Questions about hand cut dovetails

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Forum topic by SEE posted 02-11-2010 09:13 PM 2032 views 3 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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119 posts in 3369 days

02-11-2010 09:13 PM

Topic tags/keywords: hand cut dovetails tutorial instructions techniques skill


I’m learning to make hand cut dovetails and I need some help! I’ve done a search here at LJ trying to find a basic tutorial on layout technique. I’ve seen a video of a guy using two dividers for the layout but the video is so fast that I don’t understand what he’s doing!

So, can someone please either direct me to a tutorial that may already be here on LJ describing in detail that layout process, or would someone please take the time to write out the steps and 1,2,3 format. I surely would appreciate it.

For what’s it worth, I already have the Veritas DT saw, a good marker from Lee Valley, shop made marking templates for different angles, chisels and the dividers.

Thanks in advance for your time.


-- Build for the joy of it!

10 replies so far

View pommy's profile


1697 posts in 3893 days

#1 posted 02-11-2010 10:24 PM

look here i like this guy very informed about his craft


-- cut it saw it scrap it SKPE: ANDREW.CARTER69

View a1Jim's profile


117328 posts in 3779 days

#2 posted 02-11-2010 10:30 PM

View Jon Spelbring's profile

Jon Spelbring

199 posts in 4455 days

#3 posted 02-11-2010 10:39 PM

I just took a class on hand cut dovetails at woodcraft – he used that method for marking out the tails. Once you try it, it will make sense.

1. Mark out where the half pins will be on your tail board(this part gets cut off of the tail board)
2. Decide how many tails you want to have (Hint: divide the width between the two marks in step 1 by the number of tails you want)
3. Set your divider to that size. You will have to play with it a little, but you should be able to “walk” the dividers from one of the marks in step 1 to the other.

4. Now is the tricky part: What you want the dividers set to is the distance of one tail PLUS one pin, so from step 3, open the dividers a little, then do the walk-thing again. Now, the distance between the 2nd mark from step 1 to where the divider leg ends up will be your tail+pin.

5. Now, starting with one of those original marks, walk the dividers across the board, making a mark/dent each time. Once that’s done, do the same thing, but starting from the other side (again, from one of those two original marks.

That’s it. Geez, written out, it sounds complicated, but it’s really not. I first saw the technique on one of Rob Cosman’s videos – highly recommend both his videos, and his shop book on dovetails.

I hope this helps, and doesn’t just confuse you more.

-- To do is to be

View SEE's profile


119 posts in 3369 days

#4 posted 02-12-2010 02:19 AM

Thanks, folks, for your helpful links and instructions.

Jon, In your technique do you use just one set of dividers? If remember correcty the Rob Cosman video that watched shows him using two sets. This was the video titled something like “The Three Minute Dovetail.” I think he already had the dividers set to the right measurements for stepping them off. It looked like one pair was for the tails (or maybe the pins) and the other set was for the spacing between them. Thanks for the step by step instructions. I’ll give it a try like that.

Again, thanks all for your input.

-- Build for the joy of it!

View Marc5's profile


304 posts in 3544 days

#5 posted 02-12-2010 03:48 AM

To start I would purchase Rob Cosman’s DVD. The steps are clearly explained so anyone can understand the process’s and his procedure for stepping of the pins is bullet proof. He makes it look easier than it is but with a little practice I am sure you will be satisfied with the end result. I cannot stress this enough; use very sharp tools, it help with the end result.

Good Luck

-- Marc

View hokieman's profile


191 posts in 3955 days

#6 posted 02-12-2010 05:39 AM

Here is one from Tommy MacDonald.

I also agree with Marc, I have Rob Cosman’s DVD and it, too, is very good.

View MrHudon's profile


114 posts in 3412 days

#7 posted 02-12-2010 02:01 PM

Here’s a cheat sheet of sorts if you don’t want to do the math.

-- Mark,

View Jon Spelbring's profile

Jon Spelbring

199 posts in 4455 days

#8 posted 02-12-2010 09:27 PM


Yes, Cosman uses the 2nd set of dividers for marking out the half pins (step 1). I usually just use my combo square – 1/4-3/8” depending on the wood thickness. I think he uses the divider in the case of making several pieces so that all of the 1/2 pin sizes match up (like a set of drawers).

As others have said – go get the video; IMO it’s well worth it. I’m currently on about day 15 of my 30 days of “A dovetail a day keeps the gaps away”.

Good luck!

-- To do is to be

View TheDane's profile (online now)


5550 posts in 3864 days

#9 posted 02-12-2010 10:19 PM

Ditto on the suggestion to buy Rob Cosman ’s DVD.

The ‘Shop Manual’ he offers is also a good companion piece … it lives on the shelf above my bench, and illustrates the process clearly and concisely..

After some practice, Cosman’s method really makes sense. I just never thought I would be going to a sporting goods store to buy woodworking supplies (hockey tape!).

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

View SEE's profile


119 posts in 3369 days

#10 posted 02-12-2010 10:44 PM

Thanks again, folks. I’ll get the resources that you’ve mentioned: Cosman’s DVD and book and the other little book, too,

I know that I can do this!

-- Build for the joy of it!

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