Easiest method for dovetails?

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Forum topic by Micah Muzny posted 10-03-2014 08:58 PM 1749 views 0 times favorited 18 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Micah Muzny

185 posts in 1727 days

10-03-2014 08:58 PM

Looking for a easy to learn and fast way to make good dovetails. I am not a purist of any sort and I am open to any method. Hand or jig and router or whatever it maybe.

18 replies so far

View waho6o9's profile


8187 posts in 2571 days

#1 posted 10-03-2014 09:06 PM

View JAAune's profile


1797 posts in 2311 days

#2 posted 10-03-2014 09:11 PM

A bandsaw with a blade that has zero set plus sleds to feed the boards straight will work for both pins and tails.

I haven’t bothered to build jigs like that myself so I just take the set off a bandsaw blade, stack my tail boards together and cut all the tails freehand at the same time. Without set, the bandsaw blade always cuts straight. You just need to start the cut right so it goes the right direction.

The bulk of the waste gets cut out on a scrollsaw then cleaned up with a chisel to the layout lines. Layout lines are transferred to pins then cut with a handsaw. I use the scrollsaw again to take out the waste (tricky to do but fast) then finish with the chisel.

Here’s one article

Fine Woodworking on bandsaw dovetails#

I’ve seen a different approach to the jigs by Michael Fortune while I was at Marc Adams School but I don’t think he’s published it yet. I’m sure it’ll make it to Fine Woodworking sooner or later.

-- See my work at and

View JayT's profile


5623 posts in 2205 days

#3 posted 10-03-2014 09:13 PM

My preferred method from David Barron using a handsaw and magnetic guide. Very accurate with very little marking to do.

-- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson

View Loren's profile


10377 posts in 3642 days

#4 posted 10-03-2014 09:27 PM

I cut my first dovetails with the band saw using
a method (and jigs) described by Mark Dunginske
in his “Band Saw Handbook”. The fit was totally
acceptable and the method makes every dovetail
fits the same… the fence is just dialed-in once,
everything else is done with spacer blocks.

You’d need scroll saw or a very thin band saw
to cut out the waste. I used a band saw blade
but it soon broke and I lost interest in the method,
moving on to cutting them by hand as a skill
building challenge. These days I seldom bother
as clients don’t really care in general and are
disinclined to pay for them. It’s still a neat skill
and a sort of introduction to the finessing skills
you’ll need to hand-fit tricky mortise and tenon
joints with angles and things like that.

View robscastle's profile


4967 posts in 2199 days

#5 posted 10-03-2014 09:58 PM

If you are making a lot of dovetails a jig is the way to go, albeit a gauge and tenon saw, bandsaw or a router driven jig

However the cost alone of a router based Jig may be a factor prohibiting it. If you know of somebody with one (and they will let you use it!) see if you can borrow it to do the job, or ask them to cut them for you.

You do not say just exactly what the job is in the post, apart from “learning and fast”

Both do not complement each other unfortunately.

Dovetails make fantastic joints both structurally and cosmeticaly but in this day and age there is a offset to consider.

Repeatability and then the time and cost to produce them.

As Loren eluded to they may not be apreciated as much as the originator thought.

Both myself and another LJ have Gifkins Jigs they are about $600 but the cost does not end there a suitable table is required along with a router, add all this up and that is where the prohibitive cost may be introduced.

I personally never did dovetails, apart from school, however now I can make them “fast” hence the reason to outlay so much loot all of which in my case will never be recovered.

However I am happy doing what I am doing.

-- Regards Robert

View pintodeluxe's profile


5654 posts in 2808 days

#6 posted 10-03-2014 10:00 PM

Certainly the easiest way to cut dovetails is with a router and jig. You can purchase a Porter Cable jig and be zipping out dovetails in no time. Whoever invented it was genius, because no matter how many drawers I make, half-blind dovetails in one pass still seem like magic.

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

View mahdee's profile


3883 posts in 1762 days

#7 posted 10-04-2014 12:19 AM

+++++JAAune & Loren.


View verdesardog's profile


160 posts in 2606 days

#8 posted 10-04-2014 12:23 AM

I have had the Leigh jig for many years and use it for all my dovetails.

-- .. heyoka ..

View runswithscissors's profile


2750 posts in 2019 days

#9 posted 10-04-2014 07:19 AM

Jigs, such as the PC, are good tools, but whether that’s the way you want to go depends on how many you need to make. For one box, it’s marginal, not only in terms of cost, but also time. That’s because you can’t just start cutting dovetails out of the box. There’s a learning curve, and a lot of fussing over right depth of the bit to cut DTs that fit. Some are reputed to be better than others in that regard. I have put my PC to good use in making a kitchen’s worth of drawers. Once you are set up and everything is adjusted right, you can get into a rhythm and really crank them out.

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

View Logan Windram's profile

Logan Windram

346 posts in 2456 days

#10 posted 10-04-2014 12:00 PM

With careful marking a high quality Dovetail saw, you will be surprised how fast you can cut dovetails. Get a nice coping saw to cut out the waste. If you cope well, and have razor sharp chisels, cleaning up the shoulders goes pretty quickly.

So the question for you is, what is your intent?

To build a case of drawers for yourself, with no deadline, and for personal skill building and satisfaction? I’d do it by hand and perfect your technique. To me, it’s a process of very fine marking lines and saw to, but not into those lines while cutting the tails dead square to the board face. One you nail a set perfect in a hardwood, you’ll be hooked.

Doing multiples for a small production run, or making something that doesn’t need an artistic touch? Get a router and jig. It’s faster and you could knock out a case of drawers in minutes- very little if any shoulder cleanup.

View camps764's profile


867 posts in 2354 days

#11 posted 10-04-2014 01:30 PM

you can get the porter cable jig at Menards for about 99 bucks. It works well, instructions are decent, and after a few practice pieces you’ll be able to do it pretty quickly.

-- Steve

View CharlesA's profile


3319 posts in 1792 days

#12 posted 10-04-2014 02:12 PM

Easiest? According to Paul Sellers, dovetails need to be caressed by hand.

-- "Man is the only animal which devours his own, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor." ~Thomas Jefferson

View hairy's profile (online now)


2701 posts in 3527 days

#13 posted 10-04-2014 03:24 PM

View skatefriday's profile


416 posts in 1477 days

#14 posted 10-04-2014 03:28 PM

Do the jigs give you tight dovetails or do they end up
like the dovetails you see in Home Depot kitchens where
nothing is really flush?

View Logan Windram's profile

Logan Windram

346 posts in 2456 days

#15 posted 10-04-2014 04:19 PM

Do the jigs give you tight dovetails or do they end up
like the dovetails you see in Home Depot kitchens where
nothing is really flush?

- skatefriday

The more expensive the jig, the better the results. If the stock is milled 4 square and beautiful, the jig will give you better results.

I think those Home Depot cabinets are from a maker whose concern is not with quality or fit, but for price and it’s it good enough for a flip or kitchen for people who don’t care or know better.

showing 1 through 15 of 18 replies

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