Ladies and gentlemen,
As one of my first projects, I'm chopping dovetails by hand in white oak
to make a small Shaker-like bench . Of course, they are embarassingly f***ed
up and I probably wasted both time and wood in this endeavor. I'm wondering,
though, if even a moderately experienced woodworker would have trouble
chopping dovetails in 7/8 thick white oak.
What say you,
Oak, white or otherwise, is not the recommended wood to try one's hand at
hand cut dovetails. Most experts recommend mahagony or poplar to practice
with. A carving teacher I know says white oak is the hardest wood he has
ever tried to carve.
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Remove "no" to reply
Don't get discouraged Kevin. White oak is extremely hard to cut dovetails
in, and the 7/8 " thickness increases the difficulty. I practiced on poplar
a lot before I was able to make decent dovetails in hardwood. A few years
ago I threw a bunch of the poplar "test" dovetails in the woodstove and
rushed to get them in before anyone saw how bad they were!
I suggest that you practice on small boxes, of a softer wood, before you try
on a special piece in hardwood. The small box pieces are quicker to cut to
size so if you mess it up you don't already have hours invested. I also
practiced on thick dovetails before I graduated to trying joints with very
Good luck - Bob McBreen
White oak is tough to work with hand tools...many days I will walk back
into the house grumbling about having to sharpen the plane every five
minutes....I cut dovetails in a clock case made of ash and thought the
ash was too hard....I think white oak could be chopped in little
bites....maybe you could try sawing out most of the waste with a coping
saw and the paring back to the line....when I started reading about hand
cut dovetails, most all the books recomended mahogany, since it works so
You could make small thin wedges to fix the gaps in the dovetails...then
there is sawdust and glue...hope this helps....
My personal favorite for working with hand-tools is walnut. Of course, my
experience so far has been oak, maple, rosewood, and the walnut. The oak
likes splintering, it seems. The maple requires very sharp tools, and
frequent sharpenings. The rosewood wasn't bad, but I'm not a big fan of the
dust. And the walnut makes beautiful curly chocolate shavings with my
plane. I could just do that all afternoon, but when SWMBO asks me what I'm
making, I need a better answer than "Shavings!". :) She just doesn't
Of course, I haven't tried cutting dovetails in any of them. But I did just
hack some mortices in a walnut Christmas project I'm working on. 1/8" deep
by 3.5" by 1.5". All done by hand (no hammer, just a sharp chisel).
Not to step in on Kevin's post, but this is good stuff - I'm getting better
at making them - still not great. But what I'm trying to figure out is how
do you decide how may pins/tails?
I think I'm missing something very basic, but none of the sources I've found
tell you how to measure and decide how may pins/tails. Doing a Google
search, I found someone posted some complicated mathematical formula which
was way beyond my newbie brain.
Anyone have a simple method for deciding? Or is there some formula based on
the width and thickness of the wood?
Thanks for your help -
Initially keep it simple - two half pins, one on either end, two full
for a total equivalent of three pins and three tails
For heights of four inches or less put a ruler on one corner and
the other end until the 4 inch mark hits the other side. Mark "2" and
"3". Draw lines through these two points to both ends. These will be
the centerlines of the full pins. How wide the "inside" and the
of the pins is often a function of the chisels you'll use to remove
between the pins and later the tails, along with the type of wood
using. Hard woods can use a 1:8 ratio while soft woods may require a
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And remember, IDIOT (Inside of Drawer Is Outside of the Tree). Orient
the grain of all the boards this way and the doevtails will keep them
Hope this helps
English or American oak ? You guys have it easy - our oaks are even
I have no trouble cutting through dovetails in this sort of oak, but
then I can do much of it by sawing. Blinds are hard going though.
Doing the half-blind double dovetails for the frame of my last
workbench in 3"x4" oak was a hell of a job.
My trick is to use Japanese chisels, and to have duplicates of my
common sizes, to reduce sharpening downtime. The right size of hammer
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