Radial Dovetail Box Construction

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Blog entry by Woodhacker posted 10-18-2008 11:15 PM 18910 reads 37 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Some time ago I posted a blog about a dovetail joint I came up with. I call it the radial dovetail. It incorporates handcut dovetails, but rather than using the traditional 1:8 ratio for the dovetail angle for hardwood, each side of each tail varies and is drawn from a perspective point. Then the sides of the box were contoured to blend with the dovetail design.

Here’s a picture of the nearly completed box. It is made of curly maple, Carribean rosewood, and hickory.
I like to think of this box as a combination of radii and angles, and of corners and curves.

The general technique I use for dovetails can be seen in my blog on handcut double dovetails.

However, for each corner of this box, I used two perspective points to determine the dovetail angles. These are located 3 ½ inches from each corner and 3/8 inch from the mid-line of each (tail) side. The curly maple are the “tail sides”. The pictures below shows these drawn up.


With this layout, note that the two pins adjacent to the middle pin are shaped like tails rather than pins. In other words the width of these pins at the corner or edge are wider (slightly) than they are toward the base of the pin. You can see this in the picture below showing the rosewood pins.
I think this helps the radial appearance of the box sides.

Then by using a large furniture makers router bit I rounded each side of the box to allow the contour to match the “radial” affect of the dovetails at the corners. This took several passes on the router table at varying heights and depths to achieve a smooth curved line to the sides that somewhat matched the perspective point used to draw the tails. It did take some hand sanding as well after these router table passes.

The lid is a frame/panel construction using a cross-grain spline to reinforce the corners. The frame was also contoured with various passes with different profiled router bits to achieve the complex curves both on the top of the lid and on the underneath side of the lid. Here are a few exploded views of the frame pieces and splines. The underneath contour is shaped in these pictures. The contour of the top of the lid was shaped after assembling.


Here’s another picture showing the variety of contours used in the construction. In this picture the dovetails in the maple centerpiece of the lid have yet to be sanded flush.

The maple centerpiece in the lid was “inlaid” into the frame at a depth of 5/16 inch and incorporates the radial dovetail theme as well. The picture below again shows the radial dovetail layout lines for the centerpiece.


Below are a few pictures of the “inlaying” process for the lid’s centerpiece which is made of curly maple. The perimeter edges of this centerpiece were rounded to blend into the contours of the box.











This is a mixture of Titebond III and Carribean rosewood sawdust used to glue in the centerpiece.


The lid handle also carries the radial dovetail theme and is joined using an 1/8 thick by 1 ½ inch wide mortise/tenon joint.
The base of lid handle had to be formed to match the contour of the lid frame.

Here’s a picture of the open box nearly complete.

The feet were hand turned and have a ¾ inch wide by 1/8 inch deep tenon that is mortised into the hickory base. Below are a few pictures:



As soon as I get this completed I’ll post as a project.

I hope you enjoy the blog.

-- Martin, Kansas

18 comments so far

View mart's profile


190 posts in 4598 days

#1 posted 10-18-2008 11:22 PM

All I can say is Wow! What a great job. Thanks for sharing.


View Ampeater's profile


442 posts in 4721 days

#2 posted 10-18-2008 11:30 PM

wow!! Very nice. Thanks for posting.

-- "A goal without a plan is a wish."

View Betsy's profile


3394 posts in 4869 days

#3 posted 10-18-2008 11:43 PM

That is really cool. The amount of thought and design that went into this is mind boggling. I’m just glad to get my miters to look nice. I think someone is going to be very happy to have this box. Thanks for posting such a detailed explanation.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View Dennis Zongker's profile

Dennis Zongker

2843 posts in 4566 days

#4 posted 10-19-2008 12:10 AM

Great Blog & Box!!! Thanks for posting.

-- Dennis Zongker

View DocK16's profile


1198 posts in 5061 days

#5 posted 10-19-2008 12:46 AM

Yeah I like it.
very nice chisel work.

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10958 posts in 5026 days

#6 posted 10-19-2008 12:47 AM

Very good Martin!

Cool Box…

Cool Techniques…

Cool Results…

Thank you very much…

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:

View Tony Z's profile

Tony Z

205 posts in 4764 days

#7 posted 10-19-2008 01:10 AM

Love it.

-- Tony, Ohio

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 4848 days

#8 posted 10-19-2008 01:37 AM

OMG that’s incredible! I am impressed! Love this blog. Thanks for documenting it so clearly. Very interesting, original, and inventive. And gorgeous box too!

-- Happy woodworking!

View kolwdwrkr's profile


2824 posts in 4564 days

#9 posted 10-26-2008 06:42 PM

This is a very good example of fine craftsmanship. I love the details. One thought…..What about expansion and contraction of the curly maple? The piece is framed in and has no where to move.

-- ~ Inspiring those who inspire me ~

View ProbablyLost's profile


83 posts in 4492 days

#10 posted 10-27-2008 02:14 AM

Another great blog and project! Very impressive.

-- Chris

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 4559 days

#11 posted 10-27-2008 08:59 PM

A big thumbs up I have something to take my mail too but not exactly like yours.Your design makes more sense than mine well done regards Alistair.

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View Woodhacker's profile


1139 posts in 4697 days

#12 posted 10-28-2008 02:53 AM

Thank you for your comments.

Kolwdwrkr – you have a good point. I’d thought of this at the time of constructing, but decided to go ahead and take a chance. Hopefully with the upper part exposed and with the miters strengthened by cross grain splines it will be OK…I guess time will tell.

-- Martin, Kansas

View kolwdwrkr's profile


2824 posts in 4564 days

#13 posted 10-28-2008 04:00 AM

Woodhacker, I hope this box lasts for generations. The design is awesome and it looks like you spent a long time getting everything right. Regardless of what happens it really turned out great. Thanks for sharing.

-- ~ Inspiring those who inspire me ~

View Grumpy's profile


26793 posts in 4825 days

#14 posted 10-28-2008 08:19 AM

Very neat joinery Martin. Fits in well with the curves. Great job.

-- Grumpy - "Always look on the bright side of life"- Monty Python

View pdedse's profile


1 post in 4453 days

#15 posted 11-16-2008 05:28 AM

Hi everybody, I’m new to the list. I can’t work wood if my life depended on it. But Martin (Woodhacker) is my brother. Yeah, he can make a box look pretty good, I guess. But what he really needs to do is visit his little bother in Oregon, for you see, Woodhacker has never been here before, and he would love all the wood that we have here. So, fellow lumberjocks, please refrain from praising his work! Tell him his work sucks rocks and that he ought to get out more! Like visit his niece and newphew for pete’s sake!

I KEEEED you. I am his bother, Hi, Woodyhack. Whatever, just thought I’d say nice job, you really do beautiful work and I’m proud of you. Now where’s my clock?

your littlest bro…

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