Laptop case #1: Finger joints or Full-through Dovetail joints?

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Blog entry by ManofStone posted 04-14-2010 06:20 PM 1352 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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Just to clarify, I am manofstone’s son. He is letting me use this to post a question about my project.

I am building a laptop case that will also work as a clipboard (when the lid is down) as well as storage for notebooks, pencils, etc. I have a Porter Cable Dovetail jig, which I am currently fighting with to make the joints align properly. As I was making the cuts, I realized two things: If the lid, which will be hinged to the case, is 16” wide and the length is 11”, should I make the sides, which the lid will rest on top of, 16.5” by 11.5” to ensure that the lid will not overlap the sides? I am using 1/4 inch wood. Basically, given the dimensions of the lid, am I going to need to make the sides a little larger so that I can joint them and get a finished size of 16” x 11”? And should I use finger joints or full-through dovetail joints?

Thanks! kidofstone.

-- ManofStone trying to become a woodworker

3 comments so far

View David Craig's profile

David Craig

2137 posts in 3103 days

#1 posted 04-14-2010 06:43 PM

I have a similar project I am working on, though not as tall as a laptop case. I am following some plans in a Shop Notes magazine. What they detail doing is creating the lid frame (lid piece would set on frame) and case carcass as one piece, finger jointing it together,then cutting the lid from the box. You would set the blade and run the longer sides through first, cutting at full depth. The next step would be set the blade about 1/32nd below the full thickness of the box and cutting the front and back. This would help keep the blade from binding as it would leave a slight web that would hold the box together. You would then run a utility knife across the web and separate the two parts. Then run the edges of both pieces through the saw to remove any waste.


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

View GregD's profile


788 posts in 3130 days

#2 posted 04-14-2010 08:13 PM

For finger joints or through dove tails the length of the piece of wood you use for a side is equal to the overall length of the assembly. So if your top is just a flat panel that you want to precisely overlay the sides, then the lengths of the side pieces should be equal to the lengths of the top sides – 16” and 11”. I think this is the situation you are going for, but maybe I misunderstood. If the top is a flat panel that you want to mount like an inset door, then the lengths of the sides need to be increased by twice the thickness of the sides – 16.5” and 11.5”.

In the end, though, I wouldn’t cut the top to final size until I at least dry-fit the sides because one usually cuts the joints so that the fingers or the pins/tails are a bit proud (stick out) so that they can be trimmed flush after assembly.

I have the low-end Porter Cable dovetail jig that has fixed 1/2” spacing. I’ve done only a few boxes with it and found that my finger joints often came out a bit loose. For reasons I couldn’t figure out my 1/2” router bit would cut out a bit more than 1/2” sometimes and not others. I avoided the through dovetail because you need to fuss with the bit depth to get the joint tight but not too tight, and I thought that would be a hassle. In retrospect it this “hassle” is an advantage since you have a means to adjust the setup to get the joint the way you want it. Next time I do finger joints I’ll probably use the old/conventional table saw jig that requires fussing to get the right spacing so I can adjust the setup to get the joint just as tight as I want.

Good luck!

-- Greg D.

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4119 days

#3 posted 04-14-2010 09:06 PM

As GregD said, yes, your sides need to be the full outer-dimensions of the box if you’re doing through dovetails or finger joints.

As to which you should do, I’m a dovetail joint fan myself, but seems like a personal aesthetic and what jigs you have available to you decision. Part of the reason I’m a dovetail joint fan is that I don’t have a table saw, and I haven’t set up my dovetail jig for finger joints…

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

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