Houndstooth Dovetails

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Blog entry by Woodhacker posted 11-30-2008 03:23 PM 13442 reads 29 times favorited 27 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Houndstooth dovetails use varying sizes of tails (or varying sizes of pins…depending on your perspective). I’ve wanted to try them for quite a while now. This blog shows most of the process I’m currently going through. To get the effect it seems to me you need more tails/pins per corner than one would normally think about. In this case like a few of my other recent boxes posted, I’m using Caribbean rosewood and curly maple.

Most often, (when you see them at all) these are done by alternating two different sizes of pins to create the traditional houndstooth pattern. Even though I’ve not tried the traditional ones (except for a couple practice joints) on this box I decided to go with three sizes of pins as you can see in my layout drawing below:

The picture below shows the marking tools I use to establish dovetails on the box sides. These are the tools I used most often. The marking squares are Veritas from Lee Valley as is the marking gauge. Even though the marking gauge is only a few years old, it already needs a new cutting wheel, I guess that’s to be expected when you’re using it on very hard wood fairly often.

I use two marking calipers to mark off the dovetail lines. One is used for the outer pin width,

The second is set at the combined distance of one pin and one tail as seen below:

I play with this setting until I get the right number of tails I want with an appealing amount for the pin width. Once these are set, I take no measurements. I’ve indicated measurements in the picture above for this blog, but this isn’t something I normally do. I simply start at the point of the end pin and marking out successively the combination of one-tail/one-pin and work my way across the endgrain, then repeat this process from the other side. Rob Cosman explains this technique in his DVD series on dovetails. Working from both sides, this “automatically gives you both tail and pin markings.

I then place a pencil in the point created by the calipers for each pin/tail, slide the 1:8 ratio marking “square” up to the pencil and mark out the tails.

I used the marking gauge to set the depth of pins. In this case it was more complex due to the three pin sizes used. You can see these markings below:


The next step was cutting the tails down to the various pin depths as you can see in the next two photos:

The next step was cutting out the waste from the shoulders:

And also coping out the waste between the tails:

Here the waste areas between all the tails have been cleaned out with a chisel.

Now I’m ready for the pins:

I seem to have trouble getting some of my close up shots in focus, but here you can kind of see using the marking gauge to set the depth of the different sized pins:

Here the pins and waste areas are marked out ready for cutting:

In this picture all the pins are cut, except for the depth of the various sizes:

Here the waste material is cut out, again except for the depth of the various pin sizes:

In this picture I’m paring (cleaning) out the waste areas between the pins:

In my practice houndtooth corners I cut the different pin depths by hand, however in this box I wanted to improve consistency and avoid grain run out, so I decided to try cutting the majority of the pin depth waste using my router table:
In the picture just above, you can still see the marking lines for the different pin sizes. I finished this by hand with a chisel being careful not to go beyond the markings.

Here’s a picture of the fitted corners:

Here I’m gluing up the box sides. Notice I’m using a stretcher clamp to keep the two sides from bending in from the pressure of the clamps. This was precautionary, because I put a little more pressure on the clamps than I normally do, to draw up the corners nice and tight.

I wanted to carry the houndstooth theme, into the box lid. Here I’m cutting “pins” to inlay the same houndstooth pattern in the top of the lid.

I used small pieces of double sided tape to temporarily hold the inlays on the top while marking out their border with a Xacto knife.

I’m paring out the inside of the border of the lines I marked for the inlays. This must be done very carefully, but to me it’s worth it because it makes the border very visible for the remainder of the cleanup:
I then used a trim router to clean out the interior of each inlay:

Hand chisels were used to remove the rest of the waste up to the marked inlay borders.

Here the inlays have been glued and are ready to be sanded flush:

I also wanted to carry the houndstooth theme into the lid handle as seen in the next several photos:
The picture above doesn’t show the clamp I used across the handle to hold it in combination with my bench tail vice.

The handle is attached to the lid with a small mortis/tenon.


And here is a picture of the underside of the lid. I do this on my router table and clean it up with hand chisels. Since Caribbean rosewood is pretty dense/heavy this helps lighten the lid somewhat.

I’ll post this as a project as soon as I get it finished.

I hope you enjoy the blog.

-- Martin, Kansas

27 comments so far

View Les Hastings's profile

Les Hastings

1306 posts in 4781 days

#1 posted 11-30-2008 03:35 PM

Excellent blog my friend. Great project, well done.

-- Les, Wichita, Ks. (I'd rather be covered in saw dust!)

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 4804 days

#2 posted 11-30-2008 03:43 PM

Nicely done. Great tutorial and a great looking box!

-- "Give me your poor tools, your tired steel, your huddled masses of rust." Yep, I ripped off the Statue of Liberty. That's how I roll!

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 4883 days

#3 posted 11-30-2008 03:50 PM

Superb craftsmanship and thanks for the very detailed explanation. Very well done.

View trifern's profile


8135 posts in 4775 days

#4 posted 11-30-2008 04:23 PM

Cool stuff Martin. Thanks for the blog. I look forward to seeing the finished piece.

-- My favorite piece is my last one, my best piece is my next one.

View jcame's profile


72 posts in 4585 days

#5 posted 11-30-2008 04:23 PM

IAwesome project, I like the fact that its different than just plain old dovetails. GREAT job dude!!!!!!!!

-- Jed,Ala,

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3810 posts in 5030 days

#6 posted 11-30-2008 04:29 PM

Thanks Martin.
The pictures are a great help in understanding the technique.
I am envious of course of your hand skills. ;-)


-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

View jim1953's profile


2743 posts in 4850 days

#7 posted 11-30-2008 05:02 PM

Wow great job I like the dovetails

-- Jim, Kentucky

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 4894 days

#8 posted 11-30-2008 05:20 PM

Great post!! THANKS!!!!

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4073 posts in 5072 days

#9 posted 11-30-2008 05:37 PM

Excellent post, and as Bob said you’ve got mad hand tool skills, as well as the creative mind to drive the design.
Can’t wait to see the flawless finish…

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over two decades.

View kolwdwrkr's profile


2824 posts in 4598 days

#10 posted 11-30-2008 06:12 PM

Well done! This is a great blog, excellant tutorial, and awesome project. Thanks for sharing.

-- ~ Inspiring those who inspire me ~

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 5108 days

#11 posted 11-30-2008 06:18 PM

I have seen Houndstooth Dovetails but never a “how-to” concerning them. This is a fantastic tutorial.

The project design is great and you cover so many skills all in one box.

Great project and great instructional blog!

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View lew's profile


13313 posts in 4764 days

#12 posted 11-30-2008 06:30 PM

Thank You!!!!

A Most Excellent Blog!

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View Cov's profile


51 posts in 4555 days

#13 posted 11-30-2008 06:51 PM

Pretty cool – Thanks!

-- Cov, Loomis, CA,

View woodyone's profile


231 posts in 4599 days

#14 posted 11-30-2008 07:16 PM

wow cool never seen dovetails like that before.

-- Woody, UK

View Çggghgyt's profile


306 posts in 4639 days

#15 posted 11-30-2008 08:58 PM

Nice work. I’m still building up the courage and studying from masters like you before I attempt my first dovetails in my next project. Hopefully one day I’ll have half your talent.

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