I’ve used a lot of different chalk boxes over the course of my carpentry career, but when it comes to snapping clean and consistent lines for interior carpentry, there’s only one that I carry with me in my toolbelt. The Shinwa Neo from Japan is my “go-to” chalk box, and has been for many years.
Line. The Shinwa Neo has a much thinner line than other brands do, measuring only 0.020 inch thick. Even so, it can span distances up to 50 feet, suitable for even my longest length projects. The thin line is great for trim projects with tight tolerances, such as coffered ceilings, compared with the thicker lines left by most other chalk boxes. Those bold lines can measure up to 1/8 inch thick, more suitable for framing carpenters who need to mark rough surfaces.
While the special woven threaded line is fine, it has proven to be durable and can handle daily jobsite use. It also accepts chalk easily, with an internal felt pad in the chalk box to ensure good chalk-powder distribution. The pad also helps to eliminate chalk from spilling out of the top.
For consistent lines and full functionality of the chalk box, I use Tajima’s micro powder chalk. It comes in a variety of colors, such as blue and red, which is useful for projects that need multiple lines of reference.
With a low gear ratio and folding crank handle, manually retrieving the line is simple and fast. Once the line is secured, the quick flip handle sits flush inside of the body to ensure zero interference when you’re slipping the chalk box back into your tool pouch.
Body. Weighing in at 5.3 ounces, the body is made from a tough ABS resin that has held up to numerous typical falls off scaffolding and ladders, so durability has not been a concern. The transparent body offers quick viewing of the amount of chalk left inside, with an easily operated access door for quick refills. I especially like the way that this design doesn’t interfere with the line like typical top-threaded chalk boxes. Once the door is closed, the body is sealed to prevent powder from leaking and humidity from entering.
Hooks. The Shinwa Neo offers two attachment options. There is a standard hook—the type that is commonly seen on most chalk boxes—that can be used for metal and concrete parts. There is also a pin receiver (a sharp needle with plastic housing for easy insertion) that solves one of my biggest gripes about snapping lines: having to place a nail or screw into the wall to attach the chalk line. The pin receiver, which works well on both wood and drywall, makes my life easier and is the feature that makes this chalk box stand out from other ultra-thin-line chalk boxes. Once the line is snapped, only a pin-sized hole is left, making this the least intrusive option when snapping lines by yourself on those types of surfaces.
Tool dealers such as Taylor Toolworks (taytools.com, a favorite with woodworkers) sell the Shinwa Neo chalk box, but you can also venture over to Amazon and find it for around $21 to $25. The chalk box does not come with any chalk powder, so don’t forget to pick up the color of your choice.
Photos by Tommie Mullaney