Dovetail Desk

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Project by Joel Tille posted 07-30-2007 02:04 AM 6796 views 20 times favorited 50 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I had a couple of ideas for this joinery challenge. I decided on the desk, I have been wanting to build one for some time. I used red oak for the main parts of the desk, poplar for drawers and maple for drawer supports.

When I visited Mark DeCou last winter, he encoraged me to challenge myself in order to better my woodworking skills. There were a couple of times I wasn’t sure I would figure out a path to end my project. I thought about my design in my head for about a week. Playing out what order I would need to assemble parts in order for all the dovetails to lock the carcass together.

The legs took me the longest with the left, right, front and backs to consider. Sometimes measuring twice and routering once didn’t work, the left/right thing got me.

Drawer supports were designed with the drawer guide dovetailed in the back of the front support so when slid into the front leg would lock prevent guide from moving side ways, the back of the drawer guide slid into another slot. After the side boards and panels were in, the drawer guide was locked in between the front and back legs.

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Side boards are slid into dovetail slots in legs. I was pleasantly suprised after assembling the first section how square and tight the sliding dovetails made it. Although they were not the easiest to alwasy figure out on the router table. Fence moved in or out can have a backwards affect from what you may think is going to happen.

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I did have to make a couple of changes along the way. First I wasn’t sure I would beable to make the top slide together being 5’ long. And the top is secured to the base with dovetails on the tops of the eight legs. I made keyhole slots in the bottom of the top to accept the dovetails. As I had the long boards laying on top of the desk, I realized that while moving a desk you normally pick it up by the ends. My top would not have been able to support this type of weight hanging from it and the center dovetail joints would break. I decided to run boards front to back over the legs, this solved the lifting problem and the possible problem of sliding 5’ of dovetail together.

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Drawers have dovetails front and back, The handles were a nagging thought I had while building the desk. I never did have a clear solution on how to mount these. I started thinking about Don’s mallet with “Blind Fox-Wedged Tenon”, I tried to cut a piece of dowel and drive it into a hole in the handle and the drawer face but could not get it to seat at a consistant depth. The solution I used was pinning my dowels in the handle first then the drawer face second using a second smaller dowel.

Dowel pinned in handle.
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Dowel and handle pinned in drawer face.
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Cross Section of handle and drawer face.
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5 coats laquer on top and 3 on sides and drawers.

Although my original intent was that I was not going to use glue or mechanical fasteners in the construstion of the desk; and after reading Karson's comment on plywood ”No one has asked, but I’ll bring it up. In my mind no plywood, because that is glued. The constructor of the project might not have glued it but it is a joint and it does have glue.

I don’t want to be a stickler about this, but, I think that is what the description of the contest states.

So that means no veneered projects either, in my mind.”

I sorted through the wood I had left and was not going to have enough to resaw and replace the panels in the sides and still complete on time. So unlike what Don was able to accomplish with his box, I do have plywood in the construction.

Overall this was a fun and frustrating project. In the true spirit of a challenge I have learned new techniques and some problem solving ideas I will be able to use in the future.

-- Joel Tille

50 comments so far

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4186 days

#1 posted 07-30-2007 02:32 AM

well done Joel. Achieving a personal goal. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?!

The desk is beautiful and wow… the planning, the skill, and the patience involved. I am very impressed!

Well done.

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View Joel Tille's profile

Joel Tille

213 posts in 4269 days

#2 posted 07-30-2007 02:40 AM

Thanks Renissance Man – I have repaired many antiques (in bad shape) that we pickup at auctions. Even when the glue has dried and cracked over time, the dovetail drawers still stay together. That was some of my inspiration for the dovetails. The sides that are tongue and grooved are what fall apart and nobody wants to take the time to fix them. Saved many from the burn pile or dump

-- Joel Tille

View Karson's profile


35125 posts in 4425 days

#3 posted 07-30-2007 02:43 AM

Great looking Desk Joel. Nice job on the sliding dovetails. Did you use a router table or another jig?

