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Thread: Dovetail Markings

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2006

    Dovetail Markings

    More often than not, when I see hand cut dovetails, I see that the marking at the end of the pins (tails?) is left in place. Like this:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Judging by the quality of the work that I see these on, I have to think that it's by design, not sloppiness. Why is it left there? It it some sort of traditional thing? I don't really like the way it looks. If I ever attempt these, I think I would not want the marks to be left there. Am I wrong in my thinking? Or, it there a technical reason why they're left there?

  2. #2
    Rob....I'm not an neander.....and I could be wrong.....I think the pin layout is done with a scribe and therefore the wood is indented. Therefore to get rid of the layout lines would require sanding or planing ....thus changing the thickness of the generally indicates they were done by hand....a sign of good craftsmanship.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Albuquerque, New Mexico
    I don't care for them either, it looks like the drawer isn't finished, but it seems to be the "in thing" right now. I haven't attempted hand cut dovetails yet, but when I do, I'll remove the layout lines.
    "I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a
    friend...if you have one."
    --George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

    "Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second..if there is
    --Winston Churchill, in response

  4. #4
    Alan DuBoff is offline Former Member (by the member's request)
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Not all people scribe the outside of the tails, many folks such as myself scribe it on the inside, so the scribe doesn't show up.

  5. #5
    The way I was taught to cut dovetails the scribe was an integral part of the process.

    After scribing you pare back to the scribe line in the waste areas

    This creates a little "shelf" in which you index the chisel when you chop out the waste areas in the tails.

    You then saw the tails
    And the chop the shoulder of the tails

    Putting the chisel in the grove and "Rocking it up" until the gab closes and the chisel is still firmly seated on the shelf assures that you are square with the board.


    Peter Korn the director at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship said that some people who use jigs put a scribed line on the piece afterwords to create a "hand cut" effect!
    Last edited by Jay Lock; 01-16-2007 at 08:41 PM. Reason: spelling!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Nova Scotia's beautiful south shore

    I have a different take on this. Drawer sides and the dovetail joints that hold them were traditionally thought of as "just joinery" and not designed for show.
    That's why you see pine, oak, poplar etc classified as secondary wood were used for drawer boxes in pieces that were made in mahogany, walnut or (in the new world) cherry.

    If they wanted to show off the joints they would have made through dovetails.

    In recent days, as hand-made joinery was fading into the past, a different attitude developed. Dovetails, which traditionally would have been taken for granted, became a design feature and the hallmark of good craftsmanship.

    If you look at casework where dovetails are structural joints (esp traditional scandanavian), the scribing marks were eliminated by planing. Most old dovetailed blanket boxes I've seen don't show scribe lines. I haven't seen hundreds of these, but as a craftsman they tend to stand out.

    On the practical front, planing dawer sides to eliminate the scribe marks may actually leave the drawers too loose in their opening - and that's a bigger no-no than the marks themselves.

    I've seen modern pieces where dovetails are exposed (carcase construction) where the lines remain. I don't like this personally as I don't think it serves any purpose other than to cry "handcut dovetails here!)
    All the best,
    Ian G

    **Now holding auditions for a catchy new signature**

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Central NY State
    I certainly respect the view of others that the scribed line is disliked. But I do like the line. When cutting to the line, a deeper scribe cut does help locate the chisel more accurately.

    Seems to me if you don't like the line on the completed work, you could scribe it less deeply, and if you do like it, then scribe deeper. As for planing the line off weakening the joint, a shallow line planed off shouldn't weaken the joint. Another option would be to scribe the line on the drawer face 1/32" or so shallower than the drawer side thickness, then planing the side to flush. I wouldn't though.


  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Tokyo Japan
    Depends on the piece for me, sometimes I think it looks neat, others I do not like the look of it.

    Personal preference I think.
    The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
    William Arthur Ward

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Central NY State

    Did a little further research

    Just got home from a friend who collects fine old furniture. He has a lovely 100 year old Walnut freestanding mantle, complete with hand dovetailed drawers. The 1/2 dovetails at the drawer fronts did have the scribe lines intact. The rear full DTs did not. FWIW. I know, just one example...I would post a photo, but I didn't have a camera.


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