Office Cabinet #1: Dovetails!

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Blog entry by Tom posted 03-03-2021 07:25 PM 349 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Office Cabinet series Part 2: Pin Time »

I am finally starting a new project. Lately, I have been doing more home maintenance, painting walls which is kind of boring.

I want a cabinet to store various office supplies and that matches the style of my existing office furniture. This will be a cabinet that sits on the floor and stands about 36 inches high and 32 inches wide. I plan to have two doors on the front with adjustable shelves. The case will be dovetailed and it will be fitted with a top piece to set books or knick knacks. The back will be a frame and panel and the bottom will sit on a frame. There will be plenty of joinery. One peculiar objective is to eliminate all end grain on the showing faces except for the pin ends on the dovetails.

I will use hand tools in the construction since I enjoy doing it that way. It will be constructed with solid wood boards from the home center, primarily oak and some pine secondary wood. I use plywood in some projects, but I do not plan to use it for this one. Also, I will not work from a drawing, but instead I will size the component one from another. Honestly, working from drawing dimensions sometimes gets me in trouble due to small variability in my hand tool construction.

I will start by dovetailing the case from 11-1/2” wide oak boards. The side boards are full size, so kind of pricey. Don’t screw it up, Tom! The top boards are glued up from narrower stock to save some money and not waste the wide stock on a section that will be covered up. These are pretty wide boards so there are quite a few dovetails to cut. I have done this kind of work before on a chest and my tool cabinet, but that was early days and it was probably more than I should have tried. They came out fine with a lot of touchup. I am hoping to be more proficient this time around.

I have learned to spend time on the pre-work to true and square up my boards. This is really critical to making successful dovetails. When you are preparing your stock, if you ever think to yourself that “This is good enough”, then it is not good enough. Keep going until you are really confident that the boards are equal length, flat, square and true. I often plane the opposing boards together so they are dead even.

I prefer to cut the tails first. The tails will go on the side boards and the pins on the top and bottom boards. I mark the baseline with a cutting gauge and I will work exactly to this definitive line. I space the tails out with the dividers and mark the ends across both boards. I flip one of the boards end for end and transfer those lines across both boards. Then I mark out the dovetails with a template that is 1:5. I like an obvious splay on my dovetails. I will only ever cut into the wood from the face side of the board, so I only mark on one side. Then I saw to the lines being careful to cut as square as possible across the board. I usually cut a small kerf straight across before I attempt to follow the dovetail sloped line. I suggest practicing and warming up before you dive into the actual work.

There seems to be two approaches to removing waste when cutting dovetail joints. Some like to chisel the waste working from a knife line out. Others may prefer to work from the outside down to the knife line by sawing out most of the waste and chisel down to the knife line. For smaller, more delicate projects, I tend to chisel out from the knife line. For bigger projects like this one, I prefer to saw out most of the waste and chisel down to the base knife line. I use the latter method for this project.

When I chisel out the waste, I try to remember to work the inside face first and finish on the face side to avoid blowing out on the side that shows. When the waste is removed, I review each and every dovetail to make sure it is square and the corners are cleared out. I check and pare any high spots on the base line and I pare away any discrepancies on the sides.

With a few corrections, I have a good start. That was mornings work for me. In the afternoon, I will transfer and cut out the pins in the same fashion. Then I can assemble the case. But that is for next time.

I hope you enjoyed the pictures. Thanks for reading. :)

-- Tom

2 comments so far

View controlfreak's profile


1986 posts in 657 days

#1 posted 03-03-2021 09:20 PM

Looks great! That oak is probably what I will use to make a shop tool cabinet/plane till.

View Tom's profile


236 posts in 947 days

#2 posted 03-03-2021 11:32 PM

I used poplar for my tool cabinet, but I think oak would be much nicer to work with and it would look nice.

Some folks frown on the cost (and the cost is high). But I find it is pretty consistent dimensionally and relieves much of the stock preparation. That is helpful for using hand tools.

Thanks for reading! :)

-- Tom

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