Beginning Woodworker Just Starting Out #3: First Handcut Dovetails

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Blog entry by Jimi_C posted 01-08-2010 07:55 AM 1298 reads 0 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: My First Wood Purchase and Adventures in Hand Planing Part 3 of Beginning Woodworker Just Starting Out series Part 4: Cheap Tools »

After posting my review of the Grizzly T10010 wet grinder, having a set of nice, hair-shaving sharp chisels (and a freshly shaved hand…), I decided to put them to use. I grabbed some scraps out of my wood bin and started marking out some dovetails. I’ve laid them out several times, and gotten them to the point where the majority of the material was removed from the joint, but I never had a sharp enough chisel to pare them down – I was basically butchering the wood…

So, I started cutting and chiseling, and was sadly disappointed when my pins and tails did not seem to line up at all. By this time, it was getting close to dinner, so I put it all down on the workbench and left it for a couple of weeks – mainly because it is absolutely freezing in my garage (32 most days, even with a heater going).

Well tonight I was in the garage and picked them up, and started looking a bit closer. To my surprise, I didn’t seem to be that far off. A little paring here and there, and this is what I ended up with;

There are all sorts of little snafus here and there, but overall I’m pretty happy with the way this turned out.

-- The difference between being defeated and admitting defeat is what makes all the difference in the world - Upton Sinclair, "The Jungle"

11 comments so far

View Andrew's profile


709 posts in 3194 days

#1 posted 01-08-2010 01:09 PM

Great job, there always seems to be a little adjustment nescassary with DTs. They are dificult, but definately worth it.

-- Even a broken clock is right twice a day, unless, it moves at half speed like ....-As the Saw Turns

View Julian's profile


880 posts in 3521 days

#2 posted 01-08-2010 02:13 PM

Looks like you are right on track! Gee, I sure could use a good air conditioner repair man this winter. Lame attempt at spam, dude!

-- Julian, Park Forest, IL

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3817 days

#3 posted 01-08-2010 02:26 PM

Those dovetails look like you are doing pretty well and your hand skills are developing nicely. This is certainly an inspiration to get back in my shop and practice some more ( I am not ready to post any pictures of mine…yet). :)

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

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3104 days

#4 posted 01-08-2010 03:32 PM

Looks like you are doing very well with the sharpening. The cuts look quite smooth. I agree with Scott, seeing the progress is definitely inspiring. One thing I might note, any imperfections that you are not happy with can also come from the wood you are working with. Pine warps and twists, and if you are using boards that are not planed or jointed, box and dovetails joints can be trickier to make a smooth fit. Considering how nicely these two boards are joined, I would say you are doing an awesome job.


-- There is little that is simple when it comes to making a simple box.

View Jimi_C's profile


507 posts in 3230 days

#5 posted 01-08-2010 03:39 PM

Thanks David and everyone. The wood is actually some of the same soft maple I’ve had for a while now. Of course, soft maple isn’t, so it was a bit tricky to chisel with a few small blowouts on the backside when I pushed too hard (and needed to re-hone, chisels starting getting dull towards the end). The scrap was a cut-off from a piece I had jointed and planed already, so flatness wasn’t an issue at least.

-- The difference between being defeated and admitting defeat is what makes all the difference in the world - Upton Sinclair, "The Jungle"

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 3870 days

#6 posted 01-08-2010 06:07 PM

They look pretty good. Keep practicing. I am doing the same thing lately.

-- Happy woodworking!

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3329 days

#7 posted 01-08-2010 11:48 PM

Those look great Jimi and they are a lot better than some of my first attempts. One thing I would suggest is that you make the narrow end on the pins and the corresponding cutout on the tails a lot more narrow, 1/8” wide for example. My reasoning is that with a gap width of 1/4” or more they could have been done with a router, so with a real narrow gap it will be more obvious that they are hand done because even the smallest diameter router shaft of 1/4” won’t fit between the 1/8” gap . You don’t have to worry about strength if you do this. Keep up the good work!

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Jimi_C's profile


507 posts in 3230 days

#8 posted 01-09-2010 12:03 AM

Hah! I don’t think my dovetails are even close to being mistakable for machine cut dovetails :D I took this picture from a flattering angle… one pin is pretty flawless, the other I went past the marking gauge line when I was paring out the flat so there’s a bit of a gap there (you can tell it’s the bottom one in the picture above, it makes it look more recessed than the other).

-- The difference between being defeated and admitting defeat is what makes all the difference in the world - Upton Sinclair, "The Jungle"

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3329 days

#9 posted 01-09-2010 01:12 PM

C’mon Jimi Don’t be so modest , you did a great job on those dovetails. We all use the photo angles to get the most flattering views of our projects.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View dmoney's profile


191 posts in 3075 days

#10 posted 01-10-2010 01:25 AM

i’m a beginner too and those look pretty good to me!

-- Derek, Iowa

View Tim Dahn's profile

Tim Dahn

1567 posts in 3560 days

#11 posted 01-10-2010 03:08 AM

Very good, Mike has a good point suggesting thin pins, to give it that hand cut look.

-- Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgement.

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