I can make dovetails!

Just added dovetails to my repertoire. Took some 3" wide stock, laid out two large half tails on one piece and a large pin on the other. Using the miter gauge, a makeshift fence and the exact-i-cut disk on my table saw, I removed most of the material and cleaned up the rest with a chisel and back saw. I wasn't too careful so it's kinda chipped and ragged on the edges but fits together snugly.
Now I much better understand the article in Pop Woodworking's table saw magazine on a dovetail jig.
I'll have to practice a lot more, though, before I attempt to make drawers with dovetails.
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Hi Chuck,
Congrats! Although I have done machined dovetails using a jig/router, I have never done hand cut ones.
I think if I practiced for a few hours, it might give me some confidence.
If you have never seen the Frank Klausz video on "dovetailing a drawer", it is worth the investment (Fine Woodworking Website). It is amazing to see him construct several handcut dovetailed drawers that he fits into a custom desk from scratch in a little over a half hour. Amazes me every time I watch it.
Lou

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loutent wrote:

Amen to the Frank Klausz video recomendation. He covers a lot of ground on that tape and after watching it you want to head to the shop and try what you just saw.
DON'T!
What you think you learned and what you actually remember when you get to doing it will be miles apart. As I said, he covers a lot of ground, there are lots of details and the order of operation is critical to success, or at least passable dovetails. There are a boatload of ways of screwing up a dove- tailed drawer. Your first experience at hand- cutting dovetails can be an exercise in frustration if you missed or misunderstood any of what's shown on the tape. Failure can be discouraging and could turn you off to doing a very useful joint.
I did a bunch of notes to myself after watching the tape. Followed the notes, watched the tape again, revised the notes, followed the notes, watched the tape, revised the notes ...
The current revised "notes" may save you some frustration. Download, print and, with pencil in hand, watch the tape and make your own revisions to the notes. THEN go try handcut dovetails.
If you find holes in the "notes" PLEASE let me know and I'll try and fill in the gap(s) on the pages. http://home.comcast.net/~charliebcz/DovetailDrawer0.html
Hope this helps.
charlie b
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I'm definitely still in the practice mode. But I've sufficiently refined my first crude attempts so that I can start making dovetails on household projects and I intend to do that on the revised design of my under-hearth drawer unit.
That said, I must point out that when first-graders begin to learn penmanship, they start by making very large letters that span two or more lines on a tablet. Over time their technique improves so that by the third grade they are writing within a single line.
My first attempt was on 6" wide stock. I laid out two half tails, each 2" wide, and a pin that was 2" wide. The taper I chose was 15 degrees. I cut the half tails first, nibbling away most of the material on the table saw and finishing with a handsaw, chisel and 4-in-1 rasp. I used the tails as the template to lay out the pin.
Eventually I'll start making smaller tails and pins. When I do, I'll have to change my approach, likely taking a closer look at Pop Woodworking's dovetail jig for the tablesaw. But I will likely never hand-cut dovetails. My hand tool technique sucks.

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It may seem counterintuitive, but you may want to practice on smaller, narrower, thinner stock. Errors don't show up as quickly. Layout and cutting angles aren't as critical over small distances. Pieces are lighter weight, clamp easily and tend to slide less. Wood doesn't move as far. Grain tends to be more consistent over smaller distances.
And when you're done, you may have a small box to put stuff in.
Use light colored wood, so you can see your layout lines. Don't start with maple. DAMHIKT.
And try it with hand tools, at least once. Then jig away!
Patriarch
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Funny you should mention that Franz Klausz tape. I loaned mine to a deacon at my church years ago and only got it back last week after asking his wife to get it for me. Polonius was right: Neither a borrower nor a lender be.
Dick Durbin
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I always imagined that box joints were easier to make than dovetails and I avoided them for that reason. How wrong I was!
I went thru the exercise of making two box joint jigs (got the first one wrong) and then actually made some drawers using box joints. The drawers were square and seemed fairly strong but looked like they'd been made by an amateur with toy tools.
Then yesterday I laid out and cut some dovetails ESSENTIALLY FREEHAND (with the aid of my miter gauge, a makeshift fence and the exact-i-cut disk) on my tablesaw.
I made a second practice set of dovetails today -- again largely freehand -- they came out infinitely better than my first attempt...and look better than my box joints!
I can now say that dovetails are easier, faster and fit better than box joints. From a structural perspective, it seems like they'd be much stronger, too.

the
back
but
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Chuck Hoffman wrote:

What kind of box joints are you making?

I have never understood the infatuation with dovetails. Yeah they may look nice but having grown up in a family that favors antiques, I can attest to their structural inferiority. Not one dresser, desk, etc. has a majority of solid dovetails; shrinkage, movement & broken off tails on most have required repair. The other joints are all standing the test of time quite well thank you.
You want a jewelry box or other knick knack to look nice then go ahead. You want that dresser/desk/etc to last long enough to actually be an heirloom I'd avoid them like the plague.
Having said that it may be that dovetails cut with modern jigs may live up to the hype.
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may
has
on
test
Just for clarification, what are "all the other joints" that are withstanding the test of time?
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Kevin wrote:

I am really curious about this, as you are the first person I've ever seen make this claim. My experience has been quite different. On all the older furniture I have seen, the dovetails appear to have held up just fine. In fact, many times they have held up when it's obvious that there is no glue bond to help. And if one tail fails, that doesn't make the whole drawer useless.
As far as wood shrinkage and movement go, I would guess that's a matter of either what sort of wood was used in the first place (and was it green or not), or how the piece has been treated since.
Frankly, I would think that the prevalence of these joints in older furniture would say quite a bit about their structural *superiority*. Do you honestly believe that cabinetmakers would continue using the same joint if they knew it was inferior?
So what joints have you seen in antique furniture that outperform dovetails? (Assuming we are talking about drawers here; I know mortise and tenon joints for frames are as solid as it gets.)
And what joint would you substitute for a dovetail when contructing drawers?