-- 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 Joel Tille's profile

Joel Tille

213 posts in 4269 days

#4 posted 07-30-2007 02:45 AM

MsDebbieP – Thanks for the kind words, I played out the sequence of how to assemble the desk over and over in my head. trying to solve my obsticles that may arise. It ultimately became a puzzle after while, what parts to fit together first then second so you could continue without having to disassemble to put a piece in.

-- Joel Tille

View Joel Tille's profile

Joel Tille

213 posts in 4269 days

#5 posted 07-30-2007 02:50 AM

Karson – I used a router table (cruedly made). I learned to use a spacer when making the tongue of the dovetail.

If all boards are not exactly the same width, you can not set up the fence and flip the board front and back. At first I got tight and loose fitting joints, then I solved it with a spacer against the fence for one side of the board and removed the space to router the other side.

-- Joel Tille

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 4013 days

#6 posted 07-30-2007 02:54 AM

Great job! The dovetails are a great stroke.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View RJones's profile


317 posts in 4180 days

#7 posted 07-30-2007 03:33 AM

Very nice Joel truly amazing!!!


View mot's profile


4911 posts in 4061 days

#8 posted 07-30-2007 03:37 AM

Really a nice piece.

-- You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. (Plato)

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 4430 days

#9 posted 07-30-2007 03:40 AM

wow, awesome job Joel. Great photos also, very informative! Thanks for the comment about your trip here, you were pleasure to meet and host while in Kansas. We look forward to another chance to meet in person.

What’s next on your project list?


-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Joel Tille's profile

Joel Tille

213 posts in 4269 days

#10 posted 07-30-2007 03:44 AM

Thanks for the kind words everyone.

-- Joel Tille

View Joel Tille's profile

Joel Tille

213 posts in 4269 days

#11 posted 07-30-2007 03:54 AM

Mark – Thanks, and i enjoyed my trip to Kansas, look forward to the next trip.

The extra photos hehe, i had to go back to the learning center, setup an account with photobucket. The summer challenge has made me learn more than just woodworking. I had a terrible time getting the photos to be small enough to see in the text area. Then when I was loading one of the three photos that goes at the top, I had some kind of application error. had to reload everything, so finally got correct size photos.

Next on project list – have niece and nephew come and stay this week, and next week go to the Omaha Zoo. 3-1/2 hr drive, well worth it. Niece asked yesterday at a family get together when she could come and stay, usually would have happened last week. The desk got the better of me, would not have finished on time.

Beyond that – father-in-law has friend that has a 55’ boat. In order to get it home he cut the top wind shield off of it. Now he wants a removable windshield, the father-in-law gave him my name. So we will see what happens. My first set worked good.

-- Joel Tille

View Aubrey's profile


43 posts in 3997 days

#12 posted 07-30-2007 04:18 AM

What a great project.

With all the high skill projects that are being showcased here I am almost embarrassed to show off my amateur efforts.

Very well done.

Perhaps one day when I have the shop space and the time to devote to it I will be able to do work like this.


-- Jesus was a Jewish carpenter.

View farmgeek's profile


8 posts in 4318 days

#13 posted 07-30-2007 05:56 AM

Great work Joel – gives us amateurs something to aspire to!

Don’t worry Aubrey, my project got upstaged by this great piece just after I posted :)


-- John, Auckland New Zealand -

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6859 posts in 4004 days

#14 posted 07-30-2007 07:25 AM


Very nice joinery work! I especially liked the sloted sliding dovetails you used.

Also, attatching the handles was very creative.

An excellent project, I must say, and well written article.



-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View Don's profile


2603 posts in 4202 days

#15 posted 07-30-2007 07:51 AM

Joel, this entry is indeed a real tribute to your woodworking skills and ingenuity. This is truly a classic piece considering it is entirely done without glue. I never expected an entry of this magnitude, because as the piece increases in size and complexity, the greater the nature of this challenge.

Although, needlessly as it turns out, I was a little concerned a few days back that the joinery category was really struggling to get some worthwhile entries, then Karson and you produce two spectacular projects.

Simply outstanding!

-- CanuckDon "I just love small wooden boxes!"

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