Do You Dry-Fit Hand-Cut Dovetail Joints Before Glue-up?

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Forum topic by lumbermeister posted 04-18-2014 04:41 PM 1602 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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128 posts in 1916 days

04-18-2014 04:41 PM

My first dovetail project – hand cut. I’m tempted to not do a complete dry fit (only partially insert tails to pins to assure against major flaws), as I am afraid of compressing the fibers and compromising final fit and, also, potential breakage when separating the pin and tail boards.

What is your experience/advice? Anyone go straight to glue-up without dry fit? Thanks.

8 replies so far

View woodchuckerNJ's profile


1263 posts in 1570 days

#1 posted 04-18-2014 04:49 PM

I always dry fit. But to take it apart, I hit it with a mallet , with a piece of scrap covering the wood so as not to dent it.
When you hammer it out straight, you don’t compress the fibers. If you wiggle it you do.

Hand cut or machine cut?

-- Jeff NJ

View pintodeluxe's profile


5596 posts in 2749 days

#2 posted 04-18-2014 04:51 PM

Well I machine cut mine, so your experience may vary, however I always dry fit dovetails. The trick is to cut them with an easy friction fit so they aren’t damaged during the dry fitting process.

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

View dawsonbob's profile


2783 posts in 1691 days

#3 posted 04-18-2014 04:54 PM

I can’t imagine not dry fitting. When you have the glue on is not the time to find out that it won’t fit together.

-- Mistakes are what pave the road to perfection

View Airframer's profile


3043 posts in 1889 days

#4 posted 04-18-2014 05:00 PM

If you find the fibers have compressed slightly after dry fit you can always lightly tap the pins/tails what have you with the ball end of a ball peen hammer and it will spread them back out and fill any gaps that may be present.

That said I always dry fit as well… like has been said.. you don’t want to have an oh shi%$ moment AFTER glue is applied.

-- Eric - "I'm getting proficient with these hand jobbers. - BigRedKnothead"

View Loren's profile


10114 posts in 3584 days

#5 posted 04-18-2014 05:14 PM

I’ve not had a problem dry fitting dovetails except it’s important
to take them apart carefully.

After glue up, the corner can be burnished with a screwdriver
shank to mash down little gaps.

View Dave G's profile

Dave G

331 posts in 1984 days

#6 posted 04-18-2014 09:56 PM

Often I find with dry fit that I had not cleaned the bottoms of the pins perfectly square and when assembled they will not seat properly leaving a gap that looks terrible. I make sure I always dry fit. Whatever compression there is inside the joint gets filled, perhaps even better, with glue.

-- Dave, New England - “We are made to persist. that's how we find out who we are.” ― Tobias Wolff

View WoodAndShop's profile


149 posts in 1445 days

#7 posted 04-18-2014 11:14 PM

Dry fitting is essential. If you’re afraid that it’ll compress fibers, then your joints are too tight. If it’s too tight, then you need to trim. Last year I took a 5 day class with Roy Underhill & Bill Anderson, and I just got around to making a video series of what I learned about cutting dovetails by hand. Here's the link to video 1/15. Let me know if this helps!

-- Joshua Farnsworth - Free Traditional Hand Tool Woodworking Tutorials:

View lumbermeister's profile


128 posts in 1916 days

#8 posted 04-19-2014 12:23 PM

Thanks everyone for your input. Its not often that I see complete unanimity here on Lumberjocks, but its very clear that, on this item, the smart money is doing a dry fit. With that, (and my curiosity re. my dovetails – too impatient to wait until glue-up to see how they fit) – I dry-fitted my work. Glad I did, and I am satisfied with it. I believe it is ready for glue.

Appreciate all your feedback.

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