Hand Tools doings #3: My first dovetails - warning - kind of ugly

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Blog entry by Betsy posted 03-09-2008 03:37 AM 2570 reads 0 times favorited 22 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: 2nd stab at hand cut box joint - a touch better Part 3 of Hand Tools doings series Part 4: Second try at hand cut dovetails --- picture heavy »

Well it’s taken several attempts but here is my first set of dovetails. I realize that it’s only two tails and one pin—- but a girl has to start somewhere.

The first pic is after the cutting. Not so good.


This second photo is after a little paring. Actually a little to much. But hey it fits. Sorta, kind of….


Frank Klaus has nothing to worry about with me. But I’ll catch him yet. Just wait and see. :-)

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

22 comments so far

View Paul D's profile

Paul D

2131 posts in 3773 days

#1 posted 03-09-2008 03:45 AM

I’ve never hand cut a dovetail but might just give it a try one of these days. I think you did fine for a first attempt and you definitely learned a few things now about hand cutting dovetails.

-- Paul D - Lawrenceville, Georgia

View Chris 's profile


1879 posts in 4016 days

#2 posted 03-09-2008 03:57 AM

You’ve gotten further than me… I have not yet tried hand cutting dovetails.

-- "Everything that is great and inspiring is created by the individual who labors in freedom" -- Albert Einstein

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3920 days

#3 posted 03-09-2008 04:03 AM

Paul and Chris – you should give it a try. It’s one of those things that when you finally are on the right path is pretty neat. And it’s not a bad way to spend an afternoon twiddling in the shop.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3846 days

#4 posted 03-09-2008 04:29 AM


I am glad to see that you are making progress. I have been working on these off and on (but mostly off) for the past two or three weeks (time flies when we are having fun) and I can honestly say yours are much better than mine. Maybe Gary was right when he said that with practice your technique will improve. It seems to be working for you.

Maybe I will go in and try another set tonight after finishing these posts.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Thuan's profile


203 posts in 3842 days

#5 posted 03-09-2008 04:49 AM


Unfortunately, your pins are up-side-down, you need it to lock into the tails, other than that, looks like a good start.

-- Thuan

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3920 days

#6 posted 03-09-2008 04:57 AM

Thuan——- YOU WIN!!!! This was a test of the emergency dovetail warning system. :-)

Knew something was wrong. Paring is not going to help that. Now all you other guys should not feel so bad.

I’m laughing at myself. Geez I thought I at least had the concept.

Thanks for being honest with me Thuan.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 3793 days

#7 posted 03-09-2008 04:58 AM

ya dovetails are really hard to cut. i often have trouble with them in all my attempts too. i guess that the only way to get better is practice. keep up the good work and keep us posted on your progress.

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3920 days

#8 posted 03-09-2008 05:05 AM

Wait – now I’m confused. Isn’t the pin supposed to be bigger on the bottom and smaller on top and the tail bigger on the top and smaller on the bottom?

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 4013 days

#9 posted 03-09-2008 05:31 AM

Thuan is correct. look here:

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3920 days

#10 posted 03-09-2008 05:52 AM

Thanks. Guess it’s back to the shop to try again.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View Lakey's profile


97 posts in 3797 days

#11 posted 03-09-2008 05:57 AM

Regardless of which way they are supposed to go, you did a darned good job on your first try – especially considering it looks like oak – oak is pretty hard and unforgiving when it comes to paring and the like. Try some in poplar, or cherry – you’ll be surprised at the difference.

-- "No Board Left Behind"

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3920 days

#12 posted 03-09-2008 06:28 AM

Thanks Lakey. I obviously missed out on a point to two. Trying to learn on m own is tough. I’m a visual, you show me, I can do it, type of learner. I’ll be glad when my vacation comes and I can get to my hand tools class in Kentucky. Maybe I will learn something to turn on the light bulb.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View Woodshopfreak's profile


389 posts in 3767 days

#13 posted 03-09-2008 07:47 AM

I had the same results. Part of the problem is I don’t have the right tools. I was useing a hack saw, and a dull chisle. lol. This is one skill I belive will be very hard to learn for me. I am not good with the hand cut dovetails. I always screw something up amd make it look terable. I am going to get some nicer chsles and that might change the results. Good luck. May post what my dovetail attempt looked like.

-- Tyler, Illinois

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 3808 days

#14 posted 03-09-2008 03:40 PM

Betsy, I think there are two rites of passage for every Dovetail Cutter: doing their first one, and posting pictures of it. So well done, you’ve passed through the gauntlet.

-- Eric at

View Mark Mazzo's profile

Mark Mazzo

352 posts in 3937 days

#15 posted 03-09-2008 03:44 PM


Just saw this. Bravo on your first set of dovetails – it’s the first step in trying that’s a doozie!

With that said, I believe that Thuan is correct. At first I could not tell whether I was looking at the pin or tail end of the board in the photos. The tail cuts across the thickness of the board should be straight across. Only the pins are angles across the thickness.

Without getting into any religious wars over which is right to cut first, I’m interested in what you cut first? I have done both and I seem to get better results when I do tails first (that’s also the way I first taught myself to do them). I think that it may be easier, visually to see the tails when you mark them on the board and then mark and cut the pins from them. However, there are other advantages & drawbacks to each method. I am just kind of a visual learner and when I can “see” the tails, I can visualize the joint.

I recently blogged about dovetailing the drawer onthe table I’m making. While it was not meant to be a complete tutorial, it might benefit you to see the basics of how I went about it.

One other thing. If you scale your pins (i.e. the space between the tails when you marke the tails out) to be smaller it will look much better and it will also scream hand cut because there are no router bits than can cut pins as small as those available by hand. Above all else, keep practicing and you will get better!

-- Mark, Webster New York, Visit my website at

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