George Said…

…”Have you made your dovetail template yet?”

No, I replied. Do I need one if I’m using yours? It was a genuine question, not intended to be cheeky at all.

You’re not using mine any more after today.” He dropped a short piece of mahogany my side of the bench and told me to copy his and I did. It’s this type I have used all my life to date and not because it’s the first one I ever used. There’s something about the balance of it, the usefulness of the square on it and such that just feels so right. It’s just a good, unpretentious template.

So with pencil sharply pointed, a sliding bevel set to a 1:7, I made my first tool. Two years later I lost it and I made another which I duly lost too. I have made many a dozen since then, for myself and for others, and now I have taught many a thousand woodworkers to make and use them too. Though I have seen many other types of guides since then, I have never seen one made by another that wasn’t a copy of mine and George’s. Who made the first and how many people copied it I have no way of knowing but it was not a common thing. There will be many a thousand out there now, all from that one day encounter back in 1965 with George’s dovetail template. That’s how it is with passing things on. They’re handed down you see, these trade secrets. These word-of-mouth encounters twixt boy and man at the well of a workbench, hand-on-shoulder experiences where avuncularism thrives and takes always a certain path. They’re verbally given and without reserve because its a symbiotic synchrony and one we are indeed losing day on day. But at least that is how it was for me in the day. I did it with my boys, with my apprentices and with my students. I just cannot help myself.

Some times we lose sight of the efficacy of things like that, things being ‘passed down’. Of course we are all the more losing the context for such things too. How many apprentices dressed in ragged overalls and Tuff boots standing at a bench laden with hand tools do you know? But worse still is when things are not handed down at all. Those guys who hide their work from others, tools even, drawings as they pass by the bench. I have been with them too.

Here’s the thing though, anyway. I’ve reinvented it. I’ve taken what I had and have used for half a century and added new features that refined it in a very unique way, made it better, more versatile if you will, after all these years. I may have also made it the engineer’s challenge. Whereas the original was made lovely by its simplicity and the fact that it can be made easily by any woodworker, mine will not be like that. But it’s quite patentable too; design wise it can be patented and made to look very beautiful by a range of added design features. The thing is I don’t know quite what to do. I don’t need more work. I mean I’m not looking for a second job! I’ve too many. of those. I just came up with the idea. Does the world need another dovetail template? So the question for me now is should I pursue it? It’s not something that’s going to make me rich, I know that, but I can see a few woodworkers advantaged by it. I can see them wanting to own one or even two of them. I’m also thinking of making it with the ability to add your own wood bits to it. Sort of customised from some piece you might treasure, you see. Oh, what to do!

41 thoughts on “George Said…”

  1. If you publish any design, no one else should be able to claim a patent to it due to prior art. If you’re concerned with people making and selling them, you should file a patent. You can always define how it may be applied free of charge for personal use, but this should allow for discouraging blatant money-making from it. I would take that up with a lawyer, though.

    – David

    1. Mike Bullock

      I agree with David R’s comment. If you want to make money on a new device or technique, you file for a patent. If you want to provide a device, design or technique to the public and protect the public’s interest you make sure that the device, design or technique is made public and documentation can easily be referenced as prior art. The key driver is how much personal control one wants versus just protecting everyone’s ability to take advantage of something. At least this is my understanding of how things work under US law. It is worth noting many folks here are not under US law.

      1. Paul Sellers

        I’m afraid that even thinking about it is a luxury of time I cannot give to this. So I won’t worry.The world has got along fine without it. I had thought of giving the design to a charity I like though.

  2. When I am at a crossroad I pray and ask for guidance.

    This is just a thought. But maybe you could just do the design and let someone else do the leg work. Maybe an apprentice (Hanna did come to mind) would like to do it. Just a thought that crossed my mind.

    1. Paul Sellers

      No, this is an engineered one with wood and metal. Hannah, like me, is not looking for more work to do.

      1. Michael Schoenfeld

        From a pure intellectual property protection standpoint; patents, trademarks and copyrights are the most overlooked item by individuals with an idea that they want to, or are thinking about taking to market.

        Trademarks and copyrights are easy and free to apply to a product here in the US, not sure about the UK, getting ones that cover multiple international markets will require an attorney that specializes in international protections, which will invariably come with a very high price.

        Patents are expensive in any country so getting one that convers the international market is probably cost prohibitive unless you plan to sell tens of thousands.

        Having gone through this process a few times here in the US, and based on your intentions with it, I would probably just trademark its name and maybe a design patent in the UK. I’m pretty sure the US and EU will honor it because of reciprocating treaties. Since you don’t plan to make a ton of money off of it I don’t see it being worth the while to spend the thousands of dollars for iron clad protection, and its unlikely someone else will copy and manufacture it if there isn’t a lot of money to be had (learned by experience).

        In my opinion you have a reputation for quality, a knock off won’t have that.

        Just my two cent.

    2. Paul……how on earth do you get your dovetails so perfect, even the dovetail template is just without fault??

        1. Hi Micheal ….”Rote learning”. Had to look that one up
          Yes I understand and agree…….but for whatever reason ….Paul is just so clever.

