This article is about cutting through dovetails, specifically how to cut the pins. Dovetails were especially valuable to our ancestors because glue was often not used in furniture – joinery techniques, such as dovetails and pinned mortise and tenon, were relied upon, rather than glue. Making good dovetails is a matter of practice – you’ll get better and better as you make more. Dovetails don’t need clamping but housings do, so make sure you have enough clamps ready to go.
I’ve seen six to more than 10 test joints done before tackling the first dovetailing project, and sometimes early joints done in a project re-done because by the time the woodworker has complete the third or fourth drawer the first drawer’s corners are no longer good enough. The time saving aspect of a dovetail jig really only comes into play when you are dealing with multiple drawers. After sawing, the drawer side is placed flat upon the bench, one end in contact with the bench to prevent the drawer side from slipping away; a chisel (preferably bevelled edged) of suitable width is now taken and a small channel is cut as at A, Fig.
I take wood working seriousley and it took me a while to learn how to cut doveltails by hand and i am still trying to improve they are considerably better but need a little work. With practice I would guess that it should take less than ½ hour to cut a proper dovetail. Keith’s Note: Well in a sense there is really one general principle for how dovetails are designed.
I was able to make a three-pin dovetail joint in relatively little time, proving it is well within my abilities. But one thing I’ve always noticed is that in videos when people cut dovetails they tend to use soft woods. But it seems to me you could reverse the process of cutting the dovetail and make a filler piece of steel, or a nice piece of nickle silver, maybe a cutout from a large piece of silverware handle. Cutting dovetails by hand gives you the broadest range of artistic design, although for me, I find it faster to cut them with a jig. So you mark the line as sharply as possible, then cut up to, but not over the line.
On one Hawken, I found out about dovetails by trying to put an Hawken front sight in the Italian dovetail. For aesthetic reasons, you may want to keep the spacing between tails to a minimum because machine cut dovetails on the best commercially available dovetail jigs can’t cut much below a 6mm gap between tails, translating into a fairly wide minimum pin width.
Then, use your dovetail gauge or sliding bevel to mark out the pin spacing on the end of the board. Cutting gauges do have a big advantage though because they can actually cut through things like veneer or thin stock lumber. The inclination of the lines across the end of the wood should not be too great, or the joint will be a weak one, and the edges of the dovetails will be liable to crumble away when the work is knocked together. An alternative method of dovetailing is that of cutting the dovetails first, as shown at Fig.
In this two day class we’ll introduce you to the techniques and sequences of steps to cut dovetails by hand using a hand saw and chisels. It’s a challenging and time consuming process, but it’s also rewarding and there is no greater sense of pride than showing off dovetails you cut by your own hand. These days there’s no practical reason to do dovetails (unless you’re hand tools only), it’s just the tradition and the looks.
But even a simple small block of hardwood somehow clamped onto the work piece will help big deal doing a perfect perpendicular cut along a defined line. So I am sure its clear as mud now, but its hard for me to say for sure what you should do until you get some practice and see how much you like cutting them by hand. The tails are cut on the band saw using a foolishly simple angled spacer that takes about three minutes to make. Not only could they be placed without a square, since the fence was a continuation of the angle I could easily see where the guided cut would end which takes out a lot of guesswork and layout time.
Putting your pencil in the dimples made by the dividers then sliding the gage against it will ensure your lines are marked exactly as you layed them out. I’m pretty good with hand tools and I think I’d feel better about it if I could have accurate layout lines to work to instead of relying on a bandsaw jig. I would imagine I could upgrade to a nicer saw if my career in dovetail making makes it past one box. Mark the waste sections with Xs. You can get all your marks set with the pins, then cut the pins and use them to mark the tails.
Here I share some of the techniques I use and teach at my workshop, but before over-indulging in your new-found skills do question if you are designing the piece around dovetails and how appropriate they are to your design. For some lower cost dovetail saws, you will want to remove the tooth set and re-sharpen before using the saw to cut dovetails (this is not an essential to early practice, but does ease the cutting in hardwoods…and it can sometimes be done with just a gentle touch of a diamond hone on the sides of the teeth). You want the sight to go in with just enough resistance so that a light tap with a brass punch will move it back and forth.
My take on the dovetailed drawer issue is that the point is to use dovetail joints in your drawers because they are without a doubt the joint that will stand the test of time. I now have this benchmark to which I will always be able to compare my successive projects (oh yes, I will be keeping this test dovetail joint forever). If you’ve ever tried to drill a straight hole with a hand drill you know how hard it can be. After screwing up drilling a hole three times in a row I decided to try to find a solution to the problem.
On the end grain mark with your dividers the half pins in from each end, then, as a starting point, decide how many tails you want and set your dividers to approximately the width of the tail and one pin. Pack this up on the workbench to allow downward pressure to be exerted with one hand, while your free hand scores a line with a craft knife along the tail sides. Rather than useing a singel hack saw blade to make the cut outs, I taped several together. I think the largest number of self-directed practice dovetails I’ve seen was nearly 30, done in a variety of woods (see point on this at bottom) to get as broad a range of experience as possible.
It takes roughly 15 to 45 minutes of total practice to learn to hand cut through dovetails, with each pattern (half-blind, etc.) adding another 15 minutes after the through dovetails are mastered. If you lay them out precisely, and cut them precisely, then they are going to look precise. Rob is the host of a series of woodworking videos and travels extensively conducting hand tool workshops.
A variation of this type of dovetail is frequently used to joint internal uprights to the horizontal shelves of writing desks, cabinets, and bookcases, etc. Keeping in mind that I am one of those who does not think hand cut dovetail drawers in kitchen cabinets are a good idea. While that’s a very good video for cutting furniture dovetails, it has no relevance for cutting mandolin neck compound dovetail joints. Dovetails teach you the basics of layout and markup, using a handsaw and using a chisel to pare and chop. Now that the dovetail is marked out you need to make two cuts inside the lined you just marked.
Now hold the chisel in a vertical position, and with a mallet strike it so as to make a cut about 1⁄8 in. deep. I take a piece of scrap and cut it on the bandsaw so that it only contacts the board where I want pressure. First, you want to do one half of the joint, do not touch the other piece of wood yet. If you’re ready to take your hand tool skills to a new level and immerse yourself in a challenging and meditative woodworking experience, this class is for you. In this class you will learn how to cut three types of dovetails with accuracy and confidence. When I’m doing this for real, my free hand is applying downward pressure on the maple to prevent it from slipping during the marking.
Learn it so I could do it in my sleep, and then dovetail every piece of wood in the house. Advance your craft and learn how to make dovetail joints that are both functional and beautiful dovetail joints. I pride myself on meticulous making, whether it is dovetails or any other aspect of furniture making. Most factory sights are WAY too tight in the dovetail as they are pushed into place with a hydraulic ram.