Hand Tools doings #4: Second try at hand cut dovetails --- picture heavy

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Blog entry by Betsy posted 03-09-2008 11:58 PM 2474 reads 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: My first dovetails - warning - kind of ugly Part 4 of Hand Tools doings series Part 5: Third try - hand cut dovetails ---- Sooooo much better »

OK – I failed my first attempt. This attempt at least is closer although the end product does not fit. But I’m getting the idea. So I took lots of pictures to show what I did in steps. I did switch to using popular instead of the red oak. That was a good thing. I definitely need to be more accurate cutting and my paring skills lack quite a lot. But here goes.

First is getting the orientation of your piece. This is important if you are doing a drawer and need the sides to fit!


First half pin – cut with the saw horizontal and going at an angle to the left.

First cut half pin

Second half pin – cut with saw horizontal and going at an angle to the right.

second cut half pin

Both half pins from the top.

half pins from the top

Cutting progress

cutting progress

All the cuts from the front and top.

frist round of cuts side

first round of cuts

Chopping out the tails

chopping out the tails

Tails are cut away – leaving the pins.

pins chopped out

Pins from the top.

pins from the top

Placed the pins on the corresponding board to mark the tails to be cut.

marking the tails

Tails are marked out.

tails penciled in

Ready to cut out the pins.

pins marked for chopping

Half pin cut off.

half pins cut off

Tails from the top.

tail cuts

Tails chopped out. Needs a little clean up (ok a lot).

tails after chopping

The first fitting—- really off. But the concept is there.

doesn't fit

After some paring – still needs lots of work. But I’m tired and my chisels need sharpening. That’s something I’m very much still working on.

after a little partin

Well – still no where near even respectable but I had some fun in the shop and practice makes perfect. But I’m done for the day.

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

10 comments so far

View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 3791 days

#1 posted 03-10-2008 12:22 AM

getting better. i love this progression. i can’t wait until the next one. i know that you’ll get it soon.

View HybridIndie's profile


8 posts in 4002 days

#2 posted 03-10-2008 12:35 AM

I’ve been doing things like this for months – I head to my shop in the afternoon and pull the chisels, Dozuki and some scrap wood, cut a set of dovetails and then move on to things that help pay my bills. I’m a firm believer in craftsmanship and won’t allow myself to do anything requiring power before I can do it by hand first. You should have seen my first dados =D but practice truly makes perfect, keep it up

-- Such a Beautiful Place When You See It From Space

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 4011 days

#3 posted 03-10-2008 12:53 AM

Looks pretty good Betsy! You’ll be an ol’ pro in no time.

Other than the angles being a little too steep it looks great. I think the angle should be between 7 and 14 degrees depending on if you are using soft or hard wood. I’d have to look it up to be sure.

Keep at it!

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

View Mike Lingenfelter's profile

Mike Lingenfelter

503 posts in 4137 days

#4 posted 03-10-2008 01:09 AM

There is always the question, Pins or Tails first. I’m a Tails first guy. If you cut the Tails first you only have to concentrate on the perpendicular cut across the end grain. If your angle cut down the sides of the tail is off a little, it’s no big deal. If you cut the Pins first you have two “perfect” cuts you have to make on the Tails. The perpendicular across the end grain and the angle cut that was transferred from the pins. I think Tails first is easier for beginners. I know I’m going to get an earful from the Pins first crowd. I recommend trying it both ways and find out if one way works better for you.

View Mark Mazzo's profile

Mark Mazzo

352 posts in 3935 days

#5 posted 03-10-2008 02:10 AM

OK Betsy – you are getting there. Here are some points to consider:

As Gary stated, the angle on the tails is a bit too steep usually it is 1:6 for softwood and 1:8 for hardwood. That means for 1:8 every increment over goes up 8 increments (inches, millimeters, feet – it does not matter) I usually just make two ticks on the edge of my bench with a pencil an inch apart and then measure 8 inches up from one and set the bevel gage to that angle.

The pins still could use to be smaller and that would improve the looks when completed but, this is a detail that you can work on after you’ve got the technique down.

As Mike pointed out (I did as well in my response to your post on the previous attempt) cutting the tails first can be a little easier because the remaining pin cuts are a bit less fussy.

The biggest issue that I see with what you are doing is that your tail cuts are at a compound angle and they do not need to be (this is why they do not fit). The tails should be cut perpendicular across the end of the board and at the angle that you’ve marked out from the pins. So, in the pins first scenario as you’ve done, after you’ve marked the tails simply get your square and square each tail line across the end of the board and then cut the tails.

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

View lew's profile


12100 posts in 3778 days

#6 posted 03-10-2008 02:42 AM


I don’t think there is anything more satisfying than accomplishing hand cut dovetails. Here are two sites I find helpful. I am also learning to cut them and the advice everyone has given is rite on.

Hope this helps,


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3919 days

#7 posted 03-10-2008 03:20 AM

Wow, I really appreciate your help. I just posted my next try and they look better!

Mark – it was the compound angle that got me going—- I did not realize I was doing that.

Lew – I’ll check out those sites. Thanks for posting them.

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

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3845 days

#8 posted 03-10-2008 04:06 AM


You really are making progress. These are looking better and better. At this rate you may not need to go to your class at Kelly Mehler’s this summer.

Keep working at it you have a lot of support here. We all are wishing you success.

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

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3919 days

#9 posted 03-10-2008 04:44 AM

Thanks Scott. But I think I’ll still go to school – especially since its paid for!

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

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4322 days

#10 posted 03-10-2008 04:38 PM

I think it would be easier for you, if shrunk the angle to a bout 7 degrees.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

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