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The Best Chalk Lines: Make Straight, Neat Lines

Make multiple straight line impressions with minimal error

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BY Noelle Talmon / LAST UPDATED ON July 27, 2021

If you’re a baseball fan, you probably envision the chalk lines around the diamond. But chalk lines actually have many other uses and applications — particularly when it comes to construction and renovation work. In these settings, a chalk line is different but just as helpful. A chalk line is a device with a string that, when laid across surfaces, pulled tight, and then plucked or popped, creates a thin chalk line. They can be used on most flat surfaces, but they can also be handy for drawing lines across irregular or hole-filled surfaces like unfinished walls, uneven material, or studs. If you’re in need of a chalk line tool, take a look at some of the best options right here.

Best Overall
Tajima Chalk-Rite Snap-Line with Extra Bold Chalk Line
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Summary
Summary

This is a gear-driven chalk line with a nylon line that provides accurate layout results. The chalk box is made of rubberized ABS plastic.

Pros
Pros
  • Fast line retrieval
  • Large fill neck for easy and spill-free chalk loading
  • Rubberized case provides optimal grip
  • Snapline locks in place for enhanced precision
Cons
Cons
  • Plastic casing isn’t durable
  • Can't slide across the surface due to the rubber body
Best Overall
Tajima Chalk-Rite Snap-Line with Extra Bold Chalk Line
Best Value
Irwin Tools Strait-Line Chalk Line
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Summary
Summary

This chalk box features a durable aluminum housing that houses 100 feet of synthetic line. It comes with 4 ounces of blue refill chalk.

Pros
Pros
  • Lengthy chalk line
  • Abrasion- and impact-resistant construction
  • Wide refill door for quick and easy refill
  • Features a self-locking handle for added stability
Cons
Cons
  • Thin line
  • Some powder may leak out
  • Only suitable for DIY projects
Best Value
Irwin Tools Strait-Line Chalk Line
Honorable Mention
Tajima Chalk Rite II Ultra Thin Chalk Line
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Summary
Summary

This chalk line features a five-gear drive system and a 100-foot line that’s housed in a heavy-duty aluminum case. A positive gear lock holds the line for precise marking. 

Pros
Pros
  • Tough, impact-resistant case
  • Easy to use
  • Leaves the impression of a thin, accurate line
  • Efficient and smooth gears
  • Releases the line automatically during rewinding
Cons
Cons
  • Thin line that sags easily
  • May leave a spotty line
  • Leans on the expensive side
Honorable Mention
Tajima Chalk Rite II Ultra Thin Chalk Line
Chalk Line Close Up
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Benefits of Chalk Lines

  • Make straight lines. A chalk line can be used to make straight and accurate lines on even and uneven surfaces in instances when it’s not practical to do it by hand. In construction, straight lines can help to map out surfaces so you can make accurate cuts, lay tiles, or partition the surface. 
  • Easy to use. You don't need to have advanced construction skills to use a chalk line. You only need to feel the chalk box with just the right amount of chalk dye so you can make neat lines. 
  • Non-toxic. Most chalk refills on the market are non-toxic formulas that will not corrode,  irritate, or have any other bad effect on your skin. You can still wear a pair of gloves to avoid getting the color on your hands and nails. 
  • Better than duct tape. Though duct tape can help make straight line-markings, it can be wasteful to use; you have to strip it off and dispose of it after you're done. It also won't look as neat as a thin chalk line. 

Types of Chalk Line 

Manual 

A manual chalk line features a spool that holds a chalk line and a crank lever for winding or unwinding the chalk line. One revolution of the crank gives you one revolution of the chalk line so you have to keep on cranking the lever until you get the desired length. The benefit is that it’s simple to use, but it can be exhausting, especially if you are working with a long line of about 100 feet. 

Gear-Driven 

A gear-driven or automatic chalk line, as the name suggests, has a system of gears that help you roll out the chalk line smoothly and faster. It works in the same way as a fishing reel, and you only have to push a button as you pull out the string. It also has a crank lever for reeling back the string, but it rolls in more string per crank revolution than a manual chalk box. Some have a locking mechanism that keeps the line steady as you pop it. 

