Adjusting plans to inorporate dovetails

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Forum topic by oxwilder posted 07-12-2012 04:31 AM 1585 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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3 posts in 2173 days

07-12-2012 04:31 AM

Topic tags/keywords: dovetail cabinets cabinetry drawers convert adjust dimensions

I’m making drawers for some cabinets, and the plans I’m using have me using butt joints between the drawer sides and front/back pieces. I want to delete the butt joints and make them dovetails instead, but I can’t reason out how the dimensions should change.

Currently, the front/back pieces are sandwiched between the sides. So let’s say the drawer is 27 1/2” wide by 20” deep made of 3/4” plywood, meaning I’ve cut a 4×26” front and back, and two 4×20” sides. Which piece gets the pins and which gets the tails? And when cutting subsequent drawer pieces, how should the lengths change in order to keep the overall dimensions of the drawer the same?

My apologies for the lack of visual aid. Please enjoy this picture of a plate of nachos.

6 replies so far

View OnlyJustME's profile


1562 posts in 2405 days

#1 posted 07-12-2012 04:41 AM

It’s late here so my thinking might be wrong but i believe the front and back of the drawer gets the pins. which ever way, you want it to hold together when you are pulling the front of the drawer.
You would have to increase the front and back panels by twice the thickness of the material.

It might be different if you are doing blind dovetails.

-- In the end, when your life flashes before your eyes, will you like what you see?

View jdmaher's profile


430 posts in 2608 days

#2 posted 07-12-2012 12:30 PM

Front and rear pieces are the pin pieces – they contain the pins. Sides are the tail pieces – they contain the tails.

For through dovetails, the pin pieces (the front and back) should be the width to fit the drawer opening in the face frame (minus a bit, maybe an 1/8”, for clearance). And the tail pieces (the sides) should be the as long as the depth of the opening in the cabinet (exactly, if you want the drawer faces flush with the face frame).

For half-blind dovetails, BOTH front and back, one would subtract half (get it?) the thickness of the front AND back pieces from the side pieces. If the front and back are BOTH 3/4” (true) stock, you’d subtract 3/4” from the length of the sides.

Several considerations:

- To answer your question, you should start from the size of the DRAWER BOX OPENING, rather than the size of the pieces you’ve already cut.

- If you half-blind, most people only do that on the front. Then you have to answer how you’re going to join the back to the sides to “figure” the lengths of your pieces. But, again, start from the size of the DRAWER BOX OPENING.

- 3/4” plywood is rarely 3/4” thick. That’s usually just a “nominal” statement of thickness. What matters is the actual, real, measured thickness of the pieces you are actually, really using. That is, fit, don’t measure.

- All of the above is for FLUSH faced drawers. Overlay drawers (where part of the drawer front “overlays” part of the face frame), add a complication.

Dovetails take a bit of work, but – with practice – they sure do look good.

Have fun!

-- Jim Maher, Illinois

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1562 posts in 2405 days

#3 posted 07-12-2012 02:24 PM

Check out some of Paul Sellers videos. He does all 4 corners dovetailed by hand in under 10 minutes.

-- In the end, when your life flashes before your eyes, will you like what you see?

View jmos's profile (online now)


840 posts in 2398 days

#4 posted 07-12-2012 02:40 PM

mmmm nachos

I think Jim nailed it, my only thoughts are, if you’re going to go the the trouble of going with dovetails, I would consider not using plywood, especially if hand cut. Pretty joint, ugly stock. Maybe if using true Baltic birch ply where you can make the edges look decent.

Also, don’t get too locked into 3/4” stock; it’s usually overkill for most drawers, looks clunky too. If you storing really heavy stuff, maybe, but 1/2” is usually sufficient for most drawers, maybe 5/8”.

-- John

View Mosquito's profile


9355 posts in 2321 days

#5 posted 07-12-2012 03:30 PM

Jim definitely gave you the answers to your questions, and then some. I also agree with John, dovetails and plywood doesn’t work out well in my mind (not just the looks, but the actual cutting and fitting of the joints). I’ve also found dovetails to be easier in thinner stock than 3/4”. I’d been practicing in 3/4” and when I used them in an actual project I used 1/2” and they were much better than any of my practice ones.

Good luck! And the nachos made me happy :-)

-- Mos - Twin Cities, MN - -

View oxwilder's profile


3 posts in 2173 days

#6 posted 07-13-2012 04:18 PM

Thanks for all the information, guys! I’m just starting out here, and it helps to be reminded not to take things for granted, like nominal sizes. Also, it makes sense not to use such heavy material for drawers.

Keep up the good work.

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