Small box with dovetails

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Forum topic by ynathans posted 06-18-2014 02:21 PM 976 views 0 times favorited 3 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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55 posts in 1140 days

06-18-2014 02:21 PM

Hey everyone,

I am a relative beginner and am in the design phase for a small box, maybe 6-8” wide by 10” high. I am planning to use oak and was going to practice dovetails for the joinery. I am going to use the Incra router system with the right angle attachment and had a few questions:

1. Do I have to have the dovetails somehow spaced out perfectly—meaning what if the width of the side is such that the board ends midway thru the last dovetail? I hope that makes sense.

2. For the bottom of the box what is my best bet? I want the bottom to be flush with the sides. Can I use dovetails on the bottom too? Or am I better off cutting a groove and inserting a board?

3. The box will have a cover—do I just cut a rabbet on the edges to make it sit flush? If the thickness of the wood will be 3/8” how wide/deep should the rabbet be?

Unrelated—in this case I will be using hardwood—in the past I tried to make box joints on the router table with plywood but the tearout was terrible, and it was essentially unusable. I’ve seen on youtube people making boxjoints with plywood on the tablesaw without issues—will it work on the tablesaw but not on the router table? (Same for dovetails?)



3 replies so far

View cdarney's profile


101 posts in 2453 days

#1 posted 06-18-2014 02:51 PM

I’ll take a stab at this.

1. If you’re cutting dovetails by hand, dovetails can be any spacing you like. Perhaps the same for some jigs. The half tail on the ends of the board can be designed. If you’re hand cutting, try this link:
For most jigs there should be a way to set the half tail properly.

2. I think trying to fit the dovetails on the sides and the bottom would be difficult. It might be tricky manuvering all sides at the same time. It also wouldn’t allow for wood movement. I would cut the dado and insert a board. The board would be sized to allow wood movement.

3. I like to make the entire box then cut the lid off once it’s glued up. With careful marking you can even leave yourself a nice inner/outer lip for the lid. Plans can be found on the internet.

I haven’t tried box joints on a router table. On the table saw I use a box joint jig that has zero clearance through it. That minimizes tearout. I imagine it would work for plywood.


View Richard H's profile

Richard H

483 posts in 1103 days

#2 posted 06-18-2014 03:30 PM

As CD said there are no hard and fast rules as it’s all personal preference. As a general rule the thicker the sides the bulkier the tails will be to balance out the elements. For a 3/8” or so side thickness for a small box you would want to use the smallest router bit you can probably. Your best bet might be to layout and cut the dovetails on a few practice boards to get an idea what spacing and size works best for you. This also lets you figure out how to capture any rabbets or dadoes without exposing the groves which I personally find the hardest part of dovetailing small boxes. Don’t get caught up with formulas for spacing, tail angle and width as if you look at antique furniture those things are all over the place. Using some guild lines such as 1/4” width, 10-12 degree angle, and number of pins half the width of the board might be a good starting point but if you find something that you like that goes outside that don’t be afraid to do it.

Dovetailing the bottom of the case wouldn’t work for the reasons CD said. If you want it flush you can either cut a rabbet in the box and inset the bottom that way or cut a dado and use a raised panel. Or nail a bottom on the case flush and apply molding to hide the edge. You would be surprised how many pieces of antique furniture did that if you start looking.

Either a rabbet with the top mounted inside it or a raised panel will work. You might have to adjust your layout a bit to accommodate that but a test corner piece would help you there. I also like making my boxes as one piece than sawing them apart but keep that in mind when you make the box and size the dovetails take the amount of material you are removing when sawing it apart in mind.

Using power tools to cut joinery like this I will always use a backer board and doubly so with plywood. Router or table saw you will get chip out otherwise.

View Kopac's profile


78 posts in 2195 days

#3 posted 06-23-2014 04:37 AM

After you make the dovetails, it would be an interesting look to 45 the corners. Ive done it in this concept design, just an idea while you experience your project.

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