It seems like everybody these days has his or her own favorite dovetail marking device, and naturally, I have mine. They all work fine, but the selection can be daunting if you’re shopping around for one. So why not make your own instead?
Here is my dovetail marker, which is a copy of one I saw Paul Sellers using at Homestead Heritage:
The design is simple and compact, and fits neatly into a toolbox drawer. The marker is made from a small block of hardwood, approximately 1″ wide, 3/4″ thick, and 3″ long. One side has something like a tenon cut into it, but with angled shoulders. The shoulder angle determines the angle of the dovetail. The other side has shoulders square to the edges, for marking a square line across the board. That way, you don’t need both an angled marker and a square while laying out the joints.
Here’s how they work:
My regular dovetail marker is made from mesquite, though any seasoned hardwood will do nicely. The faces and edges must be squared up precisely. However, I didn’t bother measuring the angle. I just played around with different angles on my sliding T-bevel until I found an angle I liked.
I can’t improve on Paul’s instructions, linked above. As he shows, I laid out the whole thing with the T-bevel, a small square, a marking knife, and a mortise gauge. Then I sawed to my lines and did a bit of sanding afterwards. Only then did I bother to find out what angle I had used. I measured on graph paper, and guess what? I had eyeballed a near-perfect 1:5 slope.
Personally, I prefer the look of a bold dovetail. I’ve never subscribed to the low-angles-for-softwood-and-high-angles-for-hardwood theories, and I use one angle for everything. But you can make several markers in different slopes if you like. I made these for someone else:
These are each made to cut a different angle, indicated above. Those two in the middle look identical, don’t they? But they’re just a hair off from each other, and each one cuts a different slope. If you do end up making two or three in different angles, may I recommend using different woods, or otherwise marking them clearly? Similar angles can be hard to tell apart at a glance.
Making your own dovetail marker is a fun way to spend an hour in the shop, and you’ll have a tool you can use for years to come.