Mini hand tool cabinet #4: Hand-cut finger joints

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Blog entry by JSOvens posted 09-24-2014 12:00 AM 2211 reads 1 time favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: Four panels Part 4 of Mini hand tool cabinet series Part 5: Front and Back Panels »

Well, I finally worked up the nerve to finish preparing the panels I glued up in the last entry. I was worried that removing any residual twist/cup/bow from the panel glue-ups would result in very thin panels. I discovered that once I ripped the panels in half (one half for each of the door and wall-mounted component of the cabinet) that there was very little flattening to do on the narrower boards. A bit of hand planing on one face, followed by thickness planing (same method as shown in this entry) gave me eight boards 15/32” thick (just 1/32” thinner than the 1/2” I was aiming for). The remainder of the milling was done with my table saw (after edge jointing one edge with my No. 4), resulting in eight boards, four at 4-1/2”x26” and four at 4-1/2”x19”.

Now for the part I’ve been looking forward to: hand-cutting the finger joints. I am a novice at hand-cutting any sort of joinery (this is only my second project doing this), so I didn’t expect this to turn out perfectly and I definitely need more practice. If you want to get into hand-cut joinery, I suggest beginning with Greene and Greene-style finger joints (with the protruding fingers), as gaps are less noticeable. This is not appropriate in this case, however, since the protruding fingers would prevent the door from opening, but I am using the same style of layout as you’ll see below.

To start out, I set my marking gauge to the thickness of the boards by placing the edge guide on one of them (while laying on a flat surface) and dropping the cutter to the surface below, as shown in the next photo. I then mark a base line for the joints on both boards.

Using my 6” square, I lay out the fingers. The photo below shows the marks in pencil so they show up on camera, but I typically just mark with a striking knife. Using the square, I then strike lines with the knife both across the end grain and down the face to the base line.

The striking knife I am using is the cheap line of Veritas striking knives (about $10 each from Lee Valley). I made the vertical cuts with a Dozuki saw (I have no complaints with this saw, but would also like to try a Western style dovetail saw someday just for comparison), then cut out most of the waste with a coping saw.

The Stanley coping saw I am using was about $7, and came almost unusable. I swapped out the blade with a finer Irwin blade (was also cheap, but had finer teeth) and it works much better now. The remainder of the waste was cut to my scribe line using a chisel. As always, a sharp chisel makes this process much less frustrating. The result (after very minimal paring of excess material) was a crisp cut-out.

Using this board, the joinery was lain out on the mating board. As above, lines were struck both on the end grain and face with the knife.

In this case, both the vertical and horizontal cuts were made using the dozuki, and once again, after very minimal paring, a nice mating cut-out was made.

Testing the fit revealed a decently-fitting joint. The second photo below shows that there is a slight gap where the left and centre fingers meet up, but nothing major.

This is the process I used for the remaining seven joints (four each for the door and wall-mounted sections of the cabinet). Most turned out comparable to this one, a couple were much better and one was worse, but all-in-all I am satisfied given my limited experience with these techniques. Below are a couple shots of the cabinet walls fitted together. I like how the continuity of the finger joints across the boundary of the door and cabinet turned out.

This was definitely a very exciting step for me, both in seeing how well the panels milled up, but also in my triumph in producing acceptable hand-cut joinery. Eventually I want to move on to hand-cut dovetail joints, but I wish to perfect my skills at cutting straight with finger joints first.

The next step will be to make and attach the back and front panels, followed by making the interior bits and pieces to hold the tools. Thanks for taking the time to read, and I always appreciate your comments.

Until next time…

-- Jeffrey S. Ovens, Canada

5 comments so far

View waho6o9's profile


7118 posts in 1996 days

#1 posted 09-24-2014 02:09 AM

Nice fitting joinery, very good!

View jumbojack's profile


1663 posts in 2043 days

#2 posted 09-24-2014 03:16 PM

You will find little difference cutting the dovetail joint. Save the dust produced when sawing. At glue up clean the squeeze out with the saw dust. It will cure all of the minor errors.

-- Made in America, with American made tools....Shopsmith

View JSOvens's profile


70 posts in 1076 days

#3 posted 09-24-2014 05:34 PM

Thanks for the tip, jumbojack, I was also considering using Shannon Roger’s tip for fixing gaps (make a small wedge to glue into the gap, then flush cut), but this seems a bit simpler. I have plenty of pine sawdust around!

Thanks for the complement, waho6o9!

-- Jeffrey S. Ovens, Canada

View jumbojack's profile


1663 posts in 2043 days

#4 posted 09-24-2014 11:30 PM

Your gaps are not severe enough to warrant a wedge. The more of these you cut the better you will get. Like most things it is a minute to learn a lifetime to master.

-- Made in America, with American made tools....Shopsmith

View BenhamDesign's profile


97 posts in 839 days

#5 posted 09-25-2014 03:34 AM

Nice, Your joints are good enough that only you will notice that extremely small gap.

-- What I do in and out of the shop at

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