I'm often asked to distinguish between “race knives” and “timber scribes.” Quickly, a race knife is a single purpose tool, having a single blade with an outcanal gouge blade that somewhat resembles a hoof pick, but with a straight handle.
In use the tool makes a gouged groove, when the blade is drawn across the work piece. Traditionally this groove, in boat or ship building marks the waterline of an empty vessel and is used to guide the painting of the hull. Such grooves are called, “races” hence the name of the tool. A race can also be found in a steel tool that employs it to keep captive ball bearings that reduce friction between moving parts. In addition to forming races, a race knife can be used with a batten for a fence to make perfectly straight grooves, or complex curved ones. It can also be used free hand to make meaningful marks. A “timber scribe” on the other hand is a more complex tool that consists of a central point that anchors the tool in the wood, which allows a gouging blade to be rotated around the point. Sometimes a second blade is also found on these tools—and some even have a third. The combination can be used, with just a little practice, to make grooves that form complex letters and numbers that involve combinations of straight and curved line segments. This is a tool that can be used by cooper's (for example) to mark the sequence of staves in a cask, so the cask can be reassembled after final fitting; or by sawyers and carpenters to mark ownership of timbers or the sequence with which to use them. Or the timber scribe can just be used as a simple race knife to mark waterlines! The tool is a dedicated race knife. Its distinction is, with an overall length of 8 inches, it is unusually large for its genre, and was surely made to work with larger boat hulls. It has he classic form of a tapered hexagonal walnut handle. The unusually long ferrule is of steel. The blade does have remnants of a stamped mark (H E??). While there is some pitting on the ferrule and blade, it will work just fine. Good.+