The quest for the perfect chalk line

There are dozens of chalk boxes on the market, but all have their shortcomings. Cases crack when dropped off a ladder, cotton string lines fray and break. The old standby, the Irwin Strait-Line has a thick, fuzzy cotton line that is great at holding chalk, but definitely wears out quickly with daily use. The customer service at Irwin Tool is pretty impressive though. They sent me replacement chalk line ends when I asked at no charge and threw in a sticker! Irwin’s models are a great budget choice, but what if you’re a pro user looking for an upgrade? Here are a few good alternatives I’ve found:


  • This may be the Cadillac of all chalk lines. The line is a higher quality composition than your average variety, making for a longer-lasting product with less down-time. The retraction time is much faster than most others on the market. It’s actually a solid metal product with overmolded grips. Perhaps the best part of this chalk line is its low-profile design that makes it easy to get in and out of a tool belt. The fill mouth is wider than most, so it’s faster to add chalk. Still, it’s pretty expensive for a chalk line at $26.99 +S&H.


CH Hanson 12710 PRO 150 

  • 41K6384CNSL._SY355_The loop end on this chalk like makes it easier to snap on a 90 degree angle, and it’s easier to replace with standard hardware. Rather than wrangling with a hook end that constantly snags on everything in sight, the loop end on this model stores flat and will hook on a nail for great precision. At $20, it’s still a bit spendy, and it’s the largest of these options. I wouldn’t want to carry this in a tool belt all day. Still the handle would be handy for constant use.

MD Contractor Reel

  • 612jhkpdc-L._SL1200_At half the price of other competitors here, this is for the minimalist that wants a box full of chalked string. At $12, if you drop it off a roof, it’s not worth being too upset over. It’s a solid device that does its jobs without the bells and whistles of the other two options.

    The Hidden Plumb Bob

    Still, the best thing about the classic strait-line style chalk boxes is their ability to double as a plumb bob in a pinch. While no substitute for a proper plumb bob, hang your chalk line from any point, give it a spin and let it stabilize. You’ll have a decent starting point for your measurements. The M-D model would work, the Tajima could work, but the Hanson just isn’t designed for this.