Dovetail Box #7: The Dovetails Are Done!

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Blog entry by Eric posted 02-16-2008 09:04 AM 6485 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 6: Doh!vetail Template - Product Recall Part 7 of Dovetail Box series Part 8: Be Vewy Vewy Quiet - I'm Hunting Wabbets »

Box Front

Yes! Finally. The joints have all been cut, and the box is perfectly squared up. No glue yet, and the base and top have not even been started. This was a good exercise. And while the joints are far from perfect, it should look really nice when it’s all done. Interestingly, the joints didn’t necessarily get better as I went along. Each one had its own complications, and I have to say, I don’t really enjoy doing such small dovetails. My new Japanese pull saw arrived yesterday, so the last joint was done solely with that one. It was nice. Here are the thumbnails of the four joints, in the order I did them – click on any one to see a hugemongous version.

Dovetail 1 Dovetail 2 Dovetail 3 Dovetail 4

One of the biggest lessons I learned was about marking the base of the tails and pins. I had been marking them with pencil, and then following up with a knife before beginning to chisel out. But while I followed the guideline “always leave the lines” when cutting my pins and tails, I failed to follow that on the base. As a result, I cut a little too deep and there are tiny gaps in a couple joints. Here you can see what I’m talking about:

Dovetail Sides 1 Dovetail Sides 2

So now I have a few questions:
  • Should I try to fill those gaps? I heard something once about mixing sawdust with wood glue. I suppose I could also insert tiny wedges in there and cut/sand them down. It’s not the end of the world with them like that, but just thinkin’.
  • What do I do next? Do I glue first, before planing or sanding it down?
  • Regarding the bottom, what do you suggest – do a stepped rabbet (if I’m even using the right term) so that the walls go all the way to the bottom on the outside, and are recessed into the box bottom on the inside? Having the end grain exposed really takes away from the appearance so I want to cover that up.
  • Same thing with the top – I can’t just slice a piece of my board and hinge it on there up on top – the end grain really looks kind of vulgar. So would you do mitered edges glued to an interior panel? I’m really a newb at box building so maybe this is a fundamental thing here – I just don’t know.

I’ll close with a shot of the back, since I’ve already shown every other angle…
Box Back

[This entry was originally posted on my personal website, Adventures in Woodworking.]

-- Eric at

8 comments so far

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3792 days

#1 posted 02-16-2008 02:04 PM

Personally, I think they look darn good. Especially since they’re first dovetails. As for tightening them up, I suppose that you’ve already gotten them as tight as you can? The gaps looked pretty uniform, so I wondered if you could just squeeze it tighter to close the gaps (which are tiny) and then just plane off the rest.

Also, how are you planning on attaching the bottom?

-- "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 Eric's profile


875 posts in 3780 days

#2 posted 02-16-2008 04:03 PM

I tried squeezing them a bit tighter, but they didn’t really budge. I’m actually fine with that because it IS squared up and I’m afraid I’d throw it out of square if I tinker too much.

As for the bottom, I’m thinking of a rabbit on the inside bottom of the wall that would fit into the uncut bottom piece. With a nice application of glue all around, that should be strong enough for this tiny box. But I’m curious what others have to say.

-- Eric at

View Thuan's profile


203 posts in 3814 days

#3 posted 02-16-2008 05:17 PM

I can say that’s 100 x’s better than my first set. This is what I would do next, glue and clamp them together and then plane the pins flush. Then mix saw dust with the same finish you plan to use to fill in the gaps, sand and repeat unitl the gaps are gone, then finish the box as normal.

You can use the clamp to squeeze the tails closer by making pieces of wood with notches in them to exert pressure on the pins only when you tighten the clamp.

In any case, you should be proud of that box.

-- Thuan

View ChicoWoodnut's profile


904 posts in 3812 days

#4 posted 02-16-2008 05:37 PM

Nice Blog Eric, I really enjoyed reading it. If it were me I would just keep it like it is. I admire your perseverance and ability to produce something without a shop full of screaming machines.

My mother in law told my wife to find a man with a hobby. Boy did she ever! It looks like yours did too.

-- Scott - Chico California

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 3871 days

#5 posted 02-16-2008 06:18 PM

I should post a photo of my first dovetails. They were so bad, I still haven’t worked up the courage to give it a second attempt. If they were this good, I’d probably be a dovetail master by now. Nice job. Keep practicing. You’ve got the patience and the knack that few posses.

-- Happy woodworking!

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 3993 days

#6 posted 02-17-2008 07:30 AM

That’s a lot of tails and pins you have there! You’ll never be able to say that you haven’t cut dovetails before! Nice work.

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

View Eric's profile


875 posts in 3780 days

#7 posted 02-17-2008 08:24 AM

Thanks, guys! I’m greatly encouraged. I think I’m going to leave them as is and not try to fill them. I’ll save the filling experiment for something I actually want to sell, if I get to that point.

-- Eric at

View tpalm's profile


39 posts in 2553 days

#8 posted 06-25-2011 06:09 AM

Those are good dove tails for your first. Next time if you want them as tight as possible, you need to cut on the waste side of the line so the line still shows on the piece your keeping.

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