

Available in:

Paint Markers: plastic tube protects the paint marking material. Comes with a cap. Press advance or twist-up versions are on the market. 

Metal, ball-tip paint marker: plastic bottle of paint with a metal righting tip. The more you squeeze the more paint is dispensed. Also available in tubes. 

Metal-tip barrel markers: Pressurized paint in a metal tube with pump press to dispense paint

Felt-tip marker, aka paint pen: writes like an ink felt tip pen, but with paint, not ink. 

Variations: Color or brilliance High-intensity for low light size precision, standard, bold 

If you are uncertain of what to use? ASK! Say, “Excuse me, Person-whose-been-doing-this-for-longer-than-I-have, I have to make a mark on THIS TYPE OF SURFACE, and I need it to LAST THIS LONG. What would you use to make such a mark?” 

For more information on marking tools, visit www.keson.com and www.sola.us 

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