hand cut dovetails

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Forum topic by Lalaland posted 09-17-2007 05:39 AM 1347 views 1 time favorited 4 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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44 posts in 4215 days

09-17-2007 05:39 AM

Ok, after reading and watching several videos on the subject, now I’ve gotten myself confused. And worse, I got to thinking. Dangerous.

When laying out the dovetails, I’ve gotten various information as to how to set the marking gauge. Ian Kirby, in his book “The Complete Dovetail” recommends setting the gauge to less than the thickness of the stock. Rob Cosman, in his video “Hand Cut Dovetails” recommends setting the gauge to less than the thickness of the stock. Lonnie Bird recommends setting the gauge to the exact thickness of the stock. And Tage Frid recommends setting the gauge to slightly more than the thickness. Which is it?

Seems to me that if the gauge is set to greater than the thickness of the stock, then there will be extra wood to plane off after the joint is glued, which take away from the overall length of the stock. Seems that would throw off the dimensions of the box or drawer.

If the gauge is set to less than the thickness of the stock, then the joint is glued up and still there is stock to be planed, which now takes away from the thickness of the stock.

If the stock has been planed to proper dimensions and the marking gauge is set to exactly the thickness of this, then if the joint is cut accurately, the dimensions remain in tact, and the joint is true. Problem is, you’re left with unsightly gauge lines on the finished product.

So, any thoughts? I always think my way into a corner. lol


4 replies so far

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4198 days

#1 posted 09-17-2007 05:53 AM

Sounds like you need to go with Lonnie. As far as the mark is concerned a sharp plane and a scraper will take care of the line. Or a sander. You missed Frank Klause. He said,” Quit measureing and learn to saw straight.” He also marks from the board. Try it all ways and see which you like. They are all right.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View mot's profile


4922 posts in 4272 days

#2 posted 09-17-2007 06:04 AM

Cosman et al set it to slightly less so they then plane the gauge marks off in making the finished box. The reason Cosman does it that was is that there will be minimal chance of end grain tear out when planing the joint flush. The method of making the joints proud, ie. slightly more than the thickness of the wood, runs the risk of some tearout. However, sharp irons, practiced technique, either one is moot…whichever you like. If you do them exact, you have gauge marks. Some people leave them as to show that they are hand cut. Some people add them to jig cut joints to try and fake handcut. Masters of hand joinery, just plane it all away.

You’re concern about taking away the thickness of the stock is going to amount to a few thousandths or less, by the way. It sounds like your getting all fluffed up over nothing! LOL

Setting the joint proud, or slightly more than the thickness, again is in the few thousandths and doesn’t make that big of deal to the joint.

Now, if you want piston fit drawers, you take planing the fit into account with stock preparation. That’s the beauty of the handcut joint. Leave a little here and there, and just whack it off until it’s perfect. Neither method takes away from the squareness.

Moral of all this is, once you start cutting the dovetail, you’ll be cutting a zillion of them anyway. Don’t practice on your final workpiece.

Good luck and show us some examples in your blog!

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

View WayneC's profile


13794 posts in 4333 days

#3 posted 09-18-2007 03:35 AM

I was thinking along the line of just getting out there and doing it. Pick one the is comfortable to you and cut some. Once you have some experience, come back and look at the other techniques…

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View brunob's profile


2277 posts in 4405 days

#4 posted 09-18-2007 04:31 AM

Have a look at this site:
It’s been helpful to me. You can create a paper template for ant spacing and any size boards.

-- Bruce from Central New, if you'll pardon me, I have some sawdust to make.

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