First Handcut dovetails

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Project by woodyone posted 09-28-2008 08:15 PM 2666 views 0 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Today i fancied having a go at cutting some dovetails, I used some scrap oak that i had around the shop. The dimensions of the wood i used is 7’’ by 4’’ 1/2 by 3/4’’. I am quite happy with the result but i can see room for improvement.

Looking forward to your comments.


-- Woody, UK

15 comments so far

View Quint's profile


29 posts in 3612 days

#1 posted 09-28-2008 08:42 PM

What kind of a saw and chisel did you use? I was thinking about picking up a 16tpi dovetail saw and giving the handcut dovetails a try myself. I don’t have a lot of money though. Anyone have any recommendations in the under $20 category?

-- Never pet a burning dog...

View Hesed's profile


36 posts in 3681 days

#2 posted 09-28-2008 08:51 PM

I could be wrong, but isn’t the grain orientation wrong? It looks like the pins and tails would snap off under pressure. I’m sure someone more knowledgeable than myself will be able to confirm this, and explain it better than me.

View lew's profile


12102 posts in 3781 days

#3 posted 09-28-2008 09:03 PM

MUCH better than my first attempt!!

I found that for practice, softer woods (pine, poplar) are easier to work with, especially when using the chisel.

It’s not under $40 but if you haven’t tried a Japanese saw, “Doz…”- can’t remember how to spell it- it is much easier to use once you get over the mind set to pull and not push.


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View woodyone's profile


231 posts in 3617 days

#4 posted 09-28-2008 09:07 PM

I used a gents saw for cutting these dovetails which i don’t think is ideal but worked for me.


-- Woody, UK

View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 3794 days

#5 posted 09-28-2008 09:22 PM

a gents saw is good woodyone because if you get a small triangular file you can sharpen it up and then use a water stone to even up the kerf and it will perform much better. thats a really good first attempt at dovetails. i think its better than my first time too!

View kolwdwrkr's profile


2821 posts in 3616 days

#6 posted 09-28-2008 10:01 PM

Hesed, You are correct about the grain orientation and that the way he has it would be a weak in certain circumstances. But irrelevant to this situation.
Woody, like everything practice makes perfect. I am sure it won’t take you long to post a perfect one for all of us to enjoy. I look forward to it.

-- ~ Inspiring those who inspire me ~

View gusthehonky's profile


130 posts in 3767 days

#7 posted 09-28-2008 10:39 PM

Are you sure this was your first try?

Very impressive! I had spent a great deal of time learning this skill, I had a great deal of difficulty to finally achieve acceptable results, still far from perfect. Practice on hard wood will, as you did, force both saw and chisel to “make a deliberate cut”. I don’t know how else to describe this. Soft woods tend to squish or get mushy. Hard woods allow the crisp or well defined pin/tail(like yours) one expects from a fine craftsman. I also found a deep deep scribe line help the saw and chisels start off true and less prone to wander.

-- Ciao, gth.

View Praki's profile


199 posts in 4022 days

#8 posted 09-28-2008 10:46 PM

I would second gusthehonky opinion about not practicing dove tails in pine. Chiseling with even the sharpest one I had squished the fibers and I nearly abandoned the idea. For practice I would recommend Poplar and oak.

-- Praki, Aspiring Woodworker

View Woodhacker's profile


1139 posts in 3749 days

#9 posted 09-29-2008 05:09 AM

Woody, very good for a first attempt. As others have said above, you’ll definitely want to orient the grain so the pins/tails are cut into the end grain…not only for strength, but since the end grain takes more of your stain or finish it shows more contrast, thus showing off your hand joinery better.

As you practice more, you’ll be able to keep your saw line a little straighter…some of the cuts on the pins look a little curved at the edges. Focus on moving your elbow, wrist and hand straight through the cut (both on the push and pull strokes) on one plane of motion. That should help tighten up the gaps a little.

There are different thoughts on this, but another way to help eliminate the gaps is to always take your saw kerf on the waste side of the cut. Some say try to split your marked line with the saw kerf, but for me that seems to still leave gaps.

I also agree don’t use softwoods for practice. In fact, even poplar tends to be a little soft. I’d stick with oak for practice. Also for hardwood your angle of dovetail looks a little steep more like 1:6 rather than 1:8. Using 1:8 will help prevent breaking of the edges of tails once you orient the grain to run into the joinery rather than perpendicular to it. This is subjective, but I think 1:8 is more appealing too.

Good luck with your practice…and have fun.

-- Martin, Kansas

View Douglas Krueger's profile

Douglas Krueger

416 posts in 3749 days

#10 posted 09-29-2008 07:19 AM

A far cry better than my first attempt which could be descibed as large gaps with a small dovetail filler. Lost my scribe for 2 days in one of the gaps.

-- I can so I wood but why are my learning curves always circles

View WistysWoodWorkingWonders's profile


12758 posts in 3182 days

#11 posted 02-18-2010 04:49 PM

great looking dovetails for your first attempt… keep practicing to tighten up the joints…

-- New Project = New Tool... it's just the way it is, don't fight it... :)

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3490 days

#12 posted 03-01-2010 04:49 PM

quint – might want to try something like

and i swear my local Southern States (farm supply store) has these for under 20. I got my ryoba there for ~15.

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3490 days

#13 posted 03-01-2010 04:51 PM

oh, nice work woody :-) it’s pretty easy to get them to this point, huh? it’s making them perfect that’s hard!

View thatwoodworkingguy's profile


375 posts in 2955 days

#14 posted 05-26-2010 07:53 PM

Ahhh your first attempt just saw mine. stepped on it. and ate it.

-- ~Eagle America~ ~Woodcraft~

View a1Jim's profile


117117 posts in 3602 days

#15 posted 05-26-2010 07:59 PM

The first attempt looked great by now you can probably make them while you sleep.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

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