Tails first Dovetailing

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Forum topic by TheBronzeoakleaf posted 01-17-2013 01:04 AM 1468 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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36 posts in 1958 days

01-17-2013 01:04 AM

Topic tags/keywords: dovetails tails-first rob cosman frank klaus joining

So I’m youtubing and I come across Rob Cosman (about a million videos) talking about cutting dovetails tails-first.

I don’t know much about the man, except he seems adept (to say the least) at marketing himself and his tools.

Anyway, he mentions seeing Frank Klaus cut his three-minute dovetails and says that someone from the other side of the fence should reply; meaning someone from the “tails-first” side. Meaning, of course, himself.

I myself have always cut pins-first, but to be honest, the first dovetail video I ever saw was Frank showing how easy it was to cut dovetails. I was hooked, so pins first it was.

Until I saw Rob. Boy, can he cut dovetails. He explains that cutting tails-first reduces by one step the amount of work you have to do.

I’m not sure which is better, but I can’t wait to try. I just finished cutting my first compound angle dovetails (they’re easier than you think), and am anxious to try cutting my first dovetails tails-first.

Any opinions on this? Is it really that passionate of an argument with some of you? I admit that dovetails get way to much attention paid to them as a method of joinery, but they’re just so darned pretty.

I’m looking forward to some feedback on this.

-- Sam,

8 replies so far

View paratrooper34's profile


915 posts in 2947 days

#1 posted 01-17-2013 01:34 AM

TheBronzeoakleaf, I was a tails first type for a while. Then I moved over to pins first and found my accuracy was better that way. Not sure why. I also moved from marking knives to pencils, so maybe that helped. Anyway, I think it is just a matter of preference and what you feel is more comfortable for you and your style.

Just curious, what step is saved by doing tails first?

-- Mike

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 2993 days

#2 posted 01-17-2013 01:35 AM

The only thing I have ever seen that made a case for pins or tails first is someone was making drawers (Maybe Roy?) and ganged up both sides and cut the tails at the same time. Other than that, it is just what you are used to.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View Loren's profile (online now)


10380 posts in 3643 days

#3 posted 01-17-2013 01:49 AM

I cut tails first. My reasoning is pragmatic… it’s relatively easy to
train the body to cut vertical, which is how you cut pins, but
to cut angles always the same is a little tricky. I cut the tails first and if the angles vary a bit it’s no problem.
All the pin cuts are vertical.

I’m surprised more woodworkers don’t share my reasoning,
but they don’t.

I use a bowsaw for carcase dovetails. So does Frank Klaus,
sometimes. It’s fast.

I think it’s arguably easier (with fine pins) to mark the tails
from the pins, but I just make a little hook-shaped marking
knife from a piece of hacksaw blade and it reaches in
between closely-spaced tails just fine.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18267 posts in 3671 days

#4 posted 01-17-2013 08:53 AM

I cut tails first because that is how Roy did it when he showed me. Wasn’t exactly a personal lesson. He was on PBS ;-)

Compound dovetails are easier than you might think, if, you keep your wits about you!! ;-))

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View helluvawreck's profile


31044 posts in 2862 days

#5 posted 01-17-2013 01:46 PM

I cut tails first. The main reason I do it is because it is much less awkward for me to lock the pin board in the vise and simply lay the tail board on the end of the pin board to mark the pins. When you cut the pins first it is much more awkward to try to hold or clamp the pin board where it is straight up vertically to mark the tales.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Jorge G.'s profile

Jorge G.

1537 posts in 2471 days

#6 posted 01-17-2013 04:21 PM

Tails first for the same reason Loren explained. The angled cut is not always exactly on the line. Once I did pins first and I thought it was a lot easier to mark up the tails board. On the other hand it is easier to mark the tails board than it is the pins board, at leas for me…... :-)

I can’t see saving any steps either way, you mark them and you cut them…two steps either way.

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View TheBronzeoakleaf's profile


36 posts in 1958 days

#7 posted 01-18-2013 01:34 AM

I guess “saving a step” was the wrong way to phrase it. I think what Rob meant was that when you cut pins first, you have to eye two lines, and cut two lines at once for the pins; and then you have to eye and cut two lines at once when cutting the tails. Cutting the tails first allows you to just eye and follow the square line across the end grain, and the angle of the tail doesn’t matter as much, making the cutting a little simpler. Either way, it sounds like most people prefer tails first. I’ll have to try it.

-- Sam,

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15347 posts in 2614 days

#8 posted 02-16-2013 10:46 AM

Ditto what Loren said above, as I am a tails-first guy too. I don’t mark angles for the tails, either, but just go free hand while attempting to stay consistent ‘across the board.’ :-) Easy to translate those cuts to the pin board, as Charles says, and cutting the pins is an exercise in cutting straight down. I can (mostly) do that. I trip pins first, it was disasterous.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

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