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Techniques & Methods #4: The Infamous Dovetails Scribed Line

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Blog entry by PurpLev posted 07-23-2010 04:34 PM 2368 reads 0 times favorited 23 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: Gradually dividing drawers in a cabinet Part 4 of Techniques & Methods series no next part

I keep seeing these posts pop up more often than not about the scribed line for dovetails, should you leave them on? should you scrap/sand them off? Some say it tells the joint was hand made, Others rightfully so say that the piece itself tells that it was hand made….

Should you make them with a scriber? Or a pencil? A pencil line is easier to remove, but harder to line up to as you are relying on eye sight, Whereas a scribed line with a knife is a no brainer since you just rest your chisel into is, and it’s a perfect positioning throughout the joint.

I personally think all these dovetails discussions (although informative and do come from genuine curiosity and interest) are overblown and too much focus is given to how the lines are kept/cleaned or whatever, Where in fact these are just the byproduct of the process of making a joint that is mechanically superior to all others.

At the end of the day, the structural stability and the overall look of your piece will tell everyone it’s a quality handmade product. People don’t generally open drawers to search for scribed lines on the joints ;) so don’t think too deep into this.

:)
Peace

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.



23 comments so far

View schloemoe's profile

schloemoe

691 posts in 1624 days


#1 posted 07-23-2010 04:37 PM

Here Here!......................................Schloemoe

-- schloemoe, Oregon , http://www. woodrehab.blogspot.com

View CharlieM1958's profile

CharlieM1958

15706 posts in 2904 days


#2 posted 07-23-2010 05:24 PM

As I’ve mentioned before on this topic… Dovetails were originally used by early woodworkers because they were strong. They were generally made “quick and dirty” to be hidden with a molding of some sort if they were in a conspicuous place. Over the years they have morphed into an art form of sorts…. or, dare I say, an element of woodworking snobbery. We tend to judge a woodworker by his dovetails…. the more frequently he/she uses them, and the prettier they are, the better the woodoworker.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View a1Jim's profile

a1Jim

112296 posts in 2263 days


#3 posted 07-23-2010 05:25 PM

Good point Sharon, I do think there are a certain percentage of folks that may look for dovetails but the scribe line I doubt it.

-- http://artisticwoodstudio.com Custom furniture

View PurpLev's profile

PurpLev

8476 posts in 2334 days


#4 posted 07-23-2010 05:30 PM

schloemoe – There There!..... ;)

Charlie – that is a a good point. in case work, the dovetails are hidden behind moldings on the top and bottom, and lets not forget the hidden half blind dovetails in mitered case work, another case where the joinery is actually done purely for the structural strength yet is still being hidden as to not be shown.

Jim – I agree, I do like seeing dovetails, but at the same time it seems like people are getting obsessed by the joinery as opposed to focusing on the big picture.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Woodcanuck's profile

Woodcanuck

128 posts in 1686 days


#5 posted 07-23-2010 05:33 PM

Good topic, I’ve kind of wondered about this myself. I am yet to build a project that incorporates handcut dovetails (though I hope that will change soon) and I’ve thought a bit about this.

On the one hand, I think we overanalyze these types of things because we’re intrigued by it. Yes, I would look at the sides of a drawer and have a little smile if I saw scribe lines for the dovetails, knowing that the time and effort was put into the craftsmanship. My wife on the otherhand is unlikely to look at the sides of the drawers, and if she did, would probably wonder why they didn’t sand out that ugly line.

Ultimately I have to ask myself ‘who cares?’ And I mean that in a literal sense, who’s the customer? If I’m making a shop cabinet for myself and I want to have handcut dovetails, I might just leave the scribe line there as a pleasant reminder to the process involved. If I’m making something for a family member who will think the scribe line is ugly, I’ll put the effort in to clean it up or minimize its appearance.

Contrast this with something of a different genre…like photography. If you are a casual photographer (vacation pics and birthdays/etc) are you going to critique pictures you get from someone for the lighting and composition? Will you even notice? It will probably boil down to ‘does this picture please me?’ I try to keep that in mind with anything I build…will it please the person who is receiving it?

-- Ian - Life's a game, if you don't play, you can't win.