Top Brands

Stanley

Stanley is an American-based manufacturer of hand tools that's under the umbrella of the Stanley Black and Decker company. It was founded in 1857, and some of its products include chisels, screwdrivers, tape measures, utility knives, multi-tools, and chalk lines. 

Irwin

Officially known as Irwin Industrial Tools, Irwin is an Ohio-based manufacturer of power and hand tools that was founded in 1885 by Charles Irwin. It's also a subsidiary brand under Stanley Black and Decker, and it offers high-quality and competitively-priced tools. Check out the Irwin Tools Strait-Line Chalk Line if you're looking for a chalk reel that comes with a refill. 

Tajima  

The Tajima Tool Corporation is a US-based manufacturer of marking, measuring, and specialty tools that was founded in 2000 as a subsidiary brand of TGM Design Corporation (based in Japan). It was created to serve the North American market, though the parent company markets a wider scope of products worldwide. The Tajima Chalk-Rite Snap-Line with Extra Bold Chalk Line and Tajima Chalk Rite II Ultra Thin Chalk Line are some of its accurate chalk lines that can be used by construction workers and engineers. 

Chalk Line Pricing 

  • Below $20: Most chalk lines are generally inexpensive so you can expect to find a decent chalk box with about 100 feet of line within this price range. Also, expect to find a plethora of manual chalk boxes with well-made, refillable cases.  
  • $20 and up: This price range holds a wide range of automatic chalk boxes that help to reduce the time you take between projects. Most are designed with long-lasting strings, efficient gear systems, and a leak-proof chalk compartment.

Key Features 

String Quality 

You need a chalk line that comes with a strong string that can make crisp clear lines, and doesn’t snap easily even as you stretch it to get a tight line. With this in mind, prioritize chalk lines featuring nylon strings since they are stronger than cotton strings. Also, consider if you want thin or bold lines so you can determine if you need a thin or thick string. 

Case Quality 

The case or chalk box should be made of high-quality material such as hardened plastic or rust-resistant metal. The benefit of hardened plastic is, it can be exposed to a wet or muddy environment without fear of rust or corrosion. You only need to get one with a rubberized finish so you can avoid dropping it. Metal cases can also be long-lasting if used in a cool and dry environment. 

Length of Line 

The length of line you choose depends on the type of task you are undertaking — if you're using the chalk box for professional or DIY projects. If you are a professional, then you need a longer line so you can cover a larger surface and work on bigger projects. Lines of about 100 feet will do. You can work with a 50-foot line if you need it for a small-scale project.

Other Considerations 

  • Hook Quality. An end-of-line hook helps to keep the chalk line secure and straight. Therefore, be sure to choose a chalk box that comes with a high-quality material that’s weather-resistant, and strong enough to secure the line on the nail even when pulled at.   
  • Ergonomic Design. The ideal chalk line comes with an ergonomic construction that feels comfortable on the user's hands. It should also minimize repetitive motion that can cause fatigue. This is where automatic chalk boxes score higher. 
  • Capacity. Be sure to choose a chalk box with a sufficient chalk holding capacity so you don’t have to take multiple breaks to refill it. A chalk box that can hold at least 10 ounces of chalk will suffice so long as it’s not too bulky to fit comfortably in the hand.

Best Chalk Line Reviews & Recommendations 2021

Best Overall
Tajima Chalk-Rite Snap-Line with Extra Bold Chalk Line

The Tajima Chalk-Rite Snap-Line with Extra Bold Chalk Line is a great overall choice if you need to create straight, trustworthy lines in chalk — and this product will make sure you can clearly see the lines after every use. This is an extra-bold chalk snap line made out of 1-millimeter braided nylon. A positive gear line-lock keeps the line tightly in place for perfect snaps. When you pop the line, it produces clean, clear, and accurate lines.