  3. I made one of these when you were teaching in Texas, probably 20 years ago. Also bought a couple made from aluminum but usually default to the one I made out of walnut under your guidance. A Saturday class and another three day class taught by you changed my approach to joinery, and woodworking, forever.

  4. Funny you and George are claiming that gauge, my grandfather made one in 1895.

    1. Jim,

      Not for nothing, maybe go back and read the post again. He’s only claiming that his is based off of George’s not that George claimed the original.

      “Who made the first and how many people copied it I have no way of knowing…”

      I for one would love to know more about the dovetail market. So simple a thing would be handy and I’d be interested in learning iof Paul’s “refinements”



    2. Paul Sellers

      Sorry, Jim, so if you show it to me I can no longer say I haven’t seen one anywhere else, confirming it wasn’t localised to Stockport where I first discovered Georges, which was different to Merl’s, Jack’s, Bills, Johns and Leslie’s.. I didn’t actually make a claim on it for me or for George either, Jim, but my next one? I will be claiming all of my rights to it if I ever make it.

      1. What were the other men’s like? Like any we see today? Any other templates interesting enough to remember and talk about?

  5. Persobally I like that you’re not selling anything except knowledge via variuos channels. For me that is one of the things that sets you apart from other teachers out there. If you start selling items then that may look like you’re plugging your own tools rather than give an independent expert advise – a bit like only talking about and using only veritas tools rather than tools by their function, old and new.

    I love that you made your wooden template available for the love of it, I use mine regularly. I’m a creative commons / open source kind of guy so for me that really works. If you start throwing closed items in the mix that sort of taints it a little.

    My honest and absolutely persobal view, please don’t be offended.

    Thanks for all the good work,


    1. Paul Sellers

      Actually, once again, I never mentioned selling anything. What if I was planning to sell it at my actual cost, with no profit, just recovering my expense in having it made so you and a few others would benefit? I mean an altruistic gesture? I suppose I would have to face critics for that even though I actually made nothing from it. You see that is the only way this could actually happen. Anyway, I still didn’t say `I was looking to sell a single thing, just that it might need to remain in my brain.

      1. I really see no problem in you selling anything. You and your wife need to eat. You worked hard and struggled in life and seemed to live to a moral standard. I see no problem in making a little money for your idea. Personally I would buy one just to support it. If you needed help, I would be willing to help in the effort.

  6. Justin Taylor

    Put me down for 10!

    In all seriousness, I suppose it comes down to whether or not you think the benefits of bringing such a product to market would more than offset any potential drawbacks with regards to your “impartial authoritativeness” as a woodworking guru. If it is objectively that much of an upgrade, then please push forward! Even if it is merely left at the “design” phase and never pursued on a production basis. But, in my “real job,” I am a “product guy,” thus I am certainly biased…

  7. I’ve taken to liking the cheekiness of a dovetail jointed dovetail marker and have a couple I use ( besides my own idea of putting a window though the face to see your other markings ( though I’m just as likely to freehand and transfer these days as I like the variation it gives for cute little knickknacks around the room.

  8. Ken Dalgleish

    Personally I wouldn’t bother with a patent for anything that has sales potential the short side of a couple of million pounds. For the simple reason that the cost of getting, maintaining and defending patents would wipe out the profit / royalties / licensing fees. Particularly so in this kind of case where sales would be spread thinly across many countries and so across many different patent jurisdictions. You would likely do better to partner with a good/popular metal working youtuber and simply do a co-production build series. ….

  9. I do love when you write about George. I love that you mention a tool George taught you how to make. It could be hundreds of years old, maybe thousands! I think of another man or woman making and using the same tool hundreds of years ago. The point is this knowledge of simple things being shared makes all the difference. It’s beautiful.

  10. With a sharply pointed pencil…I read in a magazine article to use a mechanical pencil. The line can get no wider than the width of the lead size. That’s why the writer uses 0.5 lead. A non mechanical pencil as the lead dulls, it keeps getting wider and accuracy is lost. Obviously by your pictures, it’s not the case for you. Just curious what your thoughts were on pencils

  11. Marx Arellano Trueba

    Cultura es el regalo que una generación pasa a las siguientes, para que no tengan que empezar desde cero.
    El cúmulo de lo que recibimos, lo que perdimos y lo que agregamos define nuestra época y nuestra relación con el pasado y el futuro.
    Patentar no inhibe el legado, en todo documenta al donador. En el mediano plazo las patentes expiran y en el largo plazo todo suma o es olvidado.
    ¿Cuántas generaciones van, dónde hemos llegado? ¿Cómo agradecemos lo que que otros han custodiado por generaciones y generaciones y que hoy nos toca custodiar nosotros? ¿Cual es nuestra contribución hacia el futuro?

