Roubo Cabinet #7: Mitered Dovetails

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Blog entry by Smitty_Cabinetshop posted 05-12-2011 07:26 AM 3793 reads 1 time favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 6: Cutting to Size Part 7 of Roubo Cabinet series Part 8: Dados and Partitions »

We are to the point, fellow woodworkers, that progress is being made that directly results in something that resembles an actual cabinet. So if you’ve followed along up to this point waiting for ‘real work’ to take place, yawning with each installment that detailed build plans (boring!), material prep (double boring!) and panel glue-ups (A blog entry on gluing panels? Are you kidding me??), this just may be the pay-off you’ve been waiting for. Of course, maybe not. But I digress, as usual…

Let’s begin the build of this carcase by laying out the dovetail spacing on the walnut side panels. Both panels will be cut at the same time.

And here’s proof of said cutting, because if there aren’t pictures, it must not have happened:

I then removed most of the waste with a coping saw before clamping the panels to the bench for some chisel work.

Each of the panels of the carcase will be joined at the corners using mitered dovetails. I blogged about this previously, and the method used for this build evolved from the three practice rounds (and comments) done with scrap stock as proof of concept. The challenge then was accurately marking mitered half-tails, if you recall…

To work the mitered tails, each panel has to be clamped on it’s edge using the flush face of the bench as a clamping surface. For the carcase top, this meant using the leg vise on one end and a leg-based hold down on the other end. The sliding deadman is at the end as well, providing additional backing for the panel. What an elegant solution – I love this bench…

And back to the cutting. Begin by marking the miter on the edge of the board with a knife using a small (mine is a 6”) combination square as a guide. Then chisel out a small trough for the dovetail saw to fit into, on the waste side of the line, because I want a crisp finish on this show joint.

I don’t have a picture of the diagonal cut in action, but it did happen because the vertical cut that removes the miter waste, along with chisel trimming of the miter, are each shown in the following.

Once the pin waste is chopped out and the first jointed end of this inaugural side panel of the carcase took final form, it was time to mark the pin board to include miters. This is where I came up with a trick to transfer lines that results in good miters.

Position the tail board as normal. See the gaps at each end between the half tails and pin board? Those gaps pose a problem for line transfer in the traditional sense; hard to trace where there is no direct contact.

So I made a short mark at the base of the tail, then positioned the combination square on top of the tail board for a perpendicular mark where the mitered tail is hovering. You can see the small mark:

When the tail board is pulled, simply connect the lines to get a complete cutline for the pin miter…

Cut the pin board in the now-familiar sequence:

Now for the moment of truth. The first jointed corner of the cabinet is ready for a test fit. Hours invested up to this point, so it’s important that each of these joints goes well. Really no margin for error… I clamped the pin board to the face of the bench and readied the tail board support system (in this case, a #4 ½ wide smooth plane):

Then laid it into place

and tapped it down.

Does it fit? You be the judge, but here’s hint: I’m tickled to death!

Here’s where things move very quickly on the web but in reality involved many, many hours of sawing and chopping. The extra-fine news was that I’ve become very familiar with the new #750 Stanley SW chisels; they were used throughout this part of the build, worked great and held a single, good edge without rehoning. Glad I finally have a decent (and complete) set of chisels to work with (see my review in LJs if you’d like to read more). Anyway, I completed the pin and tail cuts on the other side panel then completed tail cuts to each side panel to match them up with the walnut-edged pine base panel. Here’s that panel clamped up first for pin cuts then for chopping.

This panel fit together with the sides wonderfully, and the contrasting woods really looks cool.

And so now I have a four sided box! Hooray!

Didn’t count how many times (already) these panels have been put together then taken apart, but with the partitions to cut and join to the carcase via stopped dados, there are many more dry fits in my future. But I have a four-sided box!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

9 comments so far

View Hoakie's profile


306 posts in 3870 days

#1 posted 05-12-2011 03:07 PM

That’s a lot of dovetailing…Nice work! I can’t wait to get back in my shop and make some sawdust.

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

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


14839 posts in 2452 days

#2 posted 05-12-2011 06:31 PM

@Hoakie – And I’ve inflicted five drawers w/ half-blinds on myself too with this little piece of shop furniture. Ah, but let’s chalk it up to ‘practice with a purpose.’

I looked at your dovetail posts – very impressive stuff! I’m hoping these clean up almost as nice as yours did once all is glued together and planed out. I’ve had the carcase clamped up tight, in a dry fit exercise, and have been very pleased with the joints ‘off the saw,’ as they say.

There are many approaches to the through-dovetail joint… Suffice to say it can be for show but is also simply a very, very strong way to join two boards at right angles. With this shop cabinet, I’m after strength; it’s why I didn’t sweat the inside of the panels and have some gaps as a result in the dovetails. But the box is way rigid, and I love it. And I got to practice on something meaningful, rather than just making bookends.

I’ve opted not to use a dovetail angle gauge when cutting tails – it’s whatever my saw does naturally as an angle. The results are surprisingly consistent and pleasing to my eye. After all, it was meant to be a hidden joint more often than not at the corners of carcases. I won’t be hiding these, of course… :-)

Hope you’re enjoying the series – thanks for the comment and good luck w/ your projects!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View Dave's profile


11426 posts in 2674 days

#3 posted 05-13-2011 02:36 AM

First Smitty this was a very well written and a detailed post. I have found another lj that cuts taisl first.You have built a very nice carcase. The miter edges are impressive and neatly done. Please blog on the glue up and drawer build. Great job;)

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

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


14839 posts in 2452 days

#4 posted 05-13-2011 01:55 PM

@Super- Thanks much for reading and for the comments.

I tried pins first when learning the joint, didn’t care for it. Tried again a few weeks ago to see if it helped with the mitered joint used here, and it really didn’t to my way of thinking. So now it’s tails first or bust! :-)

Stay tuned for partition via dado cuts, plus a floating back panel besides the glue up and drawer fabs. Oh, and finishing. Have no idea when it’ll all get done now that summer’s pretty much here! But it’s the journey, right?

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View 8iowa's profile


1566 posts in 3595 days

#5 posted 05-13-2011 02:20 PM

That is fantastically good work. Thanks for sharing with all the pictures.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View lysdexic's profile


5237 posts in 2457 days

#6 posted 05-15-2011 02:25 PM

I am at the learning stages of hand cut dovetails. They take a long time. Yet, I would hazard a guess that for as long as it took for accomplish your dovetail box, that the process of documenting the steps, posting the pics, and composing the post, took just as long.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I certainly do enjoy following along.

-- "It's only wood. Use it." - Smitty || Instagram - out_of_focus1.618

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


14839 posts in 2452 days

#7 posted 05-15-2011 07:12 PM

@lysdexic – Good luck on your dovetailing! I’m comfortable with the joint now, but have to be very deliberate at each step to minimize the ‘oops’ opportunities, if you know what I mean. If you try thirty dovetails in thirty days the tools, layout, cutting and chopping steps will become familiar; I cut 23 sets in 30 days on 4” wide scrap pine, and got to where I wanted to be. Give it a try!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


14839 posts in 2452 days

#8 posted 05-15-2011 07:43 PM

@8iowa – Thanks for the great compliment, glad you like the series. It’s at a stop this weekend but I’m hoping for some shop time this week.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13347 posts in 3507 days

#9 posted 05-20-2011 04:10 PM

I like those dovetails.

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