Embrace the loose dovetails!

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Forum topic by AESamuel posted 03-10-2015 07:09 PM 1329 views 1 time favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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61 posts in 645 days

03-10-2015 07:09 PM


This is just a post hopefully to inspire and help out other beginner woodworkers when it comes to learning and making mistakes with your joinery and woodoworking in general!

I’m making a small planter box using dovetails as the joinery method and I’ve only ever cut a single dovetail as a practise before so this is a major thing for me. Here’s how it went:

Dovetail number 1:

 photo Dovetails-3.jpg

There’s the first dovetail. I cut on the wrong side of the cut line and as you can see there is a big gap that I will be filling in with a small piece of wood. Lesson learned: Mark out your waste, and ensure you are cutting on the correct side of the line!

Dovetail number 2:

 photo Dovetails 1.jpg

Much better, tighter fitting joints which actually required a lot of chiselling. The saw went wonky on one side of the pin so I had to pare it away. Lesson learned here: Avoid paring down the dovetails or pins as this will make a lot of tearout and if you’re not careful with the grain it can split in the wrong direction! Worked much better paring across the grain.

However! Don’t pare all the way across or this will happen:

 photo Dovetails 2.jpg

Paring away the last bit of waste I thought “Its ok, my chisels are razor sharp, I’ll just shave off that last bit on the opposite side and then POP! Nasty bit of blow-out. Luckily this is on the inside of the joint so it won’t show and if I wanted to I could glue the piece back on but in this instance I’m going to save myself the trouble and leave it and let the flowers fill in the gap. Lesson learned: Don’t pare all the way to the opposite side, and don’t rely on your tools to do the work!

So I have 2 more sets of dovetails to make for this box which I’ll be doing tomorrow and I’m sure they will go better than the first two. Don’t worry about mistakes as they are only problem is when you don’t learn from them! Unless you’re selling your work then the only person who is going to judge your work is yourself. Even if you give away your projects as gifts to friends and family then they will overlook a tiny gap here or there.

Make mistakes, learn from them and don’t let anything feel daunting because you will be better off doing something and then something and doing it badly than having not done it at all!

I hope this inspires some beginners to try something new and maybe get out into the shop to make something.

6 replies so far

View DKV's profile


3940 posts in 1927 days

#1 posted 04-14-2015 08:03 AM

Good info. Thanks from all the guys on this site.

-- This is a Troll Free zone.

View skogie1's profile


94 posts in 786 days

#2 posted 04-14-2015 11:57 AM

I’m a self-taught woodworker (I’m using that term very loosely as “wood destroyer” is sometimes who I am). Someone was over and asked me how I learned to do “all this stuff”. I’ve made every mistake you could make I answered, and then did it again.

View WoodNSawdust's profile


1417 posts in 599 days

#3 posted 04-14-2015 12:11 PM

Thanks for sharing. Sometimes I look at my mistakes and then all of the perfect projects here and wonder what I am doing wrong. It is nice to know that I am not the only one who has problems occasionally.

-- "I love it when a plan comes together" John "Hannibal" Smith

View mcg1990's profile


158 posts in 715 days

#4 posted 04-14-2015 01:31 PM

There’s that good quote which is relevant here “The difference between the master and the apprentice is that the master has failed more times than the apprentice has even attempted.”

The last time I cut dovetails was 7 or 8 years ago in school, and I used a combination of handsaw/bandsaw. They didn’t look as good as yours. Please post a picture when they’re finished!

View TheFridge's profile


5682 posts in 909 days

#5 posted 04-14-2015 01:42 PM

I made a guide, not necessarily strictly for dovetails, that my chisels can register to and make sure you have a backer to prevent blowout. Nice job.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View Ashus's profile


31 posts in 598 days

#6 posted 04-14-2015 02:39 PM

Thanks for sharing these. I’m just starting to practise dovetails myself (going to try the 30 in 30, just to get a bunch of scrap under my belt), and this is definitely helpful.

I’m also fond of msg1990’s quote. To be a master, you have to keep failing… then figure out why you failed, so you can learn.

-- Adam in Minneapolis

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