With our new Dovetail Template almost ready for prime time (I think it’ll be live in the store next week), I have dovetails on the brain. But who am I kidding – almost everything I build, and everything I teach, involves dovetails – so they’re always on my mind.
I always use dividers to lay out my dovetails – mostly so I have to think only once about the setup; then, I can just pick up my dividers and easily replicate the same layout on every corner of the same size. Above is a video on how I do it.
p.s. One thing I didn’t include in the video: For the half-pins on both edges of the board, I typically use a tiny pair of dividers; that way it’s easy to tell the two sets apart.
24 thoughts on “Dovetail Layout with Dividers”
By watching some of your old videos…you are the one who showed me how to make them! Cheers !
I can’t even remember how I used to layout dovetails, but it was a lot more complex. This is how I do it now, and it’s very easy.
The tip for different size dividers is a great one. I also use up to three different marking gauges, so I don’t grab the wrong one. I have a Titemark long, regular and mini. It keeps mistakes to a minimum.
I have as yet laid out and cut but few dovetails, but for those happy few, this has indeed been my method of choice. However, next time I’m planning on giving the rule-and-width-of-chisel method (as recommended by i.a. Christian Becksvoort and Robert Wearing) a go instead … after which, we’ll see what verdict the jury’ll bring!
PS. Many thanks again, Megan, for JoJo’s and your appearance on Bench.Talk.101 last night.
Since screwing up a drawer side, I’ll do four in front, three in back. Always one less in the back.
I’ve confessed to laying out dovetails in Adobe Illustrator and promise to watch the video in case the power goes out.
I have to boast about my dovetail dream lesson. Ten years ago, I took a 850 mile drive to Lie-Nielsen and had an impromptu, two hour, free lesson from Deneb Puchalski. He recommended cutting one set of dovetails a day for a month. It was so kind and unexpected, I felt obliged to buy a dovetail saw, rabbet block plane, fishtail chisel and their dovetail template. By the tenth day of sawing and chopping, i had it down. What luck! That lesson gave me the confidence to build the Anarchist’s Tool Chest and every project since.
Deneb is the real deal. And super helpful.
I cut my first dovetails in over a year last month and I couldn’t remember this and couldn’t remember where to reference the process. It did finally come back to me, but man, I could have really used this video last month. Thank you for the reference! Hopefully it’s not another year until my next dovetails.
I have to say dovetails scared me, Till I built my ATC. Now I just have to remember how to start the lay out. It is nice to have you on blog so I can fine it quick.
Great video. The one that Chris did a few years back was mind-blowing to me when I watched it. I probably had to watch it 4-5 times to fully understand but it was an absolute gamechanger to my old method of trying to measure things out and divide, layout the lines, realize that looked weird and having to redo my math a few times etc.
Excellent educational video. Concise demonstration, the framing, lighting and sound was perfect. Well done!
Would have been a lot easier to use a sector, no? Other than needing to have a sector tool. I started using gauge blocks to measure the size of the board, then with those pins set the sector, then I can grab even multiples. I just found otherwise it’s too much guesswork for me.
Well, no, not for me. I prefer the divider method because it’s easily adjustable, based on your eye/mood. It doesn’t rely on specific measurements. The “guesswork” that you mention is part of the beauty in the end results – for me.
Dovetails, The most overrated joint and skill in woodworking.
You wound me.
Fitz, I did not mean to hurt. Sorry. I respect your skills immensely and everything that goes on at Lost Art Press.
I was just teasing, but thank you!
You besmirch the sacrifice of all those doves.
Since I saw St Roy demonstrate this I have switched to the same method (minus half tail divider) and adjust until I am happy with the look of the last width then step from both sides. Thank you dead person that came up with this eons ago.
Thanks for such a easy to follow video
Learned that from a geezer when I was a pup. Really simple once you’ve done it enough to internalize it. Good, clear explanation.
There is a lot to like in this vid Megan. love 1:6 dovetails
jmo but 1:7 1:8 just look too straight. plenty will tell me, no 1:8 is for hardwoods
dividers look lovely too, your lucky to get access to these tools
we have to wait here in the uk
waiting patiently on a sliding bevel, they’ll come someday
oh btw your talk with JoJo was ace, loved it.
I got impatient tweaking dividers back and forth until I got the look that I wanted, so I hacked together a little tool: https://chickenfish.de/dovecalc-demo.html. It does not show units, but as long as you interpret all lengths the same way, that makes it work in whatever unit of length floats your boat.
Input the dimensions of your boards, your tail count, and the size of your half pins. Then, set the size of either tails or pins to get the other size and dividers setting.
FWIW, the “Traditional German layout” checkbox switches to a layout method that is commonly taught here in Germany (or so I’m told). The method does not use dividers (and tends to yield really funky dividers settings) and I don’t much like the look of it, but I decided to include it anyway. It might be what Megan is referring to as a “continental look”.
I use this method when the joint is visible. When they won’t be seen I use a dead simple method demonstrated long ago. Lay your hand on the tail board and spread your fingers roughly equidistant across the board. Mark lines next to your fingers and Xs between them. Done except for the sawing. 🙂
I’m a pup in works completed, so this is obvious for accomplished dovetailers, But for the divider method I can’t remember if anyone has said you can choose your chisel width by knowing the slope of the tail you’ll cut and relating the distance of the overstep creating the width of the top of the pin of the board and the depth and width of the tail cut giving you chisel width.
This may sound silly, but any recommendations on a quality set of tiny dividers per the P.S.? I thought that was a good tip and assumed I’d find one easily enough without breaking the bank. While I’ve seen a number available in the 3″ range, a quick scan of their reviews is not at all encouraging. Even forgoing “inexpensive”… Starrett 277-3 have common complaints of uneven legs that aren’t hardened enough to prevent flex or fouled tips.
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