Step-back Cupboard Build #3: More gluing and starting on some dovetails

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Blog entry by rwyoung posted 06-10-2009 05:36 AM 1131 reads 1 time favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Cutting and more gluing! Part 3 of Step-back Cupboard Build series Part 4: Chop-chop time »

More panel gluing! Got a blank made for one of two upper shelves. Also completed the blank for the bottom shelf and the top of the cabinet. These are important as they set the width. The top will be dovetailed (half blind) to the two sides. The bottom rides in two dados. I’ll cut the bottom to final size after the dovetails are done and fitted.

I’m by no means an expert at hand cutting dovetails. Or machine cutting them for that matter. I can do both and I have on occasion done nice looking ones. But in this case, the dove tails are going to be hidden joinery so they can be “carcass grade” work. This is good because I’m not terribly good with hand cut 1/2 blind so we’ll just call this more practice.

Go find Tommy MacDonald’s videos here or over at to see some good examples and instruction.

Oh, and why am I hand cutting them when I could use a router? Well, the sides are 78” long so that makes it very hard to do at a router table or in a bench jig. And using a block mounted jig is just a tough since I’d be up on a step ladder to do the cutting. Hand cut it is then.

Normally I cut pins first but that is with through dove tails. Here I’m going to cut tails first in the top board then then cut the half blind pins in the sides. Again, I’m not worried if this looks a little crude. It will be completely hidden in the finished cupboard. Ever see some of the hack job looking carcass dovetails in 18th century furniture? Wow, I’ve seen a few that look like they used trained beavers with one busted tooth to do the job.

1) Mark all the boards. Mark the tail depth at 1/2”. Also mark this on the ends of the sides.

2) I’m cutting these pretty coarse so I think 4 tails per side is enough. Easy way to split things is to pivot a ruler until a number evenly divisible by 4 lines up with the opposite edge, 12” in this case. Now make tic marks every 3”. Ta-da, 4 evenly spaced tails.

3) Transfer these marks up to the end of the board. I’m going to make the pins 1/2” wide at their narrowest. Mark what looks like a good angle for the pins. I like this angle, just picked it from thin air! Probably around 1:10. I transfer the marks around to both sides of the tail board. Just because I need all the help I can get.

4) Start cutting away the waste material. Not critical at this stage if I work inside, outside or on the line. Later when cutting on the pin boards, it will be important to work on the waste side only.

(Ignore the blue tape on my index finger. It is holding on a bandage. I was cleaning dried glue from my recycled plane blade glue-popper and slipped!!!)

5) Cut in from the side to waste out the 1/2 pin space.

6) Cut out most of the pin waste with a coping saw. If I had a band saw, I’d probably use that instead.

Next is to chisel and clean all the tails. After that I can transfer the marks to the sides and cut the pins. Yes, I realize if I had done this pins first I could have taken a few shortcuts like using a router and dovetail bit to waste out some of the material and the transfer of marks might be a little easier going from pin to tail instead of tail to pin. But this shouldn’t be too bad for transferring the marks and I can still use a straight bit on the router to waste out part of the material on the pin boards.

I went with the tails first option in this case as an experiment, because as I said before, I’m used to cutting pins first. This will be fun I tell ya! Fun!

-- Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.

3 comments so far

View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 3463 days

#1 posted 06-10-2009 07:54 AM

always good seeing how others do dovetails. I used machines for years in factories and this year was the first time I ever hand cut them. Can,t say I bothered with a copeing saw though, you,re going to chop out the waste anyway right? Does it make it easier?

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

View SwedishIron's profile


142 posts in 3662 days

#2 posted 06-10-2009 08:31 AM

Great tutorial on dovetails… I read the article years ago by Mike Dunbar and always thought that would be an excellent project to introduce myself to practicing numerous hand tools.. I think you will love using popular, amazing wood to plane and cut dovetails in…. stay away from that harder stuff like white oak.. hard maple.. :) Keep us posted w/ your progress..

-- Scott, Colorado

View rwyoung's profile


409 posts in 3493 days

#3 posted 06-10-2009 03:30 PM

kiwi1969 – cutting out some of the waste first makes the chopping easier later. At least for me.

SwedishIron – yep, poplar is easy stuff to work. The white oak for the blanket chest was some tough stuff to be sure!

-- Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.

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