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
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.
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.
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.
Hope this helps.
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
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.
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!
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Michael McIntyre ---- Silvan < email@example.com>
Linux fanatic, and certified Geek; registered Linux user #243621
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.
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,
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.
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?
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".
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