I don't see how a jig is going to make any difference in structural integrity. If you want dovetails that are like those cut with a jig, you just lay them out with equal spacing. No big deal.
Chuck Vance
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I often use dovetails because I can. :-)
For duffers like myself, Rob Cosman's video's (Rough to Ready and Hand Cut Dovetails) are quite valuable.
In case your interested, I attended the conference in Williamsburg concerning making 18th century furniture. We met the Headley brothers (Mack and Jeff).
Chuck, you probably would have enjoyed the conference. They demonstrated a lot of skills you already possess, but they were inspirational. One thing they demonstrated that blew me away was making fret work with chisels and gouges. They also used a coping saw on other pieces. They showed both techniques.
OBTW, their drawers were all dovetailed. The antique's they displayed (up close and personal - not in the museum) were 18th and 19th century pieces. They all used dovetails and I never saw any failures.
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Lowell Holmes wrote:

And the corollary to that:
Why do you cut them with such narrow pins?
Because I can. :-)

I've heard nothing but good things about Rob and his demos. I exoect I'd enjoy the video as well.

Damn, Lowell ... you go to all the good woodworking places. I'm envious. :-)

Please tell me more about the fretwork with chisels and gouges. I've been thinking about doing some carving projects that would be enhanced by judicious bits of fretwork.

But do just they do them because they can? ;-)
Chuck Vance
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The chisel and gouge technique consists of laying out a geometric pattern on the wood that has been prepared (for square and thickness). The pattern is laid out using dividers to locate points and to scribe the pattern on the wood. The piercing is done using chisels and gouges. The gouges are matched to the arcs in the pattern. The edges are smoothed with small files after the piercing is done.
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Conan the Librarian wrote:

I'm in your camp. Dovetails seem, to me, to be nearly indestructible. I've got a lot of second hand stuff that isn't quite old enough to be "antique," but is nevertheless well worn.
It has been my experience that DTs will last forever if you take care to re-glue them if they work loose. The joints I've seen fail to the extent described by the OP were in a situation where the glue had worked loose, and the parts were used a great deal with nothing but the mechanical engagement of the pins and tails to keep the drawer together. After many years of that abuse, they eventually failed.
Even in that raggedy, ill-treated state, a very lame glue and clamp job of the mangled joint was sufficient to keep it working for another who knows how many years. I'd guess maybe that drawer has been going another 10 years since I just slapped some glue on what was left of it and clamped it for a few hours. I didn't even bother to clean off the old glue. It was intended to be a temporary fix, but it has lasted for a long time.
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Silvan wrote:

That's what I'm guessing the OP was seeing as well. Well-fitted, glued dovetails effectively resist all the normal stresses that a drawer will be subjected to.

Sounds like my experiences as well.
FWIW, I made a jewelry box for SWMBO out of cocobolo, and once I fit the joints I didn't even bother trying to take it apart to glue it. It's held up perfectly well ever since. And then there's the first time I cut dt's in maple. I was making a carcase for some tool storage, and when I test fit the thing, the joints were so tight that I wound up leaving them without glue as well.
Obviously, these aren't subjected to the same sorts of stresses as drawers, but I think they say a lot about the structural integrity of the dovetail joint.
Chuck Vance
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On Wed, 26 Jan 2005 12:12:34 -0600, Conan the Librarian

if you do want to glue them at that point, a drop of CA on the surface will pull in via capillary action.
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Conan the Librarian wrote:

Dunno, maybe we just got a bunch of Monday morning jobs. And of the dovetails that are not loose, many appear to have been re-glued (dis-similar glue to other joints in same piece), or massively glued in the first place, which shouldn't be needed if the dovetail is so good, right?
Preferable joints, at least in my mind: doweled (only ever had to fix one of them and that was because the wood broke, not the joint); dado with angled brads & glue; glued & screwed; biscuits. In other words, pretty much anything but dovetails.
Only advantage I'll cede them is aesthetic. Analogous to Harley-Davidson vs. Ducati/Suzuki/Bimota/Triumph/etc.
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What I like about woodworking is that if you don't like dovetails (or just can't do them), make your drawers with screws and glue, or what ever. If you like dovetails, then use dovetails. None of the posts in this thread is going to change anyone's mind. :-)
Just curious, do you like mortise and tenon joints?
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Lowell Holmes wrote:

Agreed.
Yes. Although careful consideration needs to be given to grain characteristics if it is a thru tenon. Some look better than others.
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Kevin wrote:

Absolutely. In fact, if you read my previous post, you might have seen that I mentioned a couple of instances where I didn't even put *any* glue in dovetails and had them hold up just fine, thanks.

OK, it's obvious that no one is going to change your mind, and that's fine. But that doesn't change the fact that there are centuries of woodworkers/craftsmen that have used dovetails for a reason. And those people made their living making things. I seriously doubt that they were doing them "just for show".
Chuck Vance
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