First sets of handcut dovetails

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Project by Matt (Upper Cut) posted 01-04-2009 11:10 PM 2913 views 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Not really a project, but thought I’d post it here anyway. I told myself that while on Christmas Vacation, I’d cut some dovetails by hand. After watching many videos I went out to the shop and attacked some poplar.

I have pretty good chisels, but a very beginner dovetail saw (Crown). I’m not going to buy a better saw until I would actually get the benefits from it. The Crown does OK for now.

Dovetail 1: I like the size of the pins and tails, but the fit is loose and sloppy.
Dovetail 2: Not pictured here, basically a bit better than Dovetail 1.
Dovetail 3: Better cuts with saw and chisel, but I cut the tails the wrong way :(
Dovetail 4: The pins and tails aren’t good sizes, but I am happy with the sawing, chiseling, and fit.

The angle of the pins/tails is 10°

-- Matt Gradwohl, Upper Cut Woodworks,

6 comments so far

View lew's profile


12100 posts in 3778 days

#1 posted 01-04-2009 11:23 PM

Puts my first effort to shame.

Each one is improving- that’s what we all hope for.

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

View John Stegall's profile

John Stegall

507 posts in 3539 days

#2 posted 01-05-2009 12:00 AM

I cut my first ones with a hacksaw…that part worked fine. The fact that I cut one end backwards did little to boost my confidence. I used Tage Frid’s book as my guide, the internet had not been invented yet. No such thing as a personal computer unless you were one of the Rockefeller clan.

I have seen quite a few antiques that had similar looking dove tails as your effort #4. They were for utility more than show…maybe I should say old furniture rather than antiques. I had a garage full of what I call “quick and dirty” dovetails that were designed to hold drawers together. They certainly were not for “show”.

I think they look good. Like Lew said, all we can hope for is to improve.

-- jstegall

View GMoney's profile


158 posts in 3826 days

#3 posted 01-05-2009 03:36 AM

Those are good first efforts. What I really wanted to comment on is the saw. I know people say all kinds of things about how the saw doesn’t matter, but I couldn’t cut squat with the crown saw. My dovetail efforts were awful.

-- Greg, CT

View Matt (Upper Cut)'s profile

Matt (Upper Cut)

264 posts in 3836 days

#4 posted 01-05-2009 05:12 AM

The Crown is a step up from my Ace Hardware Dovetail Saw

I think I might practice saw sharpening on that Ace Saw.

-- Matt Gradwohl, Upper Cut Woodworks,

View Texasgaloot's profile


465 posts in 3723 days

#5 posted 01-05-2009 02:40 PM

You know, I’ve known a lot of folks that have bought cheap $50 guitars and wound up putting them away and never playing them. OTOH, other folks have made the investment in a decent guitar, and have not been frustrated by the poor instrument (it does make a difference!) and continue to play. My suggestion (and this is only one perspective, just food for thought) would be to go ahead and make the commitment to the dovetail saw of your choice, and take that impediment out of the equation. I say this because I, too, started out on a Crown (still have it) but I bought the equivalent of the Lie-Nielsen, and improved immediately. It may be the combination of better steel, a better, more ergonomic handle, or the fact that I had made the investment and have to hold my feet to the fire, but either way, dovetails are a lot more fun now! As I say, just an alternative perspective, and the bottom line is the best way to get good at cutting dovetails is to cut them! You’ve improved dramatically already!

-- There's no tool like an old tool...

View Douglas Krueger's profile

Douglas Krueger

416 posts in 3746 days

#6 posted 01-05-2009 07:19 PM

Congratulations on taking the plunge, your efforts are commendable and the results rewarding. Won’t say how my first DT’s came out but lost a pencil in one of them. Keep on trying as there is no better teacher than experience.

Also agree with the above comments regarding the use of quality tools, I have never regretted going for the upper shelf. The joy of using a quality tool is reward enough in itself with the added benefit of making craftsmanship a much easier task.

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

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