Hand cut dovetails

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Forum topic by ducky911 posted 04-09-2012 03:35 PM 1117 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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237 posts in 2987 days

04-09-2012 03:35 PM

Hi, been learning hand cut dovetails and will post my new project in a few weeks.

Question ..this doesn’t apply to me as i use a pencil. But i have noticed that in the finished projects some of us leave the scribed thickness scratch I always assumed that if i scratched it would sand out? I was wondering if there was some history to this?


6 replies so far

View Don W's profile

Don W

19007 posts in 2765 days

#1 posted 04-09-2012 04:21 PM

Some think its a way to show the dovetails were cut by hand. Originaly most dovetails where hidden, like in drawer carcasses, so the line wouldn’t be seen.

I myself typically sand or scrap them off if they can be seen. Today, its a personal preference thing.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3196 days

#2 posted 04-09-2012 05:11 PM

My personal thought on it: if you want to hide the construction details, don’t use exposed joinery. If the scribed lines stay or go is only an artifact. I wouldn’t go out of my way to hide them or show them off.

Of course there are some on the other end of the spectrum that use a dovetail jig and then scribe in the layout lines to make it look hand made.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View bobasaurus's profile


3544 posts in 3382 days

#3 posted 04-09-2012 05:25 PM

I like leaving the scribed lines. It’s just part of the dovetail joint, in my opinion, and looks kind of nice.

-- Allen, Colorado (Instagram @bobasaurus_woodworking)

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5121 posts in 4158 days

#4 posted 04-09-2012 07:16 PM

Shows me an intent to create quality hand work. When we shop for antiques, drawer contruction is one of the first considerations.


View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3846 days

#5 posted 04-09-2012 07:40 PM

The scribed lines may get planed off on a piston-fit drawer.

Whether the lines are left is a matter of aesthetics. Dovetails
are a tough old joint and their emergence as a symbol of
fine craftsmanship is relatively recent. In the past, fine casework
was often not through dovetailed because the end grain
was considered ugly. Drawers running on wood
take more abuse than drawers on modern slides due to
friction, wood movement and damage from wear, so the
mechanical advantage of dovetails were an advantage
in drawers but cutting them perfectly or investing any more
time than necessary to get the drawer action right was
not always a priority, even in nicer casework.

The advantage of the scribed line over a penciled line
is the scribed line will hold the edge of a chisel.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15691 posts in 2816 days

#6 posted 04-09-2012 08:05 PM

”...there are some on the other end of the spectrum that use a dovetail jig and then scribe in the layout lines to make it look hand made”

David, Ouch! I never thought of it, but I guess it’s done. Wow, that strikes me as deceptive practice but maybe that’s harsh. After all, pieces also get ‘stressed,’ and finished are applied to look worn at the edges from day one so scribed, machined dovetails isn’t really much different.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

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