  12. Marx Arellano Trueba

    (An attempt to translate…)
    Culture is the gift one generation passes to the nexts, so them don’t have to start from cero.
    The sum of what was received, lost and added defines our era and our relationship with the past and the future.
    To patent do not inhibes the legacy, just document who the donator is. En mid term every patent expires and in the long term every thing sums or is lost.
    How many generations in the count, what place is it? How to thank others for what they have custodied? Which is our contribution to the generations to come?

  13. Steve Longley

    I still use the one that I made with you in Texas in 2004. It is nice to know that the pattern was handed down to you, as you handed it down to me. Thank you.

  14. One idea is to find someone who (a) wants to take this idea to market and (b) enters a contract with you that says he or she will blog / document the process of going from idea to product to sales, including following how selling and production change with volume. In this way, you would have the benefit of helping your students see the details of the process. I’ve never dealt with IP, but the notion is that you retain rights but give the person license just so long as the blogging obligation is fulfilled. Having typed the idea, it still sounds like a lot of work for you and maybe too much risk for the other person.

  15. Bob Nickason

    Take the unit to Dragon’s Den and offer it up for 51% of the unit for 20,000 L. Better still show us how to make the one that George past on to you!

  16. Patents are useless if you can’t or are not prepared to defend them. It is a waste of time and money. Say Paul’s new product does get off the ground with patent protection, and someone in Asia copies it.

    What is Paul going to do? Hire an international legal firm in the UK or a local lawyer in the country where the offense takes place and go after the small or unknown vendor? Does Paul have the resources (people, time, money, distraction from his online classes, etc.) to go after the crooks?

    In North America, some tool makers including Veritas, Benchcrafted, etc have witnessed their ideas and invention copied and sold, and have chosen to take no action. Their financial analyses tell them they will be losing money even IF they win the lawsuits.

    The SawStop vs Bosch story was fascinating, but if the patent violation started when SawStop was still in its infancy (not after it had become a financially strong entity), it would be a big question mark whether the lawsuit would begin at all.

  17. Peter Compton

    Followed your tuition a few years ago and made one from Jarrah. It has seen a lot of laying out over the past four years. Thank you Paul, George and who ever came up with the idea. As to a patent, your tuition is out there. Let people follow it and have the satisfaction of making a very useful tool.

  18. I made my own copy of your template and my 1st dovetails with it. Thank you.

    I ran across this video by Steven Chan that is the same pattern, but it’s laminated and adds magnets to use as a cutting guide.

    I made that too. Since I was planing 3 flat pieces I was able to make it much smoother. Now I have 2 templates.

    So thanks to both of you for sharing.

  19. Hello Paul,

    A little late, but perhaps not too late to suggest something?

    I like the idea that I could purchase a kit or a completed Paul Sellers designed dovetail jig. Something to appreciate each time I pick it up to use it, for as long as I’m able and which I’d enjoy using as much as I appreciate the knowledge you’ve imparted to me with which I now enthusiastically bring to my work.

    But it doesn’t have to be made by you. If I know that I can buy one from an approved, ‘licensed’ supplier, that’s good enough for me. And if I paid a few pounds/euro/dollars more and knew that went to the beneficiary you decide is appropriate, that’s also perfectly fine with me. I’d feel privileged to have the chance to support something about which you care.

    That could be enough to provide a scholarship, help fund a trust or charity you care about, or cover X number of ‘fees paid’ memberships to Woodworking Masterclasses for deserving students of the craft which we all enjoy so much, with you.

    I’d like that. I think we all would, truthfully.

    I’m also pretty confident you could find an honest and dependable company in the industry who would be pleased to facilitate all that would be necessary and that in itself, it would be something of an accomplishment to achieve and prove that we can all take a good idea and make it work for some greater good.

  20. Never made a wooden one like Pauls. Made one from stainless steel plate decades ago, always use that. Forget were I got the idea from.

  21. Flemming Aaberg

    If something is now so common, can it in fact be patented?
    Also, if it is patented does that prevent all woodworkers from making it or can the patent allow for that use?
    And if the patent does limit use, who is going to enforce the restriction? It certainly won’t stop the everyday woodworker from making it. But it may stop Paul from using it in videos.

  22. Mr. Paul, While realizing this is just in the thinking stage, I like the thought that you want a charity to pass on your knowledge and gifts. It is an honorable musing.

    Years ago I worked with an old wood dovetail template at a class I took. It was a beautiful tool. With the oils from the working hands over decades of use, burnishing to a beautiful smooth hue. When I held it, it was as if the person who created it was guiding me. I’ve never seen another. Lucky the man who now is it’s caretaker!

  23. Noel Rodrigue

    Quick question that has nothing to do with the rest of the conversation here, which I agree with in any case. In picture #2 from the top, why the square ‘finger’ instead of the angled ones on the other side?

    1. That’s a divider rail between two drawer recesses and so is dovetailed in from the front face of the chest.

Comments are closed.

Privacy Notice

You must enter certain information to submit the form on this page. We take the handling of personal information seriously and appreciate your trust in us. Our Privacy Policy sets out important information about us and how we use and protect your personal data and it also explains your legal rights in respect of it. Please click here to read it before you provide any information on this form.