The line is packaged in a rubberized ABS case, and though it might crack when accidentally dropped, it’s lightweight and the rubber provides a steady grip. A five-gear, fast-wind system allows you to quickly reel in the line once you’re done. And when it comes to adding chalk, a large, easy-to-fill neck allows you to do so without making a mess.

Best Value
Irwin Tools Strait-Line Chalk Line

The Irwin Tools Strait-Line Chalk Line is a great product to buy if you’re on a budget. It’s cheaper than many competing chalk lines, but it’s just as effective, just as easy to use, and just as simple to fill up with chalk. But this chalk line really shines when it comes to good durability for your money. It offers 100 feet of abrasion-resistant polyline to give you five to six strikes per pull.


You won’t have to spend much to get a chalk line that’s tough enough to withstand impacts. It’s housed in a case made out of tough aluminum, with a sturdy steel handle and a large center hub that provides good torque. And it even includes four ounces of blue chalk refill. It may not be the best for professional use but will help you get through several DIY projects. 

Premium Pick
Tajima Chalk Rite II Ultra Thin Chalk Line

If you want a chalk line that’s perfect for using on the job at construction sites, you’re going to want the Tajima Chalk Rite II Ultra Thin Chalk Line. This chalk line is more expensive than many competing products, but it’s meant to be a seriously premium option. It’s actually a contractor-grade chalk line, meaning it’s made to endure rugged use. Stored in a case that’s made out of die-cast aluminum, this tool measures 6.5 x 3 x 2 inches in size. 


You’ll get 100 feet of line that’s 0.5 millimeters thick. The housing for the chalk line features an elastomer gasket, and a positive gear lock line hold automatically releases when it’s time to rewind the line. This chalk line rewinds three times faster than a standard snap line, and it creates thinner-than-usual lines for subtle markings.

Longest Lasting
Keson Giant 110 Pro Chalk Line Reel  

Keson didn’t cut corners when making the Giant 110 Pro as it boasts a heavy-duty design and 10 percent more string than similar chalk boxes. The chalk line is 110 feet long and is made of cotton poly-cord. The material is long-lasting and holds chalk better than most synthetic lines. It can hold about 12 ounces of chalk, which translates to accurate and sharp marks.  


The unit can take up to a pound of chalk so you won’t have to refill it so often, and a large BigMouth opening allows for easy refills. Additionally, the opening is fitted with a no-leak stopper to prevent chalk leaks so you can make neat lines. While it may be too bulky to attach to a tool belt, it’s quite a handy tool for professionals, and the large handle offers a comfortable grip even with gloves on. 

Most Comprehensive
Stanley 3 Piece Chalk Box Set

The Stanley 3 Piece Chalk Box Set is a great option for anyone who’s looking for their first chalk line or who needs a comprehensive option with all included parts and pieces. This chalk line is a set — it includes a chalk line inside a case, a bottle of Stanley chalk, and a plastic line level. A length of the chalk line is enclosed in a high-impact ABS case, and there’s a stainless steel hook at the end of the reel. 


The case even includes a patented on-board hook storage spot and a folding crank handle that stores inside. This makes it a bit bulky, but the rubber grips on the case provide a secure hold. When you’re ready to refill the chalk box with liquid chalk, you can use the bottle included in this set. And you’ll reduce the risk of messes and spills with a sliding door that’s easy to use.

Best Manual
Shinwa Neo Chalk Line

The Shinwa Neo Chalk Line is a no-frills chalk box that features a manual crank, an aluminum reel, and plastic housing. Since it doesn’t have a gear system, you have to crank the lever repeatedly to rewind the string. This isn’t entirely a dealbreaker as manual chalk lines typically outlast automatic gear systems, which tend to clog with time and need to be tossed out.


The chalk line is 50 feet long and is only 0.02 inches thick, which is much thinner than most chalk lines. Despite being thin, the line allows an even distribution of chalk to provide accurate results, and the reel compartment can be opened so you can easily replace the line when it snaps. The chalk loading compartment is secured with a leak-free, hinged door so you can keep your workspace tidy.

