First Attempt at Hand Cutting Dovetails

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Blog entry by Brian024 posted 03-29-2011 07:08 PM 4711 reads 0 times favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I have never tried hand cutting dovetails before so I thought I would take a swing at it, I wasn’t going to film it at first but I figured, if I made a mistake you guys would get to see it. I did have a good time though, next step is half blinds.

12 comments so far

View AttainableApex's profile


347 posts in 2854 days

#1 posted 03-29-2011 08:08 PM

hahaha thats awesome for putting the pins the wrong way

-- Ben L

View HighRockWoodworking's profile


182 posts in 3001 days

#2 posted 03-29-2011 08:26 PM

Hey at least you got plenty of cutting practice and its great that you posted the video even with the mistake! Keep practicing!

-- Chris Adkins,

View ichbinpete's profile


110 posts in 2713 days

#3 posted 03-29-2011 09:10 PM

enjoyed the videos, thanks for posting!

-- It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.

View matt garcia's profile

matt garcia

1896 posts in 3693 days

#4 posted 03-30-2011 05:05 AM

See this is why I rely on mu trusty Leigh Dovetail jig!! Although yours came out better than mine on my first and only attempt at hand cut dovetails!!!

-- Matt Garcia Wannabe Period Furniture Maker, Houston TX

View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 2861 days

#5 posted 03-30-2011 05:12 AM

Very good Brian. I did enjoy watching those vids. A couple of pointers if you don’t mind. Get a marking knife. A razor blade works great. Support the chiseling of the waste. There is a reason you leave that ledge on the first side. Now I noticed you had the wood grain marked with red. Was there a reason?
I do think that was a great first attempt. Mine looked like a woodchuck had a hay day on a pine board.
Here are some other first time attempts of other lj’s
Great job. Know your tools and practice;)

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View kenn's profile


810 posts in 3741 days

#6 posted 03-30-2011 06:28 AM

Practice, practice, practice and you’ll get better. I still have my first attempts above the door in my shop. When you get discouraged, look at how far you’ve come since your first dovetails and you’ll realize that your skills are growing. It won’t be long before your doing a project just because it has dovetails. Good luck!

-- Every cloud has a silver lining

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3019 days

#7 posted 03-30-2011 06:40 AM

Enjoyed the video.


You are too low when sawing. It will be easier if you are a few inches higher or if you clamp it lower in the table. Also, work on making long smooth strokes. There are times you are pushing the saw down too much. Ideally, just the weight of the saw is enough downward pressure (but you can help it a just a tiny bit.) Nick out a little V with a knife or chisel next to where you want to start the saw and it gives you a start instead of it hopping around at the start of the cut. I personally prefer to start on the back side to hurry and get it past where it will chip out but both ways work and there are good arguments for both.

Don’t get used to marking over and over with the marking gauge. Get used to making it in one smooth swipe. Going over and over it will make the line wander and hard to find. You can also use the other piece of stock to mark off the depth of the tails but that only works with small pieces.

Some people put a large block over the line to guide the chisel vertically. Not that critical one way or the other but it can be handy. Nothing wrong with chipping out slowly but you can save time by just chopping out by the line and working back a little like chopping a mortise instead of paring out all the waste. I personally like to saw out most of the waste

Do get a knife for marking out. It makes life easier. You can then touch the line with a pencil to make it stand out.

The layout mistake: Yep, been there, done that. Will probably do it again. :)

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View Brian024's profile


358 posts in 3421 days

#8 posted 03-30-2011 07:11 PM

Glad you guys like the video, even with the mistake. The grain was marked red because the board was a scrap piece from a class I did trying to show how the grain was, it has no relation to doing to the dovetails. Thanks for the tips David, it’s the little tips like that that help a lot.

View nobuckle's profile


1120 posts in 2782 days

#9 posted 03-31-2011 12:58 AM

You have tackled something that intimidates me. I would like to try my hand at it, just not today. Thanks for the vids.

-- Doug - Make an effort to live by the slogan "We try harder"

View Brian024's profile


358 posts in 3421 days

#10 posted 03-31-2011 05:19 PM

Like I said in the video its not as daunting as it seems once you get it over with.

View BigMig's profile


440 posts in 2635 days

#11 posted 03-31-2011 08:03 PM

Hey Brian, That was a very cool pair of videos. I’m in a similar place that you are…learing to use hand tools. MAny thanks for posting teh videos!


-- Mike from Lansdowne, PA

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 2676 days

#12 posted 04-03-2011 04:21 PM

Nice set of vids. We all mess up. Just yesterday I cut my entire pin board on the wrong side of my knife-line I can fix that believe it or not but it adds some serious work to the project and it makes it really fun to glue everything up square since one of my joints is “loose” at the time of glue up (the repair I am doing is easier after the joint is assembled)

Biggest tip I can offer, switch to a marking knife when you are doing the transfer of the joint (whether it’s pins or tails first) as it gives you more accurate mark and on a finely set and handled saw, helps guide during the cut. It also helps you make the square part of your layout mark for the cut. Just place the knife in your cut line from your transfer and then make slide the square up to that, your layout lines will meet perfectly every single time you go around a corner (this is a good general layout trick). A small steak knife with the edge purposely dulled on a concrete floor is what I use so it does not have to be fancy to work)

I agree with David about sawing out most of the waste (use a coping saw or a jewelers saw with the blades bent for clearance) as it saves a tremendous amount of time (and helps keep your chisels sharp).

Keep it up and lets see how the joint improves.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

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