My new hobby #2: Planning for handcut dovetails

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Blog entry by DanClem posted 02-25-2011 10:00 PM 1263 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Getting started Part 2 of My new hobby series Part 3: Shopsmith Mark V »

OK, so I decided for the planter box project I’m going to try my hand at hand cut dovetails or box joints to join the corners of each box. I’ve found some good tools, a dovetail saw, coping saw, chisels, mallet, planer and a compass. All I need now is some scrap wood to practice on. The only thing I lack is the marking gauge, and I’m wondering if it’s even necessary? I know there must be a ratio between how deep the cuts need to be and the thickness of the board but can’t find any info on it. All I’ve found is marking gauges for sale, most being $50 and up. So, is there anybody out there that has hand cut these type of joints and can offer a young LJ some advice? Thanks!

-- "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Ben Franklin

5 comments so far

View SouthpawCA's profile


270 posts in 3290 days

#1 posted 02-25-2011 10:32 PM

I’m thinking you might be asking about the depth of the pin in a half blind dovetail. In a through dovetail the depth of the pin and the tail for that matter is related to the thickness of the wood plus about 1/32” to allow for some clean up and making the corners flush. Here is a YouTube video that shows a handcut through dovetail:

As for a half blind it also depends of the thickness of the front piece which would be the pins. It all a matter of taste I think. I never really gave it much thought, however, I’ve left anywhere from 1/16” to 1/4” on the front. It just depended on how I wanted it to look. Here is a video from our own Wood Whisperer that shows a hand cut half-blind dovetail:

BTW … Good luck … some people never master the art of the hand cut dovetail and you’re doing it for you first project.

-- Don

View VinnieP's profile


141 posts in 3378 days

#2 posted 02-25-2011 11:15 PM

Yep, what Don said. If you don’t want to purchase a marking gauge you can set the adjoining boards so the end grain is flush with the face where the joints will meet and mark the thickness with a pencil or marking knife. However, if the boards are too long it makes it hard to not move the board.

View DanClem's profile


13 posts in 2705 days

#3 posted 02-26-2011 01:46 AM

Thanks to both of you. I saw a video today where the guy did what you are talking about, Vinnie. It didn’t look to complicated. I’ll let you know how it goes.

-- "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Ben Franklin

View kenn's profile


810 posts in 3777 days

#4 posted 02-26-2011 05:14 AM

The best scrap wood to practice dovetails with is butternut. It is soft enough to accept chisel work easily, pretty easily found, and works great. Good Luck and practice is the key. Cut straight, keep your feet well positioned, enjoy the quiet.

-- Every cloud has a silver lining

View BigTiny's profile


1676 posts in 2945 days

#5 posted 02-26-2011 10:33 AM

I have a very nice pattern for a marking guage. It’s in PDF format so you’ll need the Adobe Reader program, but it’s a free download if you don’t already have it.

PM me with your email address and I’ll send it to you. It’s from Woodworking Magazine’s Collector’s Edition Tools and was a free download for a while there so I feel free to pass it on.

-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

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