Dovetail "line"

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Forum topic by vttoonses posted 01-09-2012 04:36 PM 1215 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 2260 days

01-09-2012 04:36 PM

I’m just starting woodworking and have noticed in many magazine and book images of dovetails that there is a line scribed along the bottom of the joint. I’m assuming this is from the marking process, but I would also assume this would be sanded or planed out before finishing the project. Is it normal to see these lines in completed projects? Personally, I don’t like them – they are like seeing pencil marks.

But, if this is normal, I guess I can get used to it. Any clarification would be appreciated.

By the way, I asked this in “Finishing” as I thought cleaning this sort of thing up would come during that process. If there is a better forum to use, please let me know. Thanks.

11 replies so far

View brtech's profile


1027 posts in 2853 days

#1 posted 01-09-2012 04:51 PM

You are correct, they are part of the marking process. You scribe a line all the way around your board which defines the depth of the pins/tails based on the thickness of the mating piece. It tells you how far down to saw. You need it on both the inside and outside of the part.

It’s the mark of a hand cut dovetail. If you want to sand it out, do it.

View PurpLev's profile


8534 posts in 3579 days

#2 posted 01-09-2012 04:55 PM

it’s a personal choice, some folks remove them when they hand plane or sand down the box, while others leave them on as it adds character.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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

View Brandon's profile


4152 posts in 2882 days

#3 posted 01-09-2012 04:56 PM

The scribe line is a mark of a hand-cut dovetail, but not the only one. Sawing past the line is another marker. Some like the scribe mark, others don’t. I tend to remove mine if it’s somewhere prominent or in a fine piece of furniture, but for drawers etc I just leave them in. This was recently (last week) discussed in the Hand Planes of your Dreams thread.

In answer to your second question, you could have also posted this in the hand tools forum. But I think it’s fine here too.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View vttoonses's profile


2 posts in 2260 days

#4 posted 01-09-2012 05:26 PM

Thanks for the replies.

When I was a kid, my dad brought home a persian rug from Bahrain. The fringe, he showed me, was all cut to different lengths which indicated the rug was handmade (among other things). So, I guess I’ll just look these lines in that light and appreciate the effort the craftsman put into the joint.

Thanks again.

View Bertha's profile


13510 posts in 2624 days

#5 posted 01-09-2012 05:28 PM

I like to leave mine visible, but it’s a point of contention. I think the majority of people choose to plane/sand them off.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View DrDirt's profile


4421 posts in 3673 days

#6 posted 01-09-2012 05:48 PM

The line was as others mentioned used to distinguish hand cut from machine cut.

There was a period where folks would machine cut dovetails but also scribe a line to “cheat” and make people think they were hand cut.
I would guess that only works on variable spaced dovetails – - I think if you saw a perfect 1/2 inch spaced dovetail, even the uninitiated would assume that was machine cut.

-- “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain

View Logan Windram's profile

Logan Windram

344 posts in 2393 days

#7 posted 01-11-2012 11:24 PM

leave the mark lines on items that will not be seen all time, like drawers…. when people see that line, mayeb they will realize that a craftman marked, cut and fit those finely fit pieces of wood poetry together all so carefully- it is a fine tuned skill to get those tails and pins tight, and I am still very much on that adventure every week!

If you are using dovetails on a piece that shows all the time, then perhaps you plane them down so they are not distracting to the overall piece… even though they are not alway that noticeable…

Honestly, my marking guage cut pretty deep, so try to get them out is a pain…

View helluvawreck's profile


30470 posts in 2797 days

#8 posted 01-11-2012 11:48 PM

I sure do like to see them in antiques; however, I have mixed feelings in leaving them myself. That may not make any sense.


-- If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. Henry David Thoreau

View StumpyNubs's profile


7570 posts in 2731 days

#9 posted 01-12-2012 12:09 AM

That line serves a dual purpose. It tells you when to stop sawing, but it also is a great place to put the edge of your chisel to when you clean them up, thus getting crisp, tight joints. It also serves a cosmetic purpose in that it pulls together the squares/ triangles in the joint making them one long profile along the edge of the surface rather than a collection of spaced shapes.

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View Loren's profile


10081 posts in 3579 days

#10 posted 01-12-2012 01:16 AM

Stumpy is correct. If the line is not scribed deeply enough, it does
not hold the chisel well. If you want your box geometry clean,
sanding them off is not a good idea as corners get rounded and
smudged. The crispness mostly comes from planing, and when
you’ve got a lot of them to clean up, planing that line away can
be a hassle.

To each his or her own. I leave the line unless they are outside,
exposed joints, but if a line gets planed away I don’t put it
back in, as some craftspeople do… perhaps even (gasp!) after
cutting the joints with a router.

View AaronK's profile


1505 posts in 3395 days

#11 posted 01-12-2012 01:26 AM

haha that handplane of your dreams thread is too big to follow!

anyway, I have to admit that I also have mixed feelings about the scribe line. I tend to like dovetails with very small pins, which is also another mark of handwork.

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