Dovetail Journey

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Blog entry by RLindberry posted 03-23-2011 05:25 AM 4060 reads 2 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Well, due to a posting about first dovetails by mikeswoodshop, I decided to (somewhat) chronicle my journey with hand cut dovetails over the last year or so.

My first attempts were far worse than anything here, but have been thrown away, so I don’t have pictures. I think the most heinous ones went into the wood stove. I figured that if I could get some heat out of them, they would at least be good for something. It wasn’t until my fifth or sixth joint that it occurred to me to start keeping them to study and learn from, though I didn’t date them, but just threw them in a box. Even so, there is a definite progression in quality from the first to last, though I can’t say for sure that these are in the actual order, but they are certainly close.

Let’s start here.

and we’ll go from there:

and the same one from the other side:

There are some gaps in these that are far bigger than what the camera shows, but they are getting better. This might be the point where I got the Veritas fine tooth dovetail saw. I wish I could be sure, but I didn’t really keep track of when these joints were cut. I do know there was an immediate and marked improvement in my dovetails when I got a good dovetail saw.

And finally we are getting to some of the better ones, though they still aren’t great. As you can see throughout, I’ve had problems with the half pins splitting out, because the joint is too tight, and I always try to assemble to the saw cut rather than doing a bunch of paring. I have gotten better at this, and it has forced me to hone my sawing skills.


After all of this, I decided to try half blinds. These are my first and only ones that I have done.

And even though I still have a ton of room for improvement, I have finally gotten to the point where I am willing to use hand cut dovetails on actual projects, and not just practice joints.

Thanks for looking, and I hope that this will inspire you to try to hand cut your dovetails if you haven’t yet, or to encourage you if you have, and find yourself with less than ideal results. Or possibly, if you are really good at it, this post just gave you something to laugh about! A little something for everyone.

8 comments so far

View brianhook19's profile


1 post in 2597 days

#1 posted 03-23-2011 11:23 AM

Thanks for showing up such fabulous information. I like this post, keep writing and give informative post…!

View saddletramp's profile


1180 posts in 2606 days

#2 posted 03-23-2011 01:20 PM

Thanks for the post. It gives woodbutchers like me hope for a brighter tomorrow.

-- ♫♪♪♫♫ Saddletramp, saddletramp, I'm as free as the breeze and I ride where I please, saddletramp ♪♪♪♫♪ ...... Bob W....NW Michigan (Traverse City area)

View GregD's profile


788 posts in 3103 days

#3 posted 03-23-2011 05:04 PM

It is really cool to see the progression of results. And I’ve been thinking about that Veritas dovetail saw…

-- Greg D.

View lilredweldingrod's profile


2496 posts in 3074 days

#4 posted 03-23-2011 07:13 PM

I’m working up the nerve to try dove tails. But I’m gonna have to get a saw Has any one tried the Mike Wenzloff model 77 based on the old Diston saw? Chris Schwarz is raving about it on the latest Pop. WW ezine.

View Hoakie's profile


306 posts in 4003 days

#5 posted 03-23-2011 07:18 PM

thanks for sharing, it is nice to see other’s progression path. I agree a good dovetail saw makes all the difference. I found for me it took away my excuse of “it must be the saw” and started focusing my attention on the “tool” on the other of the handle

-- John H. [To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. ~Edison]

View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 2807 days

#6 posted 03-24-2011 01:34 AM

Most impressive. And very well executed. Who if any was the most help in there style?

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View RLindberry's profile


54 posts in 2634 days

#7 posted 03-24-2011 02:25 AM

Thanks for the feedback, everybody!

Weldingrod: I’ve not tried any of Wenzloff’s saws, though I’ve never heard anything bad about them. I use the pair of Veritas saws (20 tpi for thins stuff, and 14 for thicker stock). They perform remarkably well, especially given the price they sell for. The only thing I don’t like is the modern look. I’d much prefer the Lie-Neilsen saw simply because of the traditional look, but for the price, I’ll stick with my Veritas saws.

SuperDav: Rob Cosman would be the one who was most influential for me. I haven’t gotten any of his how-to DVD’s but simply by watching his 3 1/2 minute dovetail video and his 6 1/2 minute half blind video over and over ad nauseum, I learned a ton. (Incidentally, I’ve become quite adept at sharpening my tools freehand from watching his “angle trainer” video about a thousand times as well).

I’ve watched a lot of guys on line, but Cosman’s style really resonated with me. For one thing, his are much cleaner than others’ I’ve seen, and he’s proven that you can do it with relative speed. I prefer to cut the tails first, which he does, so that was another plus for him. I also prefer to remove the bulk of the waste material with a fret saw, just as he does.

I have found, however, that I cannot get a clean shoulder by trying to chisel to the line while still in the vise as Cosman does. I have gotten better results moving onto the bench for that.

View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 2807 days

#8 posted 03-24-2011 03:13 AM

RLindberry, Thank you for the response. I love to learn who or what has inspired people to get to the level they are comfortable with. But are we ever really ever satisfied with our product? My wife says I am my own worst critic. I had a post earlier on tails or pins first and you have upped the tally. Personally I have a hodge podge of technique on mine. I have learned much from many of the “masters” but had to find what works for me. My eyesight is my worst enemy. I have eight lights pointed at my bench and I will still find a spot I cant see. Oh and Hoakie cuts a pretty mean one to. I so enjoyed watching his progression to. Best wisdom I have know your tools and practice.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

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