View CaptainSkully's profile

CaptainSkully

1190 posts in 2244 days


#6 posted 07-23-2010 06:08 PM

I think the scribed lines cutting across the grain (literally) are a sign of craftsmanship and should be left. You don’t get those when you use a routing jig. I will say that most non-woodworkers are disappointed when they pull out one of my drawers and see a lock joint instead of dovetails. This has caused me to almost redo the drawers with dovetails. Sigh…

-- You can't control the wind, but you can trim your sails

View NBeener's profile

NBeener

4806 posts in 1860 days


#7 posted 07-23-2010 06:12 PM

An interesting (or … not !) analogy.

I have a couple of fairly nice road bicycles.

Invariably … when somebody is checking out my road bicycles … they press on/pinch one of its tires.

The cartoon balloon, over their heads, reads … something like “Ahhhh. THERE’s the mark of a FINE bicycle: it has air in its tires.”

Or … something like that :-)

I can certainly envision myself looking for, or at, the scribed line on a good DT joint, but—as others have mentioned—it can easily be added in, on a jig-routed joint, to give the appearance of a hand-cut DT.

Whaddyagonnado ?

Sharon: Where, where ??

-- -- Neil

View PurpLev's profile

PurpLev

8476 posts in 2334 days


#8 posted 07-23-2010 06:20 PM

’‘Ahhhh. THERE’s the mark of a FINE bicycle: it has air in its tires.’’ LOL, thanks for the chuckle!

Neil What? What?

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View CharlieM1958's profile

CharlieM1958

15706 posts in 2904 days


#9 posted 07-23-2010 07:16 PM

3rd base.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View SPalm's profile

SPalm

4844 posts in 2568 days


#10 posted 07-23-2010 07:17 PM

What if I machine cut my dovetails, and then add the scribe line later. Does that count?

Steve

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View PurpLev's profile

PurpLev

8476 posts in 2334 days


#11 posted 07-23-2010 07:19 PM

Charlie who’s on what?!?

Steve that would technically make your machine cut dovetails into handcut dovetails (or maybe those are hybrids?) – not sure your clients would like that much. besides- how would you then explain the extra expense on the dovetail jig?

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View jockmike2's profile

jockmike2

10635 posts in 2932 days


#12 posted 07-23-2010 08:08 PM

Japanese joinery is another question altogether, In Popular Woodworkings latest article about the famous joinery artisan Toshio Odate is amazing and one worth reading. Some of his joinery isn’t just for looks, it well thought out function. I’m in the process of making my Uncle a 7’ long 3” thick table top table. I’ve been obsessing on joinery to use solid enough to hold such great weight. Ok, why on earth such a big heavy table? His daughters idea. My Uncle built a log cabin on my great, great grandparents homestead and wants a huge table for the 28+ members of the family with a natural edge. It’s walnut. 3’ on one end 6’ in the middle and 4’ at the other end. going to be lots of fun. Anyway Odate has many joinery ideas for heavy and unusual wood. Great artisan and joinery maker and worth showing off.

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View PurpLev's profile

PurpLev

8476 posts in 2334 days


#13 posted 07-23-2010 08:15 PM

Thats an interesting point Mike. however most japanese joinery is again – hidden and unseen. the beauty of japanese joinery is that the joint holds itself much like a dovetails does and does not rely on clamps/glue but it’s own mechanical friction and each piece supporting the other.

have you read this book?:

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View ChuckV's profile

ChuckV

2437 posts in 2213 days


#14 posted 07-23-2010 08:19 PM

Steve – You will probably get away with it. But, be careful not to move the piece across a state line. Then it becomes a federal matter :-)

Bubba: “What’s ya in fer?”
Steve: “Fake scribe line on a dovetail. How about you?”
Bubba: “Murder”

-- “That it will never come again / Is what makes life so sweet. ” ― Emily Dickinson

View jockmike2's profile

jockmike2

10635 posts in 2932 days


#15 posted 07-23-2010 08:30 PM

What I was thinking about Sharon was the guy, and I don’t know if it was Odate that made those eagle claw joints for a banket chest, Remember seeing that? Beautiful work. Someone on site was able to duplicate it and did a superb job of it, my memory being what it is, I don’t remember who that was either. I do agree with you though much is hidden. I have not read that book, but looks like one I should. The Japanese are famous for using heavy wood in building anything. Yet enough is exposed to reveal it’s complexity.

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

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