My dovetail journey #1: My first hand cut Dovetail

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Blog entry by George_SA posted 07-07-2012 07:06 PM 2757 reads 1 time favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of My dovetail journey series Part 2: My second hand cut Dovetail »

I made my first hand cut dovetail today. To get me started I decided to start of with “the five-minute dovetail”.
I don’t know how long it took me, but it wasn’t too long (a bit more than 5 min).

Here is my first attempt:

At least it is a nice tight fit

Lessons learned:
1) A cheap dovetail saw does not help in making nice dovetails
2) Your chisels need to be very sharp.
3) Hogging out the waste with a hacksaw does not give very good result.
4) Don’t be in a hurry and forget the 5 minute part of the 5 minute dovetail practice session :-)

I think I will continue with the 5 minute practise dovetail until my skill level has improved enough to try a full set of drawer dovetails.

-- Sometimes life gets in the way of one's woodworking :)

7 comments so far

View Ryan Haasen's profile

Ryan Haasen

385 posts in 2482 days

#1 posted 07-07-2012 07:31 PM

Turned out way better then my first. I find using soft woods more tough because they are so easy to chip and dent around the dovetails when cutting.

-- Ryan

View Kookaburra's profile


748 posts in 2305 days

#2 posted 07-07-2012 07:37 PM

Oh, thank you for the link – I am embarking on a move to hand tools and dovetails scare me. I am going to try this too!

-- Kay - Just a girl who loves wood.

View GrandpaLen's profile


1651 posts in 2353 days

#3 posted 07-07-2012 07:57 PM


That’s a good 1st attempt. Might I suggest that you pick up some harder wood to practice with. Poplar isn’t really a hardwood but it’s much better to practice on than pine, and poplar is relitively inexpensive.

You’re spot on about the sharpness of your chisels, that makes all the difference in the world.

Practice on a small set of dovetails each time you’re in the shop, even like the one you have posted, and before you know it you will have a handle on it. Use this as a warm-up exercise prior to your other shop projects.

Work Safely and keep your irons Sharp. – Grandpa Len.

-- Mother Nature should be proud of what you've done with her tree. - Len ...just north of a stone's throw from the oHIo, river that is, in So. Indiana.

View George_SA's profile


370 posts in 2294 days

#4 posted 07-07-2012 08:25 PM

Ryan & Grandpa Len
Thanks for the encouragement. I have some free pallet wood which is much harder than the pine off cut that I used for my first attempt. I used some today to make a Fibonacci gauge. This will also give me some practice in hand planing with my Stanley no 6. Before I do my next exercise I will first spend some time sharpening :-)

Kookaburra, I must say that it was not as difficult as I had anticipated it to be.

-- Sometimes life gets in the way of one's woodworking :)

View rance's profile


4260 posts in 3241 days

#5 posted 07-07-2012 08:41 PM

Good one. Cut it off, date it, and put it in a bag for later inspection of your chronological progress. Also try Poplar or mahogany, they work well. Pine is the pitts. Keep on practicing and posting results. After 2 good ones, then try making all 4 corners of a box.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View rilanda's profile


171 posts in 2235 days

#6 posted 07-08-2012 07:10 AM

I cut my first dovetail when I was 11years old at school, I remember well the problems I had with accuracy and quality of fit, but that soon changed. I had a first class teacher who saw something in my work that I believed didn’t exist. with his encouragement and tuition I went on to make some show cases for a local museum, 9 lap dovetails across each corner, 4corners to each cabinet and 3 cabinets later I had learned to cut dovetails. Much later in my working life I worked for a shopfitter where all drawers were dovetailed by hand that was another valuable experience, working shoulder to shoulder with men of the old school who taught me a thing or two about dovetailing for production and there are shortcuts. For a first effort the result is commendable (I remember my own was not as good), better will come with practice. Believe in yourself and your own abilities and enjoy the process and perfect dovetails will become a regular thing. Marking out, good quality tools and exceedingly sharp chisels are the secret to good end results. Try to use a better quality timber it looks very fast grown and the spring wood looks very soft, a timber that was a little denser may have produced a better result?



-- Bill, Nottingham. Remember its not waiting for the storm to end, but learning to dance in the rain that counts. If you dont make mistakes, you make nothing at all.

View George_SA's profile


370 posts in 2294 days

#7 posted 07-08-2012 02:58 PM

Thanks for the encouraging words. Sharpening my chisels and dovetail saw is definitely in the agenda before the next try.

Thanks for tip of dating. I already started off with numbering, but dating gives a better reference later on.

I am actually looking forward to the next try.

-- Sometimes life gets in the way of one's woodworking :)

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