Dovetails are hard! Help

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Forum topic by Nick_R posted 07-19-2012 12:57 AM 2352 views 1 time favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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152 posts in 2172 days

07-19-2012 12:57 AM

Topic tags/keywords: dovetail router help advice jig joinery question tip resource

I have watched the videos, read the instructions, bought the jigs, set up my router table and I have FAILED over and over again.. I have heard that failures are just lessons, but I think I have been left back a few grades.

So I am looking for help / advice / anything to educate me before I give up. Here is the story..

I like to build boxes of all kinds.. I usually use my miter saw and cut 45’s and glue up the board with nice edges, but I have always liked the dovetail look, especially with contrasting wood colors.

I usually use craft wood 3/8 or 1/4 inch oak or poplar sooooooooooo the easiest looking jig was the one by General called EZ Dovetail.. Yes, I drank the kool aid and now I have another “thing” on the shelf. It actually worked OK if I used 1/2” to 3/4” wood AND it was about 6” wide AND it was long enough to clamp to the table AND the wood didn’t tear.. etc etc.. But I really wanted to dovetail the thinner wood with a 3/8” dovetail bit but that didn’t work.. Basically the wood is too thin to use this jig

So I tried it on the router table. Same crappy result. I have been “practicing” on scraps making them even scrappier and I am about as frustrated as ever..

I have a Freud 2000 plunge router attached to my craftsman table (i know I just need to grow more money). The problem I am having with the router is the EZ Dovetail is too thick and the router does not plunge enough to use other bits, so I am stuck with the one that came with the jig. I don’t want to put the bit in the router to shallow for fear that it will dovetail my forehead. I can overcome this issue,

I just need to be pointed in the right direction or be told to quit or wait till I have lots more money….

I am out of answers… was hoping you guys could help..

Thanks in advance..

-- Hope for the best but plan for the worst.

11 replies so far

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 2993 days

#1 posted 07-19-2012 01:16 AM

First mistake was to get a jig.

Actually, for 1/4” or 3/8” stock a box joint would be a much better option. And is just as strong.

Anyway, for thin stock you need to forget the router.
Get you a bunch of practice pieces.
Sharpen your small chisels. Then hone your small chisels.
Get a fine tooth dovetail saw. I like the little Dozuki

And then cut them by hand.

Honestly, I’m no master wookworker, but I watched a video of a guy doing a handcut freehand dovetail once and tried it. First time was good. Just used the width of the chisel for spacing, freehanded the angles. fit like a glove.

Most important things are confidence, a good vise, good light, and super sharp tools.

View Gatorjim's profile


217 posts in 2227 days

#2 posted 07-19-2012 01:20 AM

I too love the look of the dove tail but for the life of me can’t make one. I was thinking its because I am using a HF jig. I hope you get your answer I will for sure be watching for it.

-- My theroy in wood working will be. If I'm not enjoying doing it i won't do it.

View Nicky's profile


695 posts in 4114 days

#3 posted 07-19-2012 01:50 AM

I’m with cranck on this. Dovetails are awesome but in my experience its not s good for material under 1/2”, a box joint would provide greater strength. If you take the dovetail route, I would use a sharp saw and chisel.

Search this site and/or youtube for box joint jigs, you will see lots of simple jigs for the router and table saw.

-- Nicky

View Ted's profile


2873 posts in 2233 days

#4 posted 07-19-2012 02:07 AM

Do box joints by hand. That will help you hone your skills. Then move up to hand cut dovetails. Pretty soon you’ll see those power tools and jigs more as a hassle than a convenience. Jigs are for banging out lots of dovetails fast. The boxes you’re making are only a few dovetails, and take about an hour to measure and cut, once you get the swing of it. You just need to get your own personal process down pat, and the only way to do that is to practice. Just my thoughts.. hope it helps.

-- You can collect dust or you can make dust. I choose to make it.

View OnlyJustME's profile


1562 posts in 2399 days

#5 posted 07-19-2012 02:30 AM

They are simple to do. Just ask Paul Sellers. All you need is practice.

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

View waho6o9's profile


8205 posts in 2599 days

#6 posted 07-19-2012 02:38 AM

Hand cut your dovetails, practice a lot, and then cut more dovetails. One day a light will go off and Bingo,
you will get dovetails.
John Bullar’s video helped me a lot and I literally watched and stopped the video as I went to the shop
and did as he instructed. Thanks John.
Good luck on your journey Nick_R.

View Nick_R's profile


152 posts in 2172 days

#7 posted 07-21-2012 01:47 PM

Thanks to all the Jocks that replied. I am taking your advice to heart and put the jig on the shelf and now watching lots of videos. Looks like a bit of a learning curve but that is OK…

Thanks again.

-- Hope for the best but plan for the worst.

View PurpLev's profile


8536 posts in 3671 days

#8 posted 07-21-2012 02:03 PM

1. you should be fine making dovetails on material thinner than 1/2”

2. I am not familiar with the EZ jig you bought, but from what I’ve seen – the cheaper dt jigs are just not that great – are really hard to learn and get good results with, and are limited with what they can do. the more $$$ jigs give you much more options and produce better results.

3. until now all my DT were cut by hand… the way I see it there are 2 reasons for making dt with a jig:
a. making a boat load of them (think full set of kitchen drawers)
b. going for a consistent look (making boxes all look alike, or doing things like the incra double dt)

if you are not striving for either ‘a’ or ‘b’ you can cut those by hand, and have a much more refined look of the tails as you can cut the pins much narrower than any jig could do. cutting dt by hand is not really that difficult, although requires some practice to get them tight and get the feel of it.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Bertha's profile


13529 posts in 2715 days

#9 posted 07-21-2012 02:42 PM

Man, I can relate. No matter how difficult, though, you’ve got to just keep chipping away at it (pun intended). I’m no master, but I can tell you what helped me. I failed miserably with Western saws. It wasn’t until I got a thin kerf pull saw that I started getting close. You’re going to want some good, incredibly sharp chisels of the appropriate size. You’ll want a good paring chisel that really feels good in your hand. Use a very sharp marking knife and take your time striking the baseline and doves. Plan to spend a ton of time paring down for a good fit. I spend HOURS paring town a simple drawer. It gets better, man, you just have to keep trying. Every one you make makes you that much better.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View waho6o9's profile


8205 posts in 2599 days

#10 posted 07-21-2012 02:48 PM

View Richforever's profile


757 posts in 3742 days

#11 posted 07-21-2012 06:58 PM

I’ve done it both ways – with good results. It’s just a lot harder using a jig and router, and I prefer the hand-cut look. Just get a good dovetail saw and some chisels. I like the Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw and the German made Two Cherries chisels.

After watching lots of videos and doing some practice, it seems like the “pins first” approach works well because I just transfer the marks to the tail board with a sharp knife; make the cuts; and things fit. Doing it by hand is faster, easier, and lots more fun.

Hope this helps.

-- Rich, Seattle, WA

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