Refreshing basic skills #1: Remembering how to cut dovetails

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Blog entry by David Kirtley posted 04-01-2011 05:56 AM 1550 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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I have been reading other people’s posts on hand cut dovetails and I thought about it and realized that I have not actually hand cut a dovetail in a long time. For those that don’t know, I have been getting myself set up again for woodworking and it has been nearly 20 years since I had a workshop. Most of my time and effort has been getting tooled up again and I can say now that I have what I want to work with. The last phase of acquisition was getting saws.

To start with, I grabbed a piece of Home Depot special mystery softwood. I figured that it would be good practice because it sucks. If I can cut reasonable dovetails in that, I don’t have much to worry about.

I crosscut the wood with my new bowsaw blade. I like it. A lot. Trimmed it up on the shooting board with a low angle block plane. I laid out the pins first this time. No particular reason. I don’t really have a preference. The little Zona backsaw makes a really fine kerf. $6 well spent. The pictures came out a bit fuzzy. I will have to work on that. My camera is only 15 or so years old and doesn’t have a macro. Sorry. I guess I will have to either take them from further away and crop them or get a better camera.

The little light lines next to the pencil marks are the kerfs. Pretty tiny. These saws have a really thin plate. I sawed out most of the waste with my new bowsaw that I built from a Grammercy kit. Then I trimmed up with chisels. The first time I cut out the tails, I didn’t bother to mark the waste. Oops. I cut out all the wrong pieces. Oh well. I flipped it around and marked out again. This time carefully marking the waste.

I didn’t bother to lay the tails out that carefully with a knife. I just went with a 0.5 mm mechanical pencil. I still need to improve my lighting and clear off my workbench.

The first time I put it together, I thought it was odd that the edges didn’t line up. Then it hit me. I had put the tails board in backwards. Flip it over and tap it together. Good to go. Overall, I am happy. I could trim it up a little cleaner and leave it a bit proud to leave something to trim flush. As it is, the joints are even and square.

My next project will be to put a depth stop on my plow plane. That or give my #45 one more chance to redeem itself. If I get things organized a bit this weekend, I might go pick up some lumber to make some tool trays that will become drawers in a tool cabinet. That will help a lot in getting things put out of the way so I can clean off my workbenches.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

5 comments so far

View Hayabusa's profile


173 posts in 2908 days

#1 posted 04-01-2011 09:24 AM

Great exercise, well done David !! thanks for this touch

View Hoakie's profile


306 posts in 4064 days

#2 posted 04-01-2011 03:09 PM

Looks good….almost like riding a bike?

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

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3026 days

#3 posted 04-01-2011 03:13 PM

Yeah, except I don’t remember ever getting onto my bike backwards or accidentally sitting on the handlebars instead.

I figure I will get some wood and make some drawers for a tool chest. After doing a dozen or so drawers, I think it will come back to me….

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 2868 days

#4 posted 04-02-2011 04:33 AM

Very nice.
The sad thing is my eyes are like your camera. They dont macro well anymore.

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

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3026 days

#5 posted 04-02-2011 05:38 PM


Don’t get me started on that. That is the most frustrating thing to me about getting older. I was at work yesterday working with a little CNC machine helping someone do some really fine work and kept having to swap glasses back and forth between strong ones to see the work and weak ones to see the screen. I always had the wrong ones on :) Sometimes both…..

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

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