Wednesday 26 August 2015

How To Make A Dovetail Marker

In preparation for a small training project I made a dovetail marker.

Yes, of course you can buy one.
But it is fun to make one by hand.

See how I made mine.

A dovetail marker is a simple tool, of which you probably know about.
Maybe it not have occurred to you to make one yourself.
And even if I have got an industrial made one, I thought that I had to make one by myself.

I had got two designs in mind. The first one, which I will describe today, is pretty similar to the model Paul Sellers or Richard Maguire are using.
The other one, about I will report in one of the next posts, I have seen in one of the books of Charles H. Hayward.

The Build

In my scrap box I found a piece of beech just about 10 cm long and 4 cm wide. Good enough.

The blank

I made all faces square to each other and the sides parallel. Then I made two marks 3,5 cm from each end of the piece.

Coming in 3,5 cm from each end

I have squared one of the lines all the way around the blank.

Scribe the line around the blank

Dovetails can have different angles due to their purpose and the wood species they are made in.
I have chosen a ratio of 1:6, because mine should be mainly used for softwood.
Draw a line on a piece of wood which is 6 units long (doesn't matter if inches or centimeters).
Draw a second line at one end of this line at a 90° angle, which is 1 unit long.
Now join both ends with a third line. Now you have got a resulting triangle to set your sliding bevel.

I set the sliding bevel to the 1:6 angle and positioned it to the second mark on my blank.
The line has to be transferred all way around the blank, too.

Scribe the angled line around the blank

The blank now looks like this. The angled line is in the same direction on the underside.

Blank with scribed lines

I set a marking gauge to 6mm and run parallel lines from the shoulder lines along the length of the piece from both sides.

Scribe lines along the length

The layout lines on the blank were deepened. First with a knife, afterwards with a chisel.

Deepen the knife lines

Deep knife walls
That done I have carefully cut the shoulders. And I've made sure to stay close to the line.
By the way, I have used my dovetail saw for this task. It allowed me to have better control in this case.

Cutting the shoulders

Now I have sawn down the cheeks of the marker.
As with every other tenon cut, I've started across the end and then dropped down my hand to cut along the layout line. Flipped it around and had done the other side too.

Starting across the length

Cut along the line

All this done I have cleaned the cheeks with the router plane. You can do that easily with a chisel.
But I'm not good in paring. So my choice was the plane.

"Tenon" after sawing

Cleaning the cheeks with the router

Last step is to pare the shoulders.
First I have checked the shoulders to see how much I'm out of square. 

Checking the shoulders

As mentioned I'm not pretty good in paring. So I was searching for some assistance. 
What I have done to solve my problem was to clamp the workpiece pretty low in the vise.
The I've used a chisel as a reference and I have aligned the batten of my vise with the knife wall of the workpiece. 

Adjusting the work piece in the vise
That done I can rest my chisel on the batten and pare straight to the shoulder line.
If you have got issues with paring straight, then give it a try.

Paring the shoulders

Ready. Finally I've checked how square I am.

Checking squareness

And that is my new dovetail marker (and maybe yours).

Ready! The new dovetail marker

Here you can see my new dovetail marker in comparison to a marker made by Veritas. You see, same angle dead on.

In comparison with a Veritas marker

And this is my new ultimate "Dovetail Marker Kit" :-)

The ultimate Dovetail Marker Kit :-)


This is a nice little side project. From my point of view you should make at least one of these little helpers by yourself.
It won't work the first time? Throw it into the bin and make a second one. You can make them out of pine and that will not cost the world. 
I think it will train your accuracy and your skills. And at least it makes you independent from industrial vendors.

There is another design that I will show you in one of my next posts. So stay tuned!



  1. I made a lot of the Paul Seller style markers and used them for quite a while. I now use a marker based on a Charles Hayward one. His had two angled sides and mine only has one. I'm still trying to find someone to make me one in brass - no luck on that so far.
    Good tip on the paring. I may make another one to see how it comes out compared to my last one.

    1. Hi Ralph,
      that two angled sides one is the one I've got in mind.
      Why have you angled only one side? Just because of minimizing the effort, or do you use the straight side for squaring the lines around the edge?