Dovetailing 1/2" birch plywood

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Forum topic by birddog370 posted 02-20-2013 09:05 AM 13335 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 1917 days

02-20-2013 09:05 AM

Hey everyone,

I am trying to find out if anyone ever tried dovetailing 1/2” birch plywood as a joinery technique. I’ll see if I can make this simple…

My wife owns a prescool and is mortified everytime she has to order new furniture etc… as the expense is high for this sort of thing. I have been doing basic woodworking on simpler projects over the last couple of years but every now and then will tackle something a little bigger to help her out. I have been given alot of posotive feedback on those so I keep pushing the limits farther each time.

My latest endeavor is to build a set of cubbies for backpacks and schoolwork out of 1/2” birch plywood and would like to use 1/4” dovetailed dado’s to slide the center shelving and dividers into the back of the unit instead of using screws or dowel pins so that i can hide the joinery. Typically is use 3/4” plywood for this sort of thing but i want to try to mimic the other manufacturers design a little closer without making it a ton heavier. My fear is that the 1/4” dovetail will snap or such on 1/2” plywood.

Any advice, technique, or experience would be much appreciated.


11 replies so far

View Knothead62's profile


2584 posts in 2956 days

#1 posted 02-20-2013 11:22 AM

I tried dovetailing ply wood, not birch, though. It was a disaster as the wood splintered real bad. Other may have had a better experience.

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3153 days

#2 posted 02-20-2013 01:25 PM

This is where the Incra system shines, since you can cut all the pins or tails at once, using backer boards front and back to prevent tear-out. Even so, you have to be careful fitting the dovetails together as that can tear away at the plies.

-- jay,

View ClayandNancy's profile


519 posts in 3010 days

#3 posted 02-20-2013 01:32 PM

I built some cubbies for our church daycare and I believe for strength and longevity 3/4” would be a better choice. I just dadoed in the the dividers and shelves. Here’s a pic before they painted them.

View HillbillyShooter's profile


5811 posts in 2287 days

#4 posted 02-20-2013 02:12 PM

Yes, you can use plywood for drawers, but I wouldn’t use 1/4” dado/half blind dovetails on the front. I use 1/2” Baltic Birch for the sides, back and front, cutting full 1/2” through dovetails and attaching a false front (which is easier to align to the drawer opening than adjusting drawer glides). I use the Leigh dovetail jig I acquired almost 20 years ago before the Incra system came out (or, if it had, I was unaware of it). However, Jay may well be right about the Incra system being better and I’d seriously check it out before investing in the Leigh (high learning curve and not always what it’s cracked up to be). Finally, I’ve recently experimented with soaking the plywood end grain (where the tails and pins will be cut) with CA glue and after it thoroughly dries doing the routing—it helps prevent some blow out, but not as much as front and rear backer boards. Good luck!

-- John C. -- "Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth." George Washington

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3153 days

#5 posted 02-20-2013 02:18 PM

Hey, John…the Incra does have its fair share of idiosyncracies and I do love it, but I was just saying that any way you cut them that allows for a sacrificial backer board will be preferred. I do box joints all the time in 1/2” plywood and use the same principle.

I’m sure the Leigh jig is quite a good product too.

-- jay,

View 489tad's profile


3362 posts in 3006 days

#6 posted 02-20-2013 02:29 PM

I’ve dovetailed plywood and found scoring the cut line helps with the tear out. I’m all for trying something different so do a prototype of the 1/4 dovetail dado to test for strength. some of those pre-K’s can get rough with things. I just saw a piece where a half dovetail was used. That would not sacrifice too much strength and keep from using mechanical fasteners. You could alternate half dovetail on the bottom left and top right of the divider. Having the corresponding half dovetails match in the upper and lower shelves dado’s will test your ability to keep track of things. I think that’s the way to go!

-- Dan, Naperville IL, I.G.N.

View runswithscissors's profile


2750 posts in 2020 days

#7 posted 02-21-2013 01:31 AM

If I read your post correctly, it seems you want to have sliding dovetails. ??? How thick would the shelves and dividers be? Routing sliding dovetail dadoes with the grain should be okay, but across the grain could be problematic. Ideally, sliding dovetails should be tapered. Otherwise, with close fitting parts, sliding them together can become really difficult as the friction increases with the length of the joint.

I’ve had problems with blowout doing half blind dovetails for drawers, even using Baltic birch, which I think is the best quality ply you can get. I gave that up and reverted to solid wood.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

View TechRedneck's profile


768 posts in 2852 days

#8 posted 02-21-2013 02:52 AM

Here is a shelf unit I put together with 1/2” ply for the grandkids play room. Been there over 3 years and still standing.

I used dados, glue and pin nails in the center sections, lap joints on the edges then faced the edges with some solid oak glued and pinned to the front to hide the plywood edges and give it a finished look. Used baskets instead of drawers

I have never tried sliding dovetails in plywood, could be problematic. I have done dovetails in ply on the Incra and it worked fine with the backer boards. This was for shop drawers, they still work fine.

-- Mike.... West Virginia. "Man is a tool using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.". T Carlyle

View pintodeluxe's profile


5654 posts in 2808 days

#9 posted 02-21-2013 04:04 AM

Nothing wrong with using plywood, but I wouldn’t use dovetails in plywood. This is due to splintering.
I also chuckle when I see plywood dovetails. Kind of like having lion statues in front of a 5th wheel.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View Dakkar's profile


323 posts in 1922 days

#10 posted 02-21-2013 04:37 AM

Not only does dovetailing 1/2 inch birch ply work, it’s done on a large industrial scale. Awhile back I went the liquidation auction of big cabinet manufacturer. I scored a great deal on a couple of pallets full of cut, but unassembled drawers. All the drawer sides were prefinished birch with dovetails at each end. I just snapped a pic of a corner I’ve glued up. It’s not glamourous, but I was just planning to repurpose it as portable shelf boxes.

You’re not going to get a lovely finished look with birch ply dovetails, but they’re as strong as anything you could want.

View BBrown626's profile


37 posts in 1956 days

#11 posted 03-04-2013 04:51 AM

Use Baltic Birch or Finish plywood. They have a great core. You will still have to be carful about tearout.
If you are putting in a bunch of dividers, tray an 1/8” dado and glue them in. Put a face frame on it and it will be very strong.

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