Hand Tools doings #5: Third try - hand cut dovetails ---- Sooooo much better

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Blog entry by Betsy posted 03-10-2008 03:19 AM 2648 reads 0 times favorited 16 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: Second try at hand cut dovetails --- picture heavy Part 5 of Hand Tools doings series Part 6: home made "vise" »

Well these are more like it. Still not very pretty, but better. I know I said I was done for the day, but when I read Mark’s comment about compound angles a light bulb went off. So I tried again. I also did tails first.

First a shot from the front.


Now a shot from the top – really not to pretty -


I think some of the mess will get better when I can actually sharpen my chisels. I also waxed my saw which really helped me in the muscle power realm.

Now I really am done for the day. I’ve been messing with dovetails all day and have not done any of the “get ready for work stuff”!

Thanks for all your help all.

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

16 comments so far

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3847 days

#1 posted 03-10-2008 04:08 AM

This is even better than the last post. You are an inspiration to all of us struggling to cut these joints.

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

View ben's profile


158 posts in 3896 days

#2 posted 03-10-2008 04:25 AM

Betsy, I have yet try what you’re doing, and I like the progress you’ve made, but more than anything I admire your willingness to try, try again. I am certain that you will conquer this joint.

Thanks for inspiring me.


View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 3900 days

#3 posted 03-10-2008 04:37 AM

You have amazing patience. Your practice will pay off. Hope you’re feeling better?!

-- Happy woodworking!

View lew's profile


12102 posts in 3781 days

#4 posted 03-10-2008 04:56 AM


Tremendous progress in such a short time! You are to be commended!

When I finished my first set of dovetails, I rather timidly showed them to a non-woodworker friend who collects antique blanket chests. I apologized for some of the rather sloppy fit on some of the joints. I figured the 18th and 19th century craftspersons all made perfectly fitting dovetail joints. He then asked me to carefully inspect the dovetails on the some of his blanket chests. Much to my surprise, many of the joints had small shims to close the imperfections in the gaps. He told me that this was not an uncommon practice. Seems some of the craftspersons were not as skilled as we are lead to believe.

That said, we all strive for perfection so keep practicing and the skills will come. A sharp chisel, a marking knife and a light touch will serve you well.


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

View Tom Adamski's profile

Tom Adamski

306 posts in 3796 days

#5 posted 03-10-2008 05:14 AM

It is like riding a bicycle… Once you get it, you get it. keep up the good work, you’re doing fine. If you would like some help with the layout, check out this link.


-- Anybody can become a woodworker, but only a Craftsman can hide his mistakes.

View Matt's profile


10 posts in 4148 days

#6 posted 03-10-2008 05:23 AM

try getting a DVD on the subject. There are TONS of them. I am was pretty good at them, and then I picked up a couple DVD’s on it and WOW….even better and faster as well.

Proper tools help, but it really is the person that makes the difference. Oh…and if i haven’t made any in awhile, I will practice on some scrap or make some shop related box to get back in practice.

Let us know how you do

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 4014 days

#7 posted 03-10-2008 06:03 AM

Getting better all the time – As the Beatles would say.

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

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 3900 days

#8 posted 03-10-2008 10:43 AM

Nobody cut perfect dovetails on the first attempt. It is a skill like any other, it must be learned through practice. One of the magazine editors (I think Chris Schwartz) wrote about cutting about ten a day for 30 days in his quest to learn it. Keep at it.

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3921 days

#9 posted 03-10-2008 03:19 PM

Thanks for all your comments guys. I appreciate the encouragement and the help!

I like the idea of shims to——always a way to get around things.

Tom – that site is awesome.

Matt – I have some of those videos. But nothing substitutes actually doing. Kind of makes it all make sense when you actually start cutting.

Blake – yes I am getting better. I’ve been twidling a bit in the “power shop” the last week or so. Not to much though. I’m worried about getting my chairs done for the charity auction that’s set for April 5. But I’m almost done – I have to do the footstools and table. But those are pretty quick and very easy projects. Long and short though I am feeling better. Thanks for thinking of me.

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

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4325 days

#10 posted 03-10-2008 04:33 PM

Just keep on practicing, & it’ll gradually come to you.

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

View Mark Mazzo's profile

Mark Mazzo

352 posts in 3938 days

#11 posted 03-10-2008 05:08 PM


Now we are getting someplace – these look much better! You have made great progress ins a short amount of time.

The thing that I see now is that the pins have some pieces missing. That could be a signal that you have dull chisels and pieces ar breaking off when chopping out the waste. But, I also think that you could benefit when sawing the pins to cut just to the waste side of the line. Remember that if you did tails first and then marked the pins with a pencil, you are marking adjacent to the tail and that material still needs to stay there (based on the thickness of the pencil line. There might be some light paring necessary to fit them but, you will substantially reduce the gaps.

Your next set is going to be great!

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

View Jon3's profile


497 posts in 4131 days

#12 posted 03-10-2008 06:55 PM

Keep it up. Definitely an acquired skill. (And one I know I haven’t acquired yet!)

View aaronmolloy's profile


123 posts in 3806 days

#13 posted 03-10-2008 10:20 PM

Horray you’ve nearly got them keep up the practice and you’ll get there

-- A. Molloy

View Woodshopfreak's profile


389 posts in 3768 days

#14 posted 03-10-2008 11:05 PM

Great progress. I know what you mean by dull chisles, I have to sharpen mine as well. Looking for a new set though. I only have a $5 dollar set right now that is okay but need a nice set.

-- Tyler, Illinois

View GMoney's profile


158 posts in 3829 days

#15 posted 03-11-2008 07:02 PM


you really need to find a way to sharpen those chisels. the difference in performance and the pleasure of working with a hand tool will be like night and day. what looks and feels like a struggle will be very different with a sharp tool. to tell you the truth the choices for sharpening are many and a lot of them work quite well. you’ll have to do some research for yourself to see what you are willing to do/learn and what you’re willing to spend. i use sanhpaper and glass along with a veritas honing guide. the set up cost was about $100 to get started. there are a couple of machines mentioned and reviewed here that apparently work quite well if you don’t want to spend a lot of time sharpening and or learning about sharpening. the machines will cost more, about two and three times as much, some cost more. veritas and worksharp are the two that come to mind.

one more time because i found it remarkable. working with a sharp tool is a totally different experience.

good luck and keep practicing,

-- Greg, CT

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