Dovetail Box #5: Take a Deep Breath

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Blog entry by Eric posted 02-09-2008 09:04 AM 1830 reads 0 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: Making a Dovetail Template Part 5 of Dovetail Box series Part 6: Doh!vetail Template - Product Recall »

Before the Dovetails

So I’ve finally gotten the walls of the box flat. Well, mostly flat. They still wobble just a bit when I put them together, but I don’t want to plane these things down to wooden cards trying to get it just right. Plus, it’s not like I’m face-gluing them together. When they’re joined together as a box, I think the variance will be negligible. Two of the walls were 1/32” thinner (on average) than the other two, so those were the ones I cut down for the short sides. The picture above simply shows the walls propped up on the base (or maybe it will be the top, I haven’t looked at them yet to decide).

So now before I cut the tails, I have two questions:
  • What looks better on a box – tails on the front walls or pins on the front walls? [Edit: I searched for some pics of dovetail boxes, and most seem to be tails on the front.]
  • Should I clamp the opposite boards together and cut the tails on both at the same time?

I’ll likely begin this tomorrow. Pictures, as always, will follow!

[This entry was taken from my personal website, Adventures in Woodworking.]

-- Eric at

9 comments so far

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 4020 days

#1 posted 02-09-2008 10:21 AM

If you think of it as a drawer (box), the tails would be on the long sides and the pins would be on the short sides. Mechanically, that makes sense. Aesthetically, you could go either way, but I’d probably go with tails on the long sides.

It’s not a bad idea to cut the tails on the two pieces at the same time. Your tails will be identical that way.

It’s really all up to you. Enjoy it!

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 3898 days

#2 posted 02-09-2008 11:52 AM

I think I’d do tails on the long side, too.

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3819 days

#3 posted 02-09-2008 01:52 PM

For what it’s worth, I plan on gang cutting tails also.

As for where to put the tails, I’ll side with the majority. Put ‘em on the long side ;)

-- "Give me your poor tools, your tired steel, your huddled masses of rust." Yep, I ripped off the Statue of Liberty. That's how I roll!

View Thuan's profile


203 posts in 3841 days

#4 posted 02-09-2008 07:31 PM

If you gang cut the tails first, then you will have to mark the pins on end grain, which is hard to see and not accurate. I cut my pins first, individually, then use it as a template to mark the tails on the face, which is easier to see. Essentially, ripping thin wood is easier and more accurate than ganging it up and ripping a thick piece. Do this enough time, you won’t even need a template.

-- Thuan

View Alin Dobra's profile

Alin Dobra

351 posts in 3911 days

#5 posted 02-10-2008 06:47 AM


As a beginner, trust me, you do not want to cut two tails simultaneously. Cutting a thick board (or two boards) is significantly harder than a single board. The people that cut two boards at a time are experience dovetail cutters that want to cut down the time a little. If you are pretty good you might save about 30s to 1 minute per side (4-5 minutes total at best).

One of the things I make sure when I cut dovetails by hand is that they do not look like machine made dovetails at all. Placing the pins by eye and individually for each side is part of this. I strongly prefer, like Thuan, to start with the pins. If you make narrow pins (as you should since a router cannot copy that) you nave little chances to mark the pins from the tails.

Also, take a look at my blog entry on cutting dovetails ( ). You might get some ideas how to make you dovetailing experience easier.

Not having all the boards the same thickness wearies me a lot. You can survive that but you have to remember to reset the marking gauge for each board individually. If you don’t the result will probably disastrous (large gaps around the pins).


-- -- Alin Dobra, Gainesville, Florida

View Karson's profile


35125 posts in 4424 days

#6 posted 02-10-2008 07:01 AM

It’s fun to follow this.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 4020 days

#7 posted 02-10-2008 08:04 AM

Uh-oh – this looks like it has potential to become a tail-first, pins-first thing…I’ll choose to stay out of that one!

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 3807 days

#8 posted 02-10-2008 08:38 AM

Alin, you bring up some good points. First off, I don’t know that gang cutting the tails would be THAT dangerous, since my walls are only like 3/8” thick. But since I’m being extra super duper cautious at this point, I may follow your advice and single them out. It doesn’t take THAT much more time, and in fact merely gives me a bit more experience at precision sawing, so why not?

I really appreciate the link to your videos (which I have preloaded but not yet watched). I don’t know that I want my pins quite as small as yours, but I do plan on custom-sizing them a bit. I don’t mind at all if they look like they are machine-produced dovetails. :^)

Worst case scenario, the dovetails will fit but look horrible, and my wife will love me to death because of the effort I expended trying to make this for her. That’s not too bad, is it?

-- Eric at

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 3807 days

#9 posted 02-11-2008 05:34 AM

Oh, and Thuan – on this kind of open-grained wood, the face is not really that much easier to see the lines on than the ends! I found it a bit tricky.

I did my first joint tails-first, but I think I’ll do some of them pins-first just for fun. (Yee haw?)

-- Eric at

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