Dovetails, An Adventure #1: The Beginning

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Blog entry by konkers posted 01-05-2011 09:13 AM 1292 reads 1 time favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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I just joined the Wood Whisper Guild and am going to follow along with the Wall Hanging Cabinet build. There’s a lot of dovetails in that plan. I’m intrigued by hand cutting them but, having never cut one before, I’m going to need a lot of practice. So here it goes:

First up, the tools I’m using: Adjustable square, pencil, marking gauge, and dovetail angle template for layout. A dozuki for cutting the pins and tails and a fret saw for removing the waste. A couple of chisels and a mallet for fitting.

I made two attempts on Sunday which were pretty bad yet educational. Last night I cut some stock for a 7” square box with two sides 1/2” thick and the other two 3/4” thick. First lesson here is to make sure you know the orientation of each board when you’re laying out the joints. As you can see here, I failed:

Now lets take a look at the joints in all their humbling macro lens glory:

The first joint I over cut twice on the tail board. The tails and pins sit proud. There some gaps at the bottom of the the tails an pins as well. All in all this one came out better than I was expecting.

The second one I got carried away trying to fit the joint and ended up removing way to much material yielding a very loose joint.

The third try was much better. There are a few gaps around the joint and it does not quite sit square but miles better than the second one.

The fourth was where I got the front and back of the tail board confused and laid it out backwards. Opps. It’s the nicest fitting of all of the joints but has some gaps at the bottoms of the the tail. I’m still trying figure out how to set my marking gauge so that the line it cuts is perfect.

Things that are proving tough/need practice:

  • I’m worried that I’m cutting do deep on the marking gauge. It does not seem like those lines will sand out very well. In fact I’m having trouble imagining a setting that will be both good at scoring the fibers along the cut and not marring the surface more that can be sanded out. I should play around with sanding at different depth settings.
  • Cutting 90 degrees to the face for the tails and 90 degrees to the end for the pins is going to require a quite a bit more practice. One trick I learned on the fourth joint was to check to tails for square before transferring to the in board and clean up any error with a chisel.
  • Getting the marking gauge set correctly so that there’s no gab at the bottom and the pins and tails do not sit proud.

More practice to come…


6 comments so far

View Eric_S's profile


1565 posts in 3219 days

#1 posted 01-05-2011 02:31 PM

Those look REALLY good for first dovetails Erik.

-- - Eric Noblesville, IN

View Maveric777's profile


2693 posts in 3100 days

#2 posted 01-05-2011 03:12 PM

Looks to me like you are well on your way… Practice makes perfect….

-- Dan ~ Texarkana, Tx.

View mpmitche's profile


428 posts in 3000 days

#3 posted 01-06-2011 01:20 AM

A woodworking pal and I were discussing those marking gauge lines just last night. We noticed that many woodworkers leave the marks in the final product. I have even seen them in magazines that way. I personally have not made up my mind about them but there are some who leave them and like the look if that helps you at all. I guess the other option is to assemble the drawer a little oversized and then plane them away when fitting.

-- Mike, Western New York

View bigike's profile


4052 posts in 3312 days

#4 posted 01-06-2011 02:10 AM

nice job.

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop,

View WWilson's profile


106 posts in 3086 days

#5 posted 01-06-2011 02:38 AM

Great blog. Thanks for the pics and for highlighting the process. Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes consistent! Keep up the good work and good luck with your wall hanging cabinet!


View NBeener's profile


4816 posts in 3197 days

#6 posted 01-06-2011 02:46 AM

LOOK at your trajectory. Each time … better than the last.

You CAN’T ask for more than that.

And … you’re going to NAIL hand-cut DTs faster than I nailed them with my P-C jig LOL !

Great stuff. Great pics. Thanks for sharing :)

-- -- Neil

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