Lee Valley Tools Woodworking Newsletter
Vol. 2, Issue 3
January 2008
What Is It?

Ink Pot for Making Lines

Included in every modern mason's and carpenter's 'essentials' kit is a device that incorporates a cord that can be charged with a marking agent and used to create straight lines. The Egyptians of about 5,000 years ago, and later the Greeks, employed this type of tool, using a paste of ochre to saturate the line prior to marking. By the 16th century in Europe, woodcuts and manuscripts show evidence of the use of a line drawn through a chalk box or rubbed with a cake of colored chalk, made taut and then snapped to create a straight line for sawing, layout or for creating a further measurement reference. These lines served double duty when used with a plumb bob to establish and maintain a true vertical. This system is still employed in the Western world.

Top view

It is unreasonable to assume that prior to Western contact, tradesmen from the Orient created the structures and ships they did without the use of a similar device. Known as a Sumitsubo, it was documented in Japan as early as the seventh century. Similar versions made in other Oriental countries can be found, each displaying unique characteristics, from straight utilitarian construction, to ornate and finely carved stylized examples. However, all types exhibit the use of colored inks (black or red) as the marking medium, an ink reservoir, a fine line sometimes made of silk and an open reel device for storing the line. Today, commercially, one can easily find both new and genuine antique examples made in Bali, Korea, China and Japan.

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