Dovetails #1: Learning to cut Dovetails

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Blog entry by Big Ben posted 02-23-2011 08:05 PM 2120 reads 1 time favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Dovetails series Part 2: Better but now perfect »

The purpose of this blog is to share my adventure with learning to make hand cut dovetails. I decided that I wanted to make furniture with better joinery, that meant getting over my fear of dovetails. My first dovetail was an epic failure, not only because the gaps were huge but it had no tails, see the pic below.

From Dovetails

From Dovetails

But I must say the experience is getting better. I have watch lots of video on Youtube, Wood Whisperer ( and LumberJocks.
I have chosen to cut my dovetails, tails first. I have no particular reason for this. My second dovetail came out much better than the first, the gaps were consistent

From Dovetails

From Dovetails

The gaps did shrink on the third attempt and I was consistent with the layout line.

From Dovetails

From Dovetails

I was able to get a much tighter fit on the fourth attempt but I was not where close to my original layout lines.

From Dovetails

Two things that really helped were hold down clamp, which I made from HF F style clamp. Worked great and was under ten dollars.

From Dovetails

From Dovetails

I looked in VERITAS one,43838,43847&ap=1) but that was a bit pricey. Here are the plans for it The other thing that help was jointing a small board that I align to the shoulder marking. I use this as a reference for my chisel.

From Dovetails

I will try and do at least two dovetails a day for the next week.

7 comments so far

View nailbanger2's profile


1041 posts in 3656 days

#1 posted 02-23-2011 08:23 PM

Way to go, Ben. I have yet to make the leap, like you said, fear