Don't mean to start a fued about dovetails .... hand cut or machine / jig

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Forum topic by CANDL posted 03-09-2011 03:21 AM 3158 views 11 times favorited 46 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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44 posts in 3013 days

03-09-2011 03:21 AM

I am going to vebture into the land of dovetails, but ny routers are alll a plunge type, which I understand don’t work so well with jigs.

So am I better off spending the money on a good dovetail saw or go the jig route. I expect to cut dovetails once or twice a month, so is it like flying… if you dfon’t do it often you will get hurt?

Personally I am kind of infatuated with the idea of handcut dovetails but I fear they could be a cruel mistress.


46 replies so far

View Chelios's profile


568 posts in 3272 days

#1 posted 03-09-2011 03:31 AM

Going the router way takes about the same about of time as hand cut if you do just a couple. So I reco doind by hand. If you have a handful, more than a dozen of the same piece to make then set up a router jig.

Plus doing by hand will really improve your skills as a woodworker overall


View TheDane's profile


5553 posts in 3869 days

#2 posted 03-09-2011 03:33 AM

By all means, learn to cut dovetails by hand … it is a good learning exercise (be one with the saw), and once you get the hang of it, they can be done pretty efficiently.

I do both hand and router-cut dovetails … depends on the project, the material, and the amount of time I want to spend. For example, on pine drawer boxes for shop furniture, I used the router and my HF jig. For the drawer boxes in a project for my wife’s sewing room, it did hand-cut dovetails (nothing is too good for my sweetie).

You can use a plunge router with a jig … but it might be hard to dial in the depth of cut and keep it where you need it.


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

View Resurrected's profile


671 posts in 2898 days

#3 posted 03-09-2011 03:34 AM

Sounds to me you have a desire/need to try to do it by hand. Get the hand tools and go for it.

Me I like the router and jig and feel I get glorified enough off making it with the power tool.

Maybe when I slow a little I will go towards the hand tools.

Its what you want. A jig will usually give you good results right a way. Doing it by hand takes practice.

I have a bench top Porter Cable jig. Plunger router works fine.

All together I won’t steer you in either way. Both have their perks.

-- Who can I block now???????????????????????

View rance's profile


4266 posts in 3366 days

#4 posted 03-09-2011 03:48 AM

What Chelios said, and for all the right reasons. Rob Cosman has, IMO, the best published techniques. He has videos and books.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View CANDL's profile


44 posts in 3013 days

#5 posted 03-09-2011 03:55 AM

I saw Rob last weekend quite the salesman … but also quite the craftsman. ~250 for his Dovetail saw … ouch! Other recomendations?

View bigike's profile


4055 posts in 3494 days

#6 posted 03-09-2011 03:57 AM

I wish i started cutting by hand before the jig.

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop,

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3204 days

#7 posted 03-09-2011 04:08 AM

Get yourself a $8 Zona backsaw and give the hand cut ones a whirl. These little saws cut better than anything costing 10X as much. You really don’t have to go out and buy a $200 work of art.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View MikeBrown's profile


2 posts in 3017 days

#8 posted 03-09-2011 04:09 AM

I have a Porter Cable 4212 dovetail jig and a Bosch plunge router, and they play fine together.While they will
never be mistaken for hand cut,once the jig is set up, the joints fit fine. Someday I will get a dovetail saw and
make some by hand, but I have not gotten around to it.

View vkumar's profile


10 posts in 2843 days

#9 posted 03-09-2011 04:10 AM

Making dovetails by hand is good therapy, provided you have the patience. You dont need very expensive saws—a master craftsman I know uses the cheap Zona craft saws with almost azero kerf. It is quite easy to control and quite cheap (about $ 10 or so).

But if you are in a hurry a jig is the way to go, and you can make perfect dovetails time after time. I have a Keller myself and am looking into buying a Leigh. Why cuz I am not very good at handcut dovetails and dont have much patience. But I do try it from time to time.


View Resurrected's profile


671 posts in 2898 days

#10 posted 03-09-2011 04:18 AM

OK this is interesting. Guys so say I give you 50 to 100 dollars. What hand tools would you get. What makes life easy with doing it by hand. I neither agree nor disagree with either route and since this is going the route of hand, it intrigues me. Oh recommend a literture resource. Jigs are set up and go I’m sure there is more with hand.

-- Who can I block now???????????????????????

View wilterbeast's profile


44 posts in 2855 days

#11 posted 03-09-2011 04:20 AM

i learned but using a guide and japanese duzuki from veritas. its like a router jig for hand saws. i havent run into a situation where it didnt work. i cant remember how much it cost but since i’m a broke hillbilly i cant imagine it was a ton of money.

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3204 days

#12 posted 03-09-2011 04:29 AM

Minimum tools for an easy exercise and not Frank Klauz doing it by reflex in his sleep:

Source: Amazon

Saw: $8
Chisel: $15 (lets make it a nice one)
Marking gauge: as cheap as $8 on Amazon
Marking knife: $10 (might as well, you are giving us lots of money.)
Nice mallet: $16

So, that’s $55 for quality tools starting with nothing.

You could get by with a lot less.

Stevens – how to cut dovetails – Part One (w/ Intro) from Keith Cruickshank on Vimeo.

Here’s another:

What makes it attractive? Quiet, Can listen to music, challenge to patience.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

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671 posts in 2898 days

#13 posted 03-09-2011 05:08 AM

Thank you

Give me some tool #’s and locations I’ll buy them 55 is not much. Just money into the shop. You could have gone to 100. Maybe this could be away for me too learn patience. I really also would not mind learning to do this by hand.

PM me or better yet put the list here for all to see, so everyone can see its easy and not much money.

-- Who can I block now???????????????????????

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 3204 days

#14 posted 03-09-2011 05:44 AM

Most of this stuff is really cheap. The problem is that vendors don’t pay magazines and TV shows lots of money to promote an $8 saw like they do the $200 saws (as an example).

These are all stuff that I have and use (or very much like—I like to buy stuff all at once and combine shipping).


Marking gauge


Marking knife

This is a jewler’s saw like the lady’s in the second video used to saw out waste instead of chopping.

Extra blades (These don’t last that long—especially when you are starting to use them. This is a gross of them)

Chisel: depends on your taste. I used an inexpensive Japanese style for a medium price point. It depends on what size you are going to make dovetails and what you like. You can get by just fine with some $5 chisels or go out and spend hundreds. I have a chisel fetish so I am not really one to ask. They are kinda like crack.

A few optional or nicer versions you might like but are optional:

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3854 days

#15 posted 03-09-2011 05:53 AM

I’ve never owned a jig. I always cut them with a saw.

Sometimes I use a dozuki (for small dovetails) but for dovetailing
4/4 stock I usually use a bowsaw with a 10 tpi rip blade (a
reshaped butcher-saw blade in a self-made bowsaw frame) and
occasionally with a band saw.

A saw with more than a slight set will cut ragged and swim in
the kerf. I wax my bowsaw because it fits the kerf so tight –
all cuts are very straight once the direction is established with
the first few strokes.

Usually I saw out the waste with a coping saw and chisel out
the rest. The method is not too slow once you get used to

I cut the tails first and mark the pins from the tail board.

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