A chalk line or chalk box is one of the simplest and most inexpensive tools that you can add to your DIY toolbox. In this article we’ll go over what you need to know to purchase the best chalk line for the money.
Wait…What’s a chalk line?
It’s simple really, the chalk line will allow you to mark out long, straight lines on flat surfaces. The best chalk line application is when used for lines that are unable to be marked out with standard squares or straight edges.
That being said, you don’t want to goof up and get yourself a cheap quality one that’ll screw up a crucial 40 ft line that you need to mark for joists, rafters, laying tile, or whatever else.
Thus, we put this article together to help you pick out the best chalk line possible. Every professional contractor has their favorite one, and we wanted to pass their knowledge and expertise on down to you.
Table of contents
- Product Summaries: Our TOP Picks
- Top Pick: Best Chalk Line
- Best PRO Quality Chalk Line:
- Best Value Aluminum Chalk Line:
- Other things to consider when buying your first chalk line
- Conclusion: Roundup Winner for the Best Chalk Line
Product Summaries: Our TOP Picks
Even though these are cheap, simple instruments, just like with every tool in your garage you want to make sure you get the best bang for your buck.
The new Stanley PowerWinder 3-piece set is our personal #1 pick – it’s super inexpensive, it comes with a clip-on mini spirit level, and it has a patented clear case so you can see how much chalk you’ve got left in the box.
Its only downfall is that it’s made out of plastic and not too well built; if you’re an average DIY’er that’s going to use it maybe a couple times a year it’ll be fine, but if you plan on using it frequently you’ll want to get something a little better quality.
Best Chalk Line Available
A little better quality like, for instance, the Tajima Chalk-Rite. Ask pretty much any pro contractor, and they’ll tell you that Tajima is the brand when it comes to chalk lines.
These are rugged, highly dependable, highly durable boxes that are definitely the most popular choice among full-time carpenters and contractors who use them and rely on them every day of their lives.
Lastly, we decided to include the IRWIN Strait-Line Aluminum Chalk Box as well, as a lot of people like the fact that it’s made out of metal rather than plastic.
The Irwin is just a tad more expensive than the Stanley, but still really cheap overall and most folks are happy to spend a few extra bucks for the upgrade in durability. The only thing we don’t like about it is it doesn’t come with the miniature level.
Top Pick: Best Chalk Line
Stanley 47-464 Power Winder 3-piece set
Like we mentioned, this is our #1 pick because it’s cheap, it works well, and it comes with the mini level.
The patented clear box seems a little gimmicky, but after using it for some time we realized it’s actually a pretty clever feature. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting halfway across a 30 ft section of wall, only to realize you’ve run out of chalk and need to start all over again. With the clear box, you can make sure you’ve got plenty in there before you start measuring.
As far as the string, it’s 100 ft long so it should be more than long enough for whatever project you’ve got in mind.
What do people say about it?
One of the things people actually like most about this box is its jumbo 5:1 gear ratio. Some boxes out there have tiny little cranks that take forever to reel in string after you mark your line out, but with this one you can zip it in super quick and be ready to move on to your next measurement.
Another feature people really like is how easy the box is to refill. We’ve seen other chalk lines that have these ridiculous little openings for refill, and you end up spilling half your chalk before the box gets filled up. Don’t have to worry about that at all with this one.
Things we liked
Super cheap, super functional
The ‘chalk window’ is great so you can make sure you’ve got enough in there before you start measuring
Comes with a clip-on mini level (used when you’re marking walls to make sure the line is perfectly straight)
Stanley Lifetime Warranty
Things we didn’t like
Being made of plastic, it’s definitely not the most durable box
The actual string is pretty low quality, so it will wear out after a lot of use – like we said, this isn’t the right choice if you plan on using it every day
Best PRO Quality Chalk Line:
If you’ve got a Tajima chalk line, you know what you’re doing and it’s clear you put thought and effort into buying the best quality tools. Like we said in the intro, they’re the most popular name in chalk lines. Probably 9 out of 10 contractors will have a Tajima hanging from their tool belt.
The main difference is simply in their build quality. They’re built with a high grade aluminum frame and have extra heavy-duty rubberized reinforcements. Meaning, they can take an absolute beating on any sort of professional job site.
Also, the string (which is 100’ long) is a premium grade nylon that will easily last as long as the box itself (probably forever).
These are a little bulkier/beefier/heavier than the Stanley or any of your other ‘value’ chalk lines, but keep in mind the thing is no toy. The Tajima is a pro quality tool in every regard.
Is it worth the price?
As far as price, yes it’s more than double the cost of a cheap Stanley but let’s be realistic – you’re getting a ton of value for the money and it’s not like you’re going to have to take out a loan to cover the difference.