Best Quick Rewind
OX Tools Pro Chalk Reel with Thick Line

The OX Tools Pro Chalk Reel with Thick Line is a great choice if you’re searching for a chalk line that can rewind and reel itself in quickly. This chalk line includes a 6-to-1 gear drive ratio so the line rewinds faster than in competing products — and that means it can rewind up to six times faster. The crank lever is not of the best quality so we recommend being gentle when rewinding the string. 


This product offers 100 feet of thick strand line inside a comfortable, tough molded case. The exterior is covered in rubber, which makes the chalk line’s case easy to hold without dropping. A push-button stop helps you achieve accurate lengths and lines. A reinforced handle adds a bit of extra durability. You won’t even have to worry about drops or rugged rewinding, as this chalk line can handle it all.

Honorable Mention
CE Tools SnapBack ChalkLine

The CE Tools SnapBack line can help you accomplish both small and large projects alike. It’s built for efficiency with a snapback system so you don’t have to walk back to unhook the line. This reduces the time you take on a project, and it also reduces the workforce needed for a simple task. The hook has fanged teeth that maintain a perfect hold on the edge of the surface to eliminate the need of using nails to secure the line. 


The line is housed in a durable, UV-resistant, ABS plastic housing. A planetary gear system allows for smooth and fast line retraction, and the line is a braided nylon cord that outlasts traditional chalk lines. All these innovative features make it slightly bulky, but it is designed with non-slip rubber grips so you can maintain a firm hold. 

Tips 

  • If you want to work with an assortment of colors, you are going to have to buy more than one chalk box. Using the same chalk box for different chalk powders can cause color distortion, and you end up wasting a lot of the chalk since you have to empty it out frequently, even before the chalk is used up.
  • When unwinding the chalk line, tap the chalk box as you go so the chalk dye can come loose, and get absorbed on the line as it comes out. Hold it with the line exit point facing down so more chalk can get on the line. Also, turn the crank lever out so it doesn’t get caught up on your fingers. 
  • Store the chalk box in a cool and dry place, preferably in a toolbox. If the string gets wet, it can either tighten or shrink depending on the material, and eventually, it will snap. The gears on automatic chalk boxes can get stiff when wet or if frequently used in hostile environments.
  • Chalk lines aren’t calibrated. Most chalk boxes only indicate the overall length of the line. So it’s a good idea to have a tape measure on hand that you can use before or after making the chalk impression. 
  • When loading the chalk dye, be careful not to overfill the box. Otherwise, it will jam the line or you won't be able to get the full length out. 

FAQs

Q. What color chalk line is permanent?

A: With the right cleaning agents, any type of chalk can be removed from the surface, but black chalk is somewhat semi-permanent since it doesn't fade out in the rain or snow. Red chalk can also hold up to rain, but it can fade into a whitish color depending on the quality of dye you buy. 

Q. How do you remove chalk lines?

A: Wet a sponge with water and dab it on the surface until it's clean. If that doesn’t work, you can use a mild detergent or a mixture of vinegar and water to remove the chalk. 

Q. How can I make my chalk line straight?

A: The best way to make straight lines is to ask for help when tracing out the line. You could ask your partner to hold one end of the line as you walk to the other end to mark the surface. Also, must chalk boxes come with a hook at the end of the line. You can attach the hook to a nail as you move to the other end to make a straight line. 

Q. How do you fill a new chalk line?

A: At the side of the chalk box, you will find either a small hinged door or a sliding door with an arrow indicating the direction you should slide it to. Open the door and squeeze the chalk into the compartment, but do not fill it completely, otherwise, the door won’t close or the chalk line will jam. 

Final Thoughts

Our best overall chalk line is the Tajima Chalk-Rite Snap-Line with Extra Bold Chalk Line because it has a high-quality construction that’s ideal for professional job sites. It also has a gear-driven system that allows you to complete more projects in a shorter time. If you are looking to save a few bucks, you can opt for the Irwin Tools Strait-Line Chalk Line instead. It’s great for DIY projects.