Where to start with hand cut joints

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Forum topic by zippymorocco posted 10-31-2015 04:51 PM 1554 views 0 times favorited 27 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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39 posts in 1289 days

10-31-2015 04:51 PM


I am interested in learning how to hand cut dovetails and other joints. I have a lot of experience in the shop but very little using hand tools. The tools I have at hand are a LN set of chisels, a couple of premium planes and a Japanese style saw. Though I do make a living in the wood shop I am exploring hand tools and traditional joinery on my own.

My questions are:

Should I run out and buy a dovetail saw or begin with what I have?

Is the dovetail the right place to start or are there some other fundamentals that I should learn first?

Any suggestions that you have to help me take the right steps down this path will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you.

27 replies so far

View mahdee's profile


3883 posts in 1768 days

#1 posted 10-31-2015 05:02 PM

I think you can use any saw. I use a crosscut saw (Dewalt) from home depot for dovetail as well as mortise and tenons. Maybe start with mortise and tenon first. Follow the lines.


View Tedstor's profile


1643 posts in 2633 days

#2 posted 10-31-2015 05:05 PM

I have a handful of joinery saws, but I usually use a small $7 hacksaw for dovetails.

View TheTurtleCarpenter's profile


1049 posts in 1067 days

#3 posted 10-31-2015 05:46 PM

Start by making practice joints out of different materials and watching videos on YouTube, evaluate your work and make adjustments. Sounds like you have all the tools you need. Keep Em’ Sharp !

-- "Tying shoelaces was way harder than learning to Whistle",,,,,member MWTCA area K. Kentucky

View CharlesA's profile


3323 posts in 1798 days

#4 posted 10-31-2015 06:24 PM

for dovetails, there is a great, cheap saw that is pretty highly regarded:—$11.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

View Andre's profile


1839 posts in 1807 days

#5 posted 10-31-2015 07:12 PM

for dovetails, there is a great, cheap saw that is pretty highly regarded:—$11.
- CharlesA

Great saws for dovetails, blades are replaceable and can be used on the pull stroke like a japanese saw!
Best of all cheap buy a few different TPI’s.

-- Lifting one end of the plank.

View drcodfish's profile


124 posts in 953 days

#6 posted 10-31-2015 07:24 PM

Rather than start by buying equipment, I recommend you start by watching this video.

-- Dr C

View TiggerWood's profile


271 posts in 1607 days

#7 posted 10-31-2015 07:58 PM

If you practice and succeed in making a good dovetail, mortise and tenon joints will be a piece of cake.

View WoodNSawdust's profile


1417 posts in 1177 days

#8 posted 10-31-2015 08:15 PM

Christopher Schwartz, a hand tool expert, in one of his videos suggested that the dovetail is the wrong place to start if you are new to hand tools. He suggested practice with the saw and work on joints and finally end up working on dovetails.

How good are you with your handsaw? I would start practicing with it. Draw a series of parallel lines and practice till you can cut following the line.

Practice cutting tenons using your saw. When everything comes out correct then move on to dovetails.

This is what worked for me.

-- "I love it when a plan comes together" John "Hannibal" Smith

View Texcaster's profile


1281 posts in 1675 days

#9 posted 10-31-2015 09:14 PM

I would start with whatever interests you the most.

-- Mama calls me Texcaster but my real name is Mr. Earl.

View TheFridge's profile


9484 posts in 1487 days

#10 posted 10-31-2015 11:20 PM

What he said. For me it was the joinery on my bench. Marking gauge, square and a T-bevel is a must for me.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View zippymorocco's profile


39 posts in 1289 days

#11 posted 11-01-2015 02:42 AM

Thank you all for the information. I watched the video along with many others. I am interested in learning dovetail mostly because I want to make a sewing box using them. At work, I have a Stickley style table that has a couple of through tenons coming up. Maybe starting with tenons would be best. For that table I had been planning on cutting the mortise and tenons with machines as well as utilizing loose tenons for construction.

Now on my own, I would like to spend some time learning these skills and ultimately would love to add them to the mix of things we do at work. Though I have a lot of freedom at work and am in charge of the shop and the woodworking that we do I am also trying to produce at a rate that brings income so that we can keep doing this type of work. We are a custom remodel company that is currently defining a custom woodworking/cabinet shop as part of what we do. Besides learning these skills for fun I am trying to develop a combinations of tools that our company can use to sell a unique and high quality product.

Well, maybe I am a bit off topic now but my point is. I would really like to become a very good woodworker while having missed my apprenticeship.

I am attaching a photo of a piece that I was putting the pulls on Friday. There are two drawers above the doors that don’t have pulls yet. There is a whole house full of this type of casework, newel posts and cabinets. Also, this is the house that I will build the table for. I am very proud of all of it and have become very interested in the techniques used in craftsman style furniture. I used false tenons, dominoes and pocket screws because that is what I know. I did hand mortise some hand made pyramid pins into the false tenons of a couple of mirrors. Took me all day too but I liked it! There has to be a way to bring these two worlds together.

Thank you all for the great information. It is good to have found some people passionate about the craft.

View waho6o9's profile


8191 posts in 2578 days

#12 posted 11-01-2015 02:57 AM

Japanese joinery’s one of my favorites.

Enjoy your journey!

View zippymorocco's profile


39 posts in 1289 days

#13 posted 11-01-2015 03:07 AM

Wow! Japanese joinery looks great. Time to go look at some google images!

View ElChe's profile


630 posts in 1337 days

#14 posted 11-01-2015 04:09 AM

I like western dovetail saws. I find it harder to cut to a line with a Japanese saw. The japanese saw is much eadier to start the cut. I do tails first because that’s how I learned. Franz Klausz teaches pins first. I remove most of waste with a coping saw and then chisel to the scribed depth for which I use a marking gsuge. I layout the tails with dividers. What I found most helpful was practicing cutting to a tail line and to a pin line.

I bought an expensive western dovetail saw but it isn’t necessary. A sharp rip saw is all that is needed. Lee Valley sells a nice dovetail saw for 60 bucks. And zona sells a gents style saw for ten bucks that is nice and sharp.

-- Tom - Measure twice cut once. Then measure again. Curse. Fudge.

View rwe2156's profile


2926 posts in 1481 days

#15 posted 11-01-2015 12:36 PM

I learned by watching that Klausz video years and years ago.

You already have a set of very nice chisels, I would just see how the saw works out for you.
I’ve always used a western saw, so can’t comment but I’ve seen many use japanese saws.
You don’t need to spend $250 on a DT saw. The saw I use is the one Lee Valley sells.

Once you’ve gotten started a bit, then I would try different techniques and see which one suits you.

A few things that have evolved for me:

I started out pins first but now I’m a big fan of tails first because you can cut multiple sides at once.

I’m also a fan of making a shallow rabbet in the tail board I think it makes marking alot easier.

Moxon vise. If you haven’t considered one, check them out. I made mine into a bench top vise:

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

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