How to Make a Dovetail Template

Note: This guide will show you how to make the handy, reusable template which will help in dovetail layout to save time and ensure accuracy. Once you have made one, test it out by using our free Dovetail Course.

For this, you will need:

Make sure all your faces have been trued, to see how to do this, click here.

1. Mark 1 ½” (38mm) from each end on the Face Mark face, square one of these lines all the way around, square the other across the Face Edge edge only.

2. Use the sliding bevel on a scrap of wood to get the dovetail angle, which is a ratio of 1:7 (to see how to do this, visit the ‘find the angles’ step in our dovetail course, click here. You will need a free membership to view this).

Line up the sliding bevel with your original pencil mark on the Face Mark, transfer this angle onto one of the large faces on your piece of wood. Flip the sliding bevel over and mark this out on the opposite face too. Join up these lines by squaring across the other side.

Note: If this doesn’t line up, your angles may be going in opposite directions, so correct that.

3. Mark out the cheek cut lines on the edge of your dovetail template using one of the two methods below:

Method one:

Set up your router plane blade to a depth of about ¼” (5mm), this enables you to use the sole up against your stock and the corner of the blade acts like a marking gauge. Using the router in this way creates a cutting edge, deeper than the gauge would. Go over the router line with a knife, this makes the lines even more definitive. Use the router to mark out the cheek cut lines, you don’t need to mark this out in pencil first as they will all be the same depth.

Note: For safety, Paul suggests anchoring your wood in the vise when using the router plane.

Method two:

If you don’t have a router plane you can use a gauge. Set the gauge to the thickness of the cheek, we suggest about ¼” (5mm) deep, and run this down each face and along the end grain to mark out your saw cut lines.

Go over the lines across the grain with a knife.

4. Create a step down using a chisel on the waste side of the line (see picture for detail), then use a dovetail saw to cut across the grain. Be sure not to go past your depth line, insert the saw into the step down and alongside the knifewall to help guide your saw. If needed, use a support piece to stop any fibres breaking off.

5. Turn your wood long ways and cut along the grain using a tenon saw, cut on the waste side of your knifewall. Cut along the end grain first, then drop your hand so you are cutting through the corner. When you have cut about half way, flip the wood around and cut in from the other corner.

Note: As you get closer to your shoulder line cross cut, squeeze the waste cheek piece of wood to the saw plate during the final cuts to keep your saw on track and registered to the face being cut.

6. Once you have cut the waste off, hold your wood in the vice horizontally. Use a chisel to pare cut and tidy up the shoulders, be sure not to pare cut too much as you don’t want to change the angle.

7. Use the knife to run along each of the cut edges to sever the internal corner fibres

8. Use a card scraper to remove any undulations in the sawn surfaces

9. Use a file to remove the harsh edges which also helps strengthen the corners.

Your dovetail template is ready to use.

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  1. Quick question. I plan on making this soon to do the dovetail course. Is this the only angle/ratio we will really need? I have seen for sale various ratios, 1:6, 1:7, 1:8 some say one is for hardwood one for softwood etc. Is that just marketing? Or is it that I will just need this one until I get more advanced. Reason I ask is it looks like it would make sense to make the 2 or 3 at the same time while everything is out.


    1. Hi Steve,

      Paul says:
      Yes i think it is marketing these days, but in times past the variance between a 1:6 and a 1:8 was necessary because wood was air dried and inconsistent in levels of moisture content. The steeper aspect of the 1:6 was for soft woods. Generally today we compromise and use the 1:7 for everything as we generally use kiln dried woods. A 1:7 is all I have used throughout my work and I have never had an issue.

      Kind Regards,

  2. Many thanks Paul for showing step by step plans. I have long wanted to make dovetail jig right from the first time I saw it demonstrated in the USA. I will make a jig before doing the course.
    Many thanks again.
    Mike from Staffordshire.

  3. Paul, would you comment on the last step of breaking the edges of the template with a file: Doesn’t this introduce a gap between the edge of the template and the workpiece? Does this gap allow opportunity for error in marking? Or, am I overthinking it?

    In the same spirit of overthinking, this page describes using a card scraper on the cheek face, other descriptions of yours describe using a chisel. What, if any, are tradeoffs in choosing/using the two different methods? As always, many more thanks than I can say.

    1. Hi,

      Paul says:
      Not really, if you don’t do it it’s going to break anyway. It can be so shallow as not to cause a problem but I’ve used the same template for 50 years and never had a problem.

      I find I have more control with the scraper and it does even out any surface texture.

      Kind Regards,

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