That being said, however, keep in mind that unlike the Stanley, these do not come with chalk – you’ll have to buy it separately.
What do people say about it?
Out of the nearly 700 5-star reviews on Amazon, one of the things people actually like most about this box is how efficiently it extracts chalk. Other boxes can be super frustrating because some parts of the string will totally gunk up, while other sections won’t get any chalk at all. Either that or the chalk will just dump out all over the ground when you’re pulling the string out.
Of course, the main thing customers rave about in the reviews though is the durability and build quality. Several people mentioned how they’ve been a professional for 10, 15, or 20 years and have never come across a chalk line near the quality as Tajima.
Like we said, if you want the best, it’s really your only option. (Also rarely do you get an opportunity to own a pro-quality tool for this price, so keep that in mind too.)
Things we liked
- Best built, highest quality chalk line in the world hands down
- Internal gears are made of metal instead of plastic
- Comes in several different colors/styles (extra bold / ultra thin / red aluminum / white aluminum / extra heavy duty)
- Large 3.5 oz chalk capacity
- 5 gear triple speed rewind zips up string in a hurry
- Patented jam-free chalk box with an extra wide neck for easy refills
Things we didn’t like
- Doesn’t come with chalk
- Pretty bulky (unless you get the ultra thin model, which are a little more expensive)
Best Value Aluminum Chalk Line:
IRWIN Strait-Line Aluminum Chalk Box
If you’re looking to get something with a little better build quality than the plastic Stanley, but you’re still wanting to spend next to nothing, the IRWIN Strait-Line Aluminum is definitely your best bet.
The only reason we selected the Stanley over this one as our top pick is because we really liked how it came with the mini spirit level, and also liked the clear window.
All other things considered, the chalk line itself is very similar – we wouldn’t recommend it for full-time professional use, but it’ll be just fine for a few DIY projects or home remodeling jobs.
And also, unlike the Tajima it does come with chalk so you’ll save yourself some money there too.
Like most chalk lines the string is 100’, but it’s fairly low quality and will possibly fray or wear out over time just like the Stanley.
The main thing people like about this box is of course its aluminum frame, but a lot of folks also love that the self-locking metal handle can double as a plumb bob – actually a really cool, well-designed integrated feature.
Things we liked
- Durable aluminum frame with an affordable price
- Self-locking reel doubles as a plumb bob
- Comes with 4 oz bottle of chalk (box itself holds 2 oz)
Things we didn’t like
- Low quality string will eventually start to fray/wear out
- Gears don’t reel in string as quickly as the Tajima or Stanley
Other things to consider when buying your first chalk line
Even though these things are super simple tools, there’s still some stuff you ought to be aware of before you tackle your first chalk lining job.
To our continued astonishment, we still see plenty of low-end chalk boxes with utterly useless hooks.
Like a tape measure, the hook is what you’ll fasten the line to while you pull the string tight, whether you’re fastening it to a nail, screw, or the corner of a wall.
You need it to stay perfectly secure so 1) you can get a completely straight line and 2) you can pull it tight enough to get a good snap.
Otherwise, you won’t get enough chalk to transfer from the string to the wall (or floor).
Mark a Good Line
While there’s honestly not much too marking chalk lines, it is something that you develop a feel for and getting better at over time. You won’t get a perfect line on your first shot, trust us.
One pointer to help you get the best result possible is to shake the box up a little bit as you’re pulling the string out. The only way you’ll get a good read is if the string is entirely covered with chalk, and shaking the box helps to ensure that the whole line gets completely covered.
In order for the chalk to transfer thoroughly from the string to the wall, you’ve got to pull the line back and snap it down quite deliberately.
Don’t be afraid to really give it a good whack — just make sure that the string stays completely tight, otherwise you’ll lose your straight line.
Conclusion: Roundup Winner for the Best Chalk Line
Like we already mentioned, our #1 pick goes to the Stanley PowerWinder.
Realistically, a chalk line isn’t an essential tool for every woodworker/DIY’er, so you might as well spend the least amount of money as possible (while of course still making sure it performs and does what you need it to).
The Stanley will work great like we said for several projects or renovations, and it’s got everything you need in a functioning chalk line. The Stanley comes quipped with a quality hook, easy-fill box, and a quick and simple winding/unwinding mechanism. Just don’t expect it to last a lifetime.
And of course, we love the clear ‘chalk window’ and enjoy the fact that it comes with extra chalk and a clip on spirit level.
Remember, though, if you’re gonna be using the tool a lot though and really think you need the best chalk line on the market, definitely go with the Tajima.