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Newbie Hand Cut Dovetails

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Forum topic by Walnut_Weasel posted 1582 days ago 3893 views 2 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Walnut_Weasel

360 posts in 1723 days


1582 days ago

I have a few newbie questions I was hoping some of you may be able to help me out with.

First some background. I am currently working on a project where it is the first time that I have tried any type of hand cut joint – and I chose box joints. So far things are going well but very slow as I am taking my time to get tight fitting joints. I have already started thinking about the next project and based on how well the box joints have turned out, I want to step up to the next level and tackle dovetails. However there is one thing I am confused about…and it may be causing me to waste a lot of time meticulously fitting the joints.

I see lots of hand cut dovetail close-up pictures on the web but these always seem to only show the joint all the way up to the dry fit, and never after being glued up and trimmed flush (and if they do, the are not a close up.) What I find interesting is that most of the time, the dry fit dovetails shown in these pictures seem to have large gaps between the tails and pins. Will the glue really cause the joint to swell enough to take up that much space? Or is this the reason I can never seem to find close ups? What IS an example of a high quality hand cut dovetail? Does anyone have a blog showing good pictures all the way through the project?

-- James - www.walnutweasel.wordpress.com


9 replies so far

View lew's profile

lew

9829 posts in 2256 days


#1 posted 1582 days ago

Check out Blake's blog on this.

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

View stefang's profile

stefang

11820 posts in 1835 days


#2 posted 1582 days ago

Firstly after looking at Blake’s blog, you should at least in the beginning always X out the part you are removing before you start cutting to avoid the mistake Blake made (I have done it too). As for a tight fit, yes the glue will swell the wood to a point, but if the gap is not eliminated you can “pin” the end of the pins. That is, use the ball end of a ballpin hammer to tap the pin ends. You must fill fresh glue into the gaps before pining. The ball will spread out the wood enough to fill the gaps. Experience will tell you how much. For this reason it is good to have your pins a little longer and proud of the tails between 1/32” and 1/16” for example. That way you can chisel sand or plane off the unsightly dents in the pin ends afterward. This method works extremely well for smaller gaps. For larger gaps you can bang in a wedge of the same wood. As it is end grain this fix will invisible unless you use an electronic microscope to find it. Again, you need to put glue in the gap beforehand. Hope this will help you out a little.

If you are not a purist, another, and I think better way to saw dovetails is with a scroll saw with a relatively fine blade. You have to angle your table to cut the pins. If the table only tilts on one side you need an angle ramp for the opposite pins or you have to reverse your saw blade and cut with the workpiece from the opposite direction. If you have a scroll saw you will probably know what I’m talking about. If not, I hope you get one. They are very useful tools and not all that expensive depending on your choice. If you are experienced enough with the scroll saw you won’t have to chop out anything with chisels as you can do all the cutting with the saw. This takes some practice though and good technique. Either way I wish you success.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Derek Cohen's profile

Derek Cohen

167 posts in 2469 days


#3 posted 1582 days ago

Have a look at the end of this review/article I wrote for a tutorial on cutting dovetails..

http://www.inthewoodshop.com/ToolReviews/TheVeritas20ppiDovetailSaw.html

Regards from Perth

Derek

-- Buildiing furniture, and reviewing and building tools at http://www.inthewoodshop.com

View TheDane's profile

TheDane

3423 posts in 2164 days


#4 posted 1582 days ago

Another place to look is Rob Cosman’s website (http://www.robcosman.com/) and his videos on YouTube. I bought his shop manual on hand-cutting dovetails … the illustrations and step-by-step instructions are really top drawer.

I have the Veritas dovetail saw, and recommend it highly.

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View teenagewoodworker's profile

teenagewoodworker

2727 posts in 2269 days


#5 posted 1582 days ago

hey they have some great links on handcutting dovetails above. if you want to see some other cool once head over to http://www.tchisel.com/ and search around that guy can cut em really good. Also i just did hand cut dovetails for my Serpentine Bow Front Desk and i have a close up picture. They should really be perfectly tight. You’ll see that with Tommy’s dovetails and mine on the desk. Of course it takes awhile. I had to cut the tails for the desk about 10 times just to get the 4 for the front of the two drawers. The curved side made it really difficult.

Click for details!

http://lumberjocks.com/topics/12691

View Blake's profile

Blake

3432 posts in 2375 days


#6 posted 1582 days ago

I forget if somebody showed me this or if I just came across it while searching. But this is the best video tutorial I’ve found on hand-cut dovetails.

Click on this LINK if it doesn’t load below:

-- Happy woodworking! http://www.openarmsphotography.com

View versa's profile

versa

29 posts in 1634 days


#7 posted 1581 days ago

The glue won’t swell up the wood to fill gaps, your best bet, if you have gaps, is to use the chisel to cut a couple thin thin thin slices of waste wood and glue that into the gaps, once the glue dries the slices of wood will blend in and look you did a perfect job of cutting the dovetails.

View Derek Cohen's profile

Derek Cohen

167 posts in 2469 days


#8 posted 1581 days ago

What’s special about this dovetailed box ….. ?

... then go here to find out! :)

Regards from Perth

Derek

-- Buildiing furniture, and reviewing and building tools at http://www.inthewoodshop.com

View Walnut_Weasel's profile

Walnut_Weasel

360 posts in 1723 days


#9 posted 1581 days ago

Great stuff guys. This really helped!

-- James - www.walnutweasel.wordpress.com

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