Crazy Stuff Stumpy Thinks About #8: I've taken up boxing to kick some dove tail

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by StumpyNubs posted 03-09-2012 01:30 PM 4254 reads 0 times favorited 25 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 7: I never get the last word... Part 8 of Crazy Stuff Stumpy Thinks About series Part 9: Hard to spend cash... can it really be true? »

Ever get lonely? Ever feel like you’re under appreciated? Ever wonder why that guy you work with gets all the chicks and nobody seems to notice you? I bet that’s how box joints feel.

If the dovetail is the Cadillac of joinery, the box joint is the Ford Fiesta. It’s old, slow and smells a little funny, and nobody wants to show it off. Do a Youtube search on “box joints”. Actually, I’ll save you some time and do it for you… Yup, just what I thought. There are a few videos about jigs, but nothing even close to what you’ll get if you search “dovetails”. You’ll never see guys making videos about how fast they can cut box joints with a hand saw and a chisel. You’ll never have a master woodworker endorsing a little scrap of wood and selling it as a “box joint marker” (Yes, I’m talking to you, Mr. Crossman. We’re not fooled by that wooden marker. We can cut a scrap of wood and save twenty bucks!). Veritas and Lee Nielson will never design a series of box joint cutting saws and special box joint chisels.

Are you pikin’ up what I’m throwin’ down here? I’m saying that the box joint doesn’t get enough respect. And I think Rodney Dangerfield would agree.

The dovetail was invented by a guy who wanted to fill his drawers with rocks and jerk them open without ripping the front off. Then one day he was building a hope chest for his niece and decided that a butt joint wouldn’t be strong enough. He got out his hand saw and started to make a box joint. Five minutes later he shouted some Olde English profanity and gave up. (“Thy mother art of ample girth!”) It was too difficult. So he reverted to the joint he used all the time because he was primarily a drawer maker, and the dovetailed chest was born. From there it was a steady decline for the humble box joint. Dovetails migrated to all sorts of applications and became the superstar of the woodworking world.

Along the way, nobody stopped to ask the most simple of questions: Why? I mean, dovetails are nice, even beautiful. But they are a bit chaotic, aren’t they? The traditional American version alternates wide tails with narrow pins. One side of the joint exposes big, rectangles of end grain, while the other is a series of triangles without their points. They don’t match. I actually find the pins side of a dovetail joint to be a bit ugly. Why do you think they invented the half-blind dovetail?

The box joint, on the other hand is a neat row of squares, every one the same. Both sides of the joint match in a delicious checkerboard pattern. And only Commies don’t like checkers.

Dovetails are seen as the mark of a skilled craftsman, but box joints are more difficult to hand cut. A dovetail only has to be precise on one side of the joint. Take the “tails first” process for example. You can cut one side of a tail at 7 degrees, the other side at 7.5. The next tail can be 6.5 degrees on both sides. It doesn’t matter because the tails angle in opposite directions, confusing the eye and hiding slight imperfections. Some people don’t even mark their angles; they just guesstimate and cut the tails free hand. Any error will be transferred to the mating piece when you trace around the tails with your pencil. As long as you cut that second piece precisely to the pencil lines, you’re golden!

A box joint requires absolute precision all the way through. The eye is more likely to see any variations. Every finger has to be ripped parallel with the next, every cut perpendicular to the board end. And both sides must be independently accurate. Make a mistake on one finger and the whole thing can be thrown off.

Box joints are stronger than dovetails. Yes, you heard me right… they are stronger. Tests have time and again proven this fact.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love dovetails. But I also love box joints and I think it’s time to give them the respect they deserve. Yes, they may not have the high end prestige of the Cadillac. Like a Fiesta, they may be slower, less flashy, harder to start in the morning, and they rarely make the ladies do a double take. But they are more efficient, more compact, last forever, and with the proper amount of polishing, they may impress at least that girl next door with the hunched back and a limp.

So, keep using dovetails on your drawers and other traditional applications. But when you’re making boxes, cabinets or anything you want to last forever and look nice to regular people instead of just fru-fru, hoity-toity woodworkers, use more box joints!

This weekend (Sunday morning) we’ll be doing an episode of Blue Collar Woodworking about cutting box joints, and you’ll see what I believe is the most versatile and accurate adjustable box joint machine out there. So don’t forget to watch!

Check out what’s been called The greatest woodworking show since the invention of wood

Don’t forget to friend me on Facebook

-- It's the best woodworking show since the invention of wood... New episodes at:

25 comments so far

View DIYaholic's profile (online now)


13573 posts in 1332 days

#1 posted 03-09-2012 01:45 PM

I’m a “Believer”!!! (play the Monkee’s soundtrack here, an homage to Davy Jones!)

I have been a fan of the box joint for years. I like the symmetry of the joint!

But as I posted elsewhere, my vehicle repair bill ate up my “Plan Purchasing” budget. Go hawk your wares to someone else!! Lol. JK.

Looking forward to the “Sunday Stumpy Matinee”!!! Popcorn has been purchased.

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procratination a bad thing?

View Gabe C.'s profile

Gabe C.

288 posts in 998 days

#2 posted 03-09-2012 01:54 PM

“The dovetail was invented by a guy who wanted to fill his drawers with rocks and jerk them open without ripping the front off.” AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAhahahahahahahahahahaha…whew…hilarious.
I read that to my gal, and her response (hear this in your brain as snide and condescending) “Sure, that’s REALLY funny.”
I did some box (finger?) joints on a project a couple weeks ago and it was my first time. I glued together a couple of the test pieces and was amazed the next day that no matter how many times I threw it at the garage floor, it wouldn’t break apart. Very impressive joint.
And for those of us without any abstract creativity in us, the squareness and straight line aesthetic is very visually pleasing.
Can’t wait to see the box joint machine! (In fact, maybe I’ll just take a go back to bed right now and try to sleep until then so that it seems like it’s here already!) ...I might even attempt to try to kind of construct some sort of potentially plagiarizing, but nowhere near as precise version of the one you grace us with…and I’ll see how THAT ONE stands up to the garage floor!
Holding my breath ‘til Sunday.


-- If I could just get this whole "Time/Money" problem figured out...

View StumpyNubs's profile


6192 posts in 1457 days

#3 posted 03-09-2012 02:00 PM

Are you married, Gabe? Because if she didn’t find that funny, maybe you should reconsider your situation, if you know what I mean… (See if she thinks that’s funny! :)

-- It's the best woodworking show since the invention of wood... New episodes at:

View Gabe C.'s profile

Gabe C.

288 posts in 998 days

#4 posted 03-09-2012 02:04 PM

Heh heh heh…no we aren’t. Maybe THIS is the sign I’ve been waiting for? Sure we can laugh together at farts and clumsy children injuring themselves…but can we share woodworker humor? Wait, let me go see if she laughs…oh, she’s gone for the day already (people with jobs are never around when you need them).

-- If I could just get this whole "Time/Money" problem figured out...

View RBWoodworker's profile


416 posts in 2009 days

#5 posted 03-09-2012 02:24 PM

HUH? HUH what’s a box joint?? :)

-- Randall Child

View StumpyNubs's profile


6192 posts in 1457 days

#6 posted 03-09-2012 02:32 PM

I rest my case…

-- It's the best woodworking show since the invention of wood... New episodes at:

View boxcarmarty's profile


9314 posts in 1017 days

#7 posted 03-09-2012 03:01 PM

Stumpman, I’ve always preferred the funny smelling box joint. That, and I can’t afford a Cadillac. As far as being lonely, The funny hat may have something to do with that. I’m just saying…..

-- My mind is like lighting, one brilliant flash, then its gone.....

View bobsmyuncle's profile


110 posts in 1348 days

#8 posted 03-09-2012 05:13 PM

You obviously don’t go to IKEA. I have a little storage box under my fax machine that has box joints all around.

The first time I saw box joints demonstrated was by Tage Frid; he couldn’t get them to fit. A couple of years later, I attended a class by Frank Klaus; he couldn’t get them to fit, either. A few years after that, a friend made a jig that he could dial into 0.001” adjustments. Too fussy for me.

But then I found a pretty good way to set up a jig in 10 minutes and it seemed to work great for me. I did 15 drawers for jewelry boxes (too small for anything but hand-cut dovetails and I did not have time to do sixty dovetail joints before Christmas). Watch the video and realize the key is “reverence surfaces.”

Most dovetail jigs will produce a box joint.

View DocSavage45's profile


5018 posts in 1499 days

#9 posted 03-09-2012 05:19 PM

The original purpose of the dovetail may have come from a time when there were “no glues or scews as a mechanical fastener? They are in antiques that have lived for milenia? ( sp?) Box joints and glue? Mechanically powerful.

There are a few other equally powerful joints. Met a guy who found a niche building cabinetry for golf stores. I was ignorant and full of ideas. He took me through his shop showing me what he doesn’t use anymore. He was putting the cabinets together with kreg’s pocket screws! The drawers he purchased. They had finger/box joinery. Then he screwed the fronts on.

He was making his living being efficient. No one said oh thats crap!

We can used plywood or pine, or hardwoods, or exotic woods. Hell we can use high density MDF?

Looking forward to your creativity. always interesting stuff.

I loved the idea of building my own jig, just have no time? And The 140 year old house, like me keeps needing attention, and repair! LOL

got to go to work.

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View geoscann's profile


258 posts in 937 days

#10 posted 03-09-2012 05:31 PM

Stumpy yea box joints my fav I knew you would come over to my side.

Marty the only reason you can afford a cadillac is cause you spend all your money on them ponys.

-- BIG geo ---Occam,s razor The simplist answer is often correct

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

7731 posts in 2709 days

#11 posted 03-09-2012 06:18 PM


I think you have it backwards…

You’re taking up Kick Boxing and you’re Kicking Butt Joints! LOL

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:"

View gavinzagreb's profile


210 posts in 976 days

#12 posted 03-09-2012 08:18 PM

I’m on the box joint band wagon. For me the aesthetic is better than a dovetail. Unless of course that dovetail is a strange compound dovetail used to make houses out of green oak.
Like this example from my Inlaws farm house.

View StumpyNubs's profile


6192 posts in 1457 days

#13 posted 03-09-2012 09:05 PM

Now THAT was just showing off!

-- It's the best woodworking show since the invention of wood... New episodes at:

View DS's profile


2131 posts in 1077 days

#14 posted 03-09-2012 09:07 PM

I can’t even wrap my brain around how that fancy dancy dovetail even goes together / comes apart….

Hmmmmm…. Stumpy, you got a jig for that???

-- "Hard work is not defined by the difficulty of the task as much as a person's desire to perform it.", DS251

View StumpyNubs's profile


6192 posts in 1457 days

#15 posted 03-09-2012 09:25 PM

Maybe there’s “an app. for that”?

-- It's the best woodworking show since the invention of wood... New episodes at:

showing 1 through 15 of 25 comments

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics :: gardening showcase