Handcut Dovetails

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Blog entry by Uriel7 posted 10-01-2011 06:10 PM 1160 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I’ve finally took the plunge to hand cutting dovetails. I used scrap 2×4 blocks to work on. The 1st joint’s tail is a bit oversized, but I think joints 2 and 3 worked out fairly well. The satisfaction of having a dovetail joint slip together with a snap is just awesome. Joint 2 went together the easiest and fastest. My goal is to have 10 good dovetails made on scraps before I start building storage chests.

Joint 1 was purposely cut undersized so I could use a rasp to get to the final dimension. However, this is a bad idea. Measure twice, cut once. As you can see, the joint is actually fairly sloppy with gaps.

Below are how Joints 2 and 3 worked out. Much better than Joint 1. They are nice and tight, but don’t need a mallet to seat the joint snug.

You may notice there is a small chip on Joint 2’s tail. That came by an unfortunate accident taking apart the joint and reassembling it for a friend. However, both joints have significantly smaller if not no gaps. The shoulder clearance is a bit of problem still, but that was improved upon in Joint 3.

Joint 3 was an improvement except the tail is a bit too short for the pin.

In hindsight, I think I’ll plane smooth future pieces of scrap. I think my 2×4 scraps had a little cup to them and threw off things like the shoulder spacing and tail length. We’ll see what the future has in store. I was really quite surprised at my progress. Laying out the cut lines are really important and taking your time to cut accurately. This is actually why I prefer hand tools over power tools because I have more control over what the tool does. Error correction is much easier with hand tools than power tools in my opinion. The trade off is time for control.

5 comments so far

View yrob's profile


340 posts in 3674 days

#1 posted 10-01-2011 06:30 PM

Pretty good for the first attempts. One key thing to successful dovetails is to first square and flatten your stock. If it is not, you will never get perfect dovetails.

-- Yves

View JRL's profile


104 posts in 2560 days

#2 posted 10-04-2011 01:08 AM

They are excellent for a first try. I would pull the fuzz off that fir wood before I made my next attempt.
What did you end up using for marking your angle?

-- Jay in Changsha

View JRL's profile


104 posts in 2560 days

#3 posted 10-04-2011 01:09 AM

The rasp is not normally used for finer dovetail work. You probably have discovered why by now.

-- Jay in Changsha

View Uriel7's profile


24 posts in 2535 days

#4 posted 10-05-2011 02:54 AM

I cut my tails out first by just measuring rise over run (a revisit to geometry class). Rise of 3.7cm over a 0.6cm run to give me my angles. 3.7cm was the thickness of the scraps. After the tails were cut, I traced the tail pattern onto the pins. As I cut the pins I made sure the saw kerf favored the scrap side of the line. I made sure to scribble an “X” on all the scrap faces so I didn’t screw up the tail/pin.

View JRL's profile


104 posts in 2560 days

#5 posted 10-06-2011 12:28 AM

Good work. You’re not far off from perfecting the dovetail joint.

-- Jay in Changsha

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