Before you reach for that dovetail saw there are a few tools that you should think about first. These can make laying out dovetails a whole lot easier in the construction of traditional style drawers. Let's take a look at some of them.
The very first step when building drawers once you have your stock all milled square, planed and ready to go is to determine where your drawer bottom will go. Instead of taking a pencil and drawing in a line I take my Small Plough Plane by VERITAS and actually cut a shallow groove into the bottom inside pieces I'm using.
This leaves no question as to where my drawer bottom goes and eliminates some room for error. Now that I have my drawer bottom marked in I can take my marking gauge and scribe in the material thickness'. This gets me a little closer to a perfect layout. I use the Tite-Mark Marking Gauge which is unique in having a micrometer adjustment system. Once I scribe the material thickness' I reach for my Skew Block Plane. I use the Lie-Nielson version which is derived from the Stanley 140 making this next step the famous "140 Trick" I set up the plane to take a shallow cut across the end of my pieces following the depth of the scribe line I had just made with my Marking Gauge. This only takes two or three light passes and establishes a tiny shoulder that will help in my lay-out to cutting perfect dovetails. Once this small shoulder is cut I get my dividers and lay out my dovetails on the drawer side pieces. Cris Gochnour recently wrote a great article in Fine Woodworking about this technique. Now once we finally have our dovetails laid out we can reach for our Dovetail Saw and start cutting. When it comes time to transfer our tails over to the pins that tiny shoulder we cut into the drawer sides will hold our front and back pieces right where we need them. No chance for mistakes by eyeing things down through the tails. So next time you want to make traditional style drawers and reach for a dovetail saw, first think about a few other tools that will make this process more enjoyable and achieve far better results.