Extremely Average #52: Practicing Hand Cut Dovetails

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Blog entry by Ecocandle posted 02-23-2010 05:49 AM 2040 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 51: Henry Wood Detective Agency: The Next Clue Part 52 of Extremely Average series Part 53: Henry Wood Detective Agency: The New Office »

I have been spending so much time working on my router table that I haven’t done any pure practicing. So I set a goal to cut two sets of dovetails. Previously I had cut a set of tails, but have been way too much of a Wimpy McWimperson to try the pins. I wanted to live with the joy of the tails for a while, before I had to face the cold hard reality that the pins and tails don’t really fit together that well.

Tonight reality slapped me around and called me a sissy. But that is ok, I needed it. The mental thrashing I took, from my poorly fitting joints, was somewhat motivating. When I cut the mortise and tenons, they weren’t pretty, but I practiced and they got better. I am confident that my dovetails will improve too. Were I to assess both sets, I would say I made a marginal improvement from the first to the second. The first pair was pretty loose, while the second was much tighter.

The wood is oak. I used my Japanese hand saws for the cuts. I think that the main issue was with the quality of my saw cuts, especially the angled ones. I have made a fair amount of straight cuts with my saws, and the angled cuts are of a higher difficulty level. Not as high a difficulty level as the triple salchow, but I digress. Of course, cutting dovetails by hand, isn’t a requirement for quality woodworking, but like the chisel work, I believe the skill will help me with my understanding of joints.

Before today I hadn’t thought about the pins and their relationship to the tails. It seems the tails need to be on the side of the drawer. If it were the pins on the side, I imagine the drawer would come apart. I enjoyed my dovetail practice and it might be nice to do a small drawer and somehow graft it onto my router table. Will it look out of place? Yes, probably, but I can live with that, if it actually works and can hold my router bits.
So tonight I practiced, I chose a skill, which I don’t have, and began to develop it. I believe that progress is to be celebrated. The imperfections that one creates along the way can be looked at lovingly, down the road, as sign posts on the journey taken.

On an unrelated note, my friend Steve is a financial backer of a band called, ‘Hello Dave’. They are really quite good and have recently released a video on the CMT website. Apparently, if enough people go to the site and listen to the video, it is possible, that it will get elevated to the status of being played on TV. Steve has been a good friend for a long time and he has put a great deal of time and energy into ‘Hello Dave’, and I wanted to take the opportunity to plug them. If you would like to help Steve and ‘Hello Dave’, to maybe have their dream come true, all you have to do is click on the link and give it a listen. I think you will enjoy it, and I would appreciate the help.

-- Brian Meeks,

8 comments so far

View Ecocandle's profile


1013 posts in 3400 days

#1 posted 02-23-2010 06:13 AM


I love that suggestion! I am going to try it tomorrow, how very clever. I am sure it will make it easier. Thanks so much.

Oh and I am glad you are enjoying my blog. I hope you will check out ‘Hello Dave’ too.


-- Brian Meeks,

View Bill729's profile


241 posts in 3416 days

#2 posted 02-23-2010 07:41 AM

Nice effort! Why does the end grain look so dark in the first picture? Is that a photography trick?

I’m new to this too—did you markup your wood with a sharp tool? I’ve heard of using a vertical fixture (a board and a clamp) to make sure your chisel work is nearly verticial where you want it to be (hold the back of the chisel against the board). Not sure if that would help or not


View Ecocandle's profile


1013 posts in 3400 days

#3 posted 02-23-2010 07:50 AM


Great question on the end grain. It is because I used my router to even up several boards at once, and I went a bit slow, and had some burning. So that is a bit of a blunder, but since this was only practice wood, I am not beating myself up too much.

I use both a sharp marking knife and a 4H drawing pencil. They hard drawing pencils are nice, because they can draw a very fine line. I think that for the dovetails, the marking knife worked best though.


-- Brian Meeks,

View OutPutter's profile


1199 posts in 4324 days

#4 posted 02-23-2010 07:59 AM

Hi Brian,
Thanks for the post. I remembered a video I saw at Fine Woodworking that may interest you by Gary Rogowski called The Five Minute Dovetail. He agrees with you that making dovetails can make even your machine work better. He suggests a five minute dovetail as a way to warm up before starting the woodworking day much as any other athlete would do. I’m sure if you aren’t a member of FWW the link is worthless.

Cool band too. Hello Dave! I like just saying that.

-- Jim

View Don Butler's profile

Don Butler

1092 posts in 3729 days

#5 posted 02-23-2010 02:54 PM

I have no wisdom to pass on in regard to hand cuttting dovetails, since that is one skill I haven’t tried yet.

But I wanted to pass on my comments on Hello Dave, the band.
I enjoyed their music and it pleased me that it wasn’t hard rock, which I detest.
I noticed the skilfull video cuts which not only increased visual interest but also exhibited considerable resources at their disposal.
I will refrain from further comment on the pretty ‘fiddler’. ;-)

Best regards,

-- No trees were damaged in posting this message, but thousands of electrons were seriously inconvenienced.

View stefang's profile


16667 posts in 3668 days

#6 posted 02-23-2010 04:08 PM

Too many tips all at once might create an overload situation Brian, but I can’t resist just one. It appears that you have used the thickness of the stock to mark the shoulder line. I would suggest you add about 1/32”. That way your tails and pins will protrude by that amount and you can then plane, chisel or sand them flush to the surface after the glue-up is dry. It looks to me that you are doing pretty well, so keep up the practice until you are satisfied. I think I would rather practice on pine though, as it’s cheap and quicker to cut.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Ecocandle's profile


1013 posts in 3400 days

#7 posted 02-23-2010 05:28 PM


I hadn’t thought about leaving extra, so I will try the 1/32” trick today. I don’t have any pine to practice on, but next time I go to the lumberyard, I will pick some up. Thanks.


I am glad you liked ‘Hello Dave’. Thanks for clicking.

And thanks to the 21 people of 139 who clicked too! Every little bit helps.


-- Brian Meeks,

View nmkidd's profile


758 posts in 3507 days

#8 posted 02-24-2010 04:51 PM

Procrastination is the word for my dovetail efforts…......eventually the day will come when I will have to face reality and go for it like you… seem to be making good progress…....just hope my first shot at dovetails is as good as yours!!!!

BTW: Hello Dave is a cool groupgreat sound and musicians…....will add them to my list….thx for the clip

-- Doug, New Mexico.......the only stupid question is one that is never asked!........don't fix it, if it ain't broke!

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