Snapping Lines on Steel with Chalk


As kids, we grew up as the last house before the street surface changed from asphalt paving to dirt. Unlike today’s children, whose parents can buy “sidewalk chalk” in a myriad of colors, we improvised.

Whenever a new home was being drywalled near us, we would scrounge for scraps of sheetrock. As creative children of five and six years old, we’d use the edges of these pieces to outline chalk “roads” on the pavement.

Doing this manually was tedious as well as tough on our little backs, so we took things a step further. My red Radio Flyer® wagon was hitched to the back of my friend Danny’s older brother’s bike. Now the Radio Flyer® was designed for lots of things, however where we were going with this experiment, was probably none of those.

I’d lay down in the bed of the Radio Flyer® on my tummy, facing the rear. In each hand, a piece of sheetrock scrap. With the propulsion from the bike, we could produce (what to us anyhow) seemed like miles of chalk roads in no time at all.

Similar to the Ancient Roman adage, “It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye”, is “It’s all fun and games until someone gets launched from the back of a Radio Flyer® wagon and fractures a clavicle”.

Thus was the end of our chalk roads.

Growing up in a family where my Dad and Uncles were framing contractors, we found out chalk had uses other than for making “roads”.

Developed in ancient Egypt (think pyramids) “chalk boxes” are used by carpenters to mark long, straight lines on relatively flat surfaces, much farther than is practical by hand or with a straight edge. A chalk box draws a straight line by the action of a taut cotton or similar string, which has been coated with colored chalk (most often blue or red, but other colors such as yellow, white and fluorescent orange are available).

The chalk box string is laid across the surface to be marked, then snapped sharply, causing the string to strike the surface leaving behind a straight chalk line where the surface has been struck.

We sadly now live in an overly litigious society, so the chalk box package reads like a television pharmaceutical commercial, “WARNING: TO AVOID RISK OF INJURY ALWAYS WEAR SAFETY GLASSES AND OTHER APPROPRIATE SAFETY ITEMS FOR PROTECTION. FAILURE TO DO SO CAN RESULT IN BODILY INJURY.” About the only thing more embarrassing than being launched from a Radio Flyer®, would be to incur a debilitating chalk box accident.


When it comes to the use of chalk near steel roofing and siding, the following warning should have been added:


Chalk LinesEven small moisture amounts will cause chalk dust lines (as well as any black or “lead” pencil marks) to permanently damage steel surfaces. These marks create an “electric cell”, which deteriorates the finish. This will cause chalk lines or pencil marks to be “seen” for the life of the building!

How do I know? The 100’ x 100’ warehouse for Hansen Buildings (built by someone else long ago) has beige steel siding with…you guessed it…horizontal somewhat faded (but still very obvious) red chalk lines on every

5 thoughts on “Snapping Lines on Steel with Chalk

  1. Since my dad’s death in 2003 I always remember him letting me help him when he done
    construction (repairs) at our old home when me & my 3 sisters were little, but I was his only helper
    wether it was helping on a trot line in a river or around the house, when he passed some of us
    was barred from his home (my mom passed 6 months previously) by another sibling & another
    relative, I was sad I didn’t get his chalk line because I helped him using it, I know it wouldn’t be
    his but would love to have another ole’ silver-look one like his with red chalk! If anyone know
    where I can purchase one, reasonably it would mean a lot to me,,sorry for the long comment

  2. In reality its totaly fine to use chalk lines in this aplication. And its done commonly by all roofers in Australia. This guy just used the wrong colour chalk. The no.1 blue chalk leaves no permenent mark.

    1. I have witnessed plenty of permanent blue chalk lines on steel, including our own warehouse (since resided to get rid of them).

  3. Just used some goof off on 3 inch section, chalk lines came right off . Will wait a couple weeks to make sure doesn’t do anything to the surface of the colored steel .


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