Gauge lines on dovetails


I’m playing along at home with your book and dvd’s.

I notice that you’re using the marking gauge for laying out mortises but not for scribing the layout for dovetails.

Your thoughts on the use of a marking or cutting gauge for dovetails would be appreciated.

PS I’m having a ball doing this!



Hello Craig,

I go against the flow and tradition for this. I think gauge lines are dead ugly except on what might b called vernacular pieces. They are basically bruised wood. On the finest hand work I rarely saw marking gauge lines and so I prefer my knifewall method, which eliminates the need for gauges and guarantees crisp, clean-cut shoulder lines. This is the only method I teach and everyone seems to like it once they do it. Many mass manufacturers now go over their machine joints and so too small makers using routers to falsely represent hand made with gauge lines. I don’t mind traditionalists continuing the practice but I look for no gauge methods when I look for quality.



  1. Martin on 18 August 2012 at 10:39 pm

    Can you please clarify how the knifewall method works when cutting dovetails?

    • Paul Sellers on 19 August 2012 at 2:47 am

      Yes, simply a method rather than a technique. Because we tend to use chop saws to chop and square the ends of our already four-square stock to length, we can rely on using the adjacent pieces to mark our distances from the end with our fingertips to guide us and a sharp pencil to then give us the depth line. We cut the the dovetials and stop a fraction shy of the pencil line and then use the sharp pointed knife to establish the exact position of the knifewall, which is the exact thickness of the adjacent piece. Now we cut the knifewall between the saw kerfs to establish the pin recess shoulder lines on both sides of the piece but not on the face of the dovetails. With the tails cut, we trace around the tails onto the tailpiece. This time, when we get to transfer the line to the opposite side, we make a small nick on the corners to guide us and again transfer the line to in between the tail recesses. Very simple.