Dovetails First? or Pins First?

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Forum topic by helluvawreck posted 09-02-2010 06:22 PM 3619 views 1 time favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View helluvawreck's profile


31378 posts in 2891 days

09-02-2010 06:22 PM

Topic tags/keywords: dovetails first pins first dovetails pins dovetail last pins last dovetail pin joining

I did a search on this on LJ and for three pages a specific thread didn’t show up so I thought I would just ask. Which do you cut first, dovetails or pins, and why? I cut the tails first because it just seems more natural to me and it is easier to position the tails over the other part to mark the pins. In the literature I’ve seen that the preference runs either way. You don’t have to go into any great detail unless you just want to. It’s just sort of an informal survey to see how it runs on Lumberjocks.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

11 replies so far

View lew's profile


12102 posts in 3780 days

#1 posted 09-02-2010 06:33 PM

This is a link to a great little video series. This shows cutting pins first. I think you will get about a 50/50 split on which to cut first. I cut pins first.

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

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3099 days

#2 posted 09-02-2010 07:04 PM

I cut tails first but I don’t know that it really matters.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Eric_S's profile


1565 posts in 3220 days

#3 posted 09-02-2010 07:09 PM

My first dovetails will be for the fronts of these nightstand drawers. I’ve thought about it and I hear its a little easier to start with tails first so I probably will.

-- - Eric Noblesville, IN

View Viktor's profile


466 posts in 3443 days

#4 posted 09-02-2010 07:18 PM

Pins first because Tage Frid said so :-). Seriously, no particular reason why. I’ll try tails first next time.

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 3008 days

#5 posted 09-02-2010 07:22 PM

Like Lew says its a 50/50 thing. Its more of just a personal preference than anything. Cutting tails first for most is a visual thing as can be said for pins as well. I will say for myself its a matter of figuring the spacing for the tails mostly.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View JuniorJoiner's profile


487 posts in 3465 days

#6 posted 09-02-2010 08:00 PM

I had always cut tails first, until i went to school and learned.
definately pins first.
the main reason is that the good wood is the drawer front, which should have the pins. if you falter on those pins a little, it is easy to make the tails a little different to match the pins.

-- Junior -Quality is never an accident-it is the reward for the effort involved.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3099 days

#7 posted 09-02-2010 08:50 PM

JuniorJoiner makes a very good point. Consider me converted.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View docholladay's profile


1287 posts in 3083 days

#8 posted 09-03-2010 05:36 AM

Isn’t that the woodworking equivalent to the chicken or the egg question. Personally, I kind of agree with the way I have always seen Roy Underhill do it. He cuts the kerf for the tails first and then uses the kerf to mark the tail board by pulling his dovetail saw through that kerf. This leaves a nice mark to assist in getting the saw started on the exact line needed for the pins. This would not be possible if you were to cut the pins first. If done correctly and then carefully cut, the joint has to fit together.

-- Hey, woodworking ain't brain surgery. Just do something and keep trying till you get it. Doc

View helluvawreck's profile


31378 posts in 2891 days

#9 posted 09-03-2010 05:55 PM

I appreciate the response, fellas. Like some of you said, it’s probably a 50-50 thing. I think it’s probably going to hinge on what feels like the most natural way to do it to each person.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View rwyoung's profile


409 posts in 3496 days

#10 posted 09-03-2010 06:16 PM

I’ve found tails first to work better for me in through and 1/2 blind dovetails.

There is no need to slant a board when sawing the tails. If your saw is “tuned up” it is just as easy to saw at an angle as to saw vertically. Less screwing around with the material.

For me, transferring the marks is easier too because I’m not trying to balance a narrow board on end. Sure, you can make little right angle jigs and fool with cabinet clamps and what not. But why add more gizmos? Clamp the future pin board in the face vice at the same height as your smoothing plane lying on its side, slide the plane back to support the far end of your tail board. Hold the tail board in place with one hand and knife the marks with the other. Or skip the knife and use your saw slid though the tail kerfs prior to chopping out the waste (tried it, like the knife better).

And for what its worth, I use a double bevel marking knife so I don’t have to worry about scribing to the left or the right of a reference edge. D.B. knives worth from either side. Single bevel knives not so much. Xacto and pen knife blades work too but you have to remember to square up against the bevel, not the flat side of those blades.

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

View ChuckV's profile


3124 posts in 3552 days

#11 posted 09-03-2010 06:22 PM

Several years ago, I learned to cut the tails first and I have stuck with that. I recently took a workshop with Steve Latta and he cut the tails first. It made me a little dizzy just because it was different.

I have no real argument for doing it that way.

-- “Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are.” ― R. Waters

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