How to Layout Dovetails

In this lesson, I will show you how to mark out one half of a dovetail joint and why accuracy is so important at this stage.

This lessons objectives:

  • How to layout a dovetail joint
  • Where to set the marking gauge
  • Which dovetail ratio is best
  • How to avoid common problems

Laying out a dovetail is a relatively simple task but it's quite easy to get bogged down with what dovetail ratios to use, where to set the marking gauge and what spacing to use. I put all of those ‘rules' to sleep in this video. By the end of this lesson, you will have all four corners marked out and ready to cut in the next episode.

I like using the Veritas Marking Gauge for the majority of my marking out operations as I find it leaves a much cleaner and consistent line compared to a traditional wooden marking gauge. It's also not too expensive depending on which version of gauge you purchase.

I have the Micro Adjust version although I rarely use the feature. Realistically I could happily use the Standard Marking Gauge for the majority of my work.

The Micro-Adjust Veritas Marking Gauge

I also own a Titemark marking gauge which is similar to the Veritas model. Although this often more expensive and in my opinion doesn't have enough additional features to justify the price jump for a first time buyer.

Supporting Material

Click the images below to see supporting material helping you with this part of the project.

Which Dovetail Ratio is Best?

Dovetail ratios are one of the most over-complicated subjects when it comes to dovetails. Some people tell you to use 1:8 for hardwoods and 1:7 for softwoods. But then on the Veritas dovetail markers it says that you should use 1:6 for Softwoods. But then there is furniture that has withstood hundreds of years with 1:4 ratios. Where's the consistency and more importantly, how do you even layout a dovetail ratio?! This video will explain everything in plain English.

How To Use a Marking Gauge

A marking gauge is a very simple tool and is the starting point for most layout operations. But despite the simplicity, it's incredibly easy to make a dogs dinner of the marking out stage causing it to haunt you for the rest of the project. This video will show you how to get it right.

Which Marking Gauge is Best?

A wheel marking gauge is often something that beginner woodworkers are unaware of, thus they opt for a traditional wooden style gauge. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, wooden gauges are brilliant. However I find that a wheel marking gauge is far more versatile, ergonomic and cleaner compared to a wooden style. In this video, I explain the difference and help you make the best choice.

Have you got the plans yet?

Package includes working drawings, a cutting list, and a 3d SketchUp model!

The Student Series

Want to see another beginner make this project before you? It's a great way to scope out any mistakes before you make one yourself!

How deep should the marking gauge lines be? – 3:00

Should you mark the tails on both sides of the component? – 4:03

Can you use a mechanical pencil? – 6:15

Should you move the ruler or keep it planted when measuring? – 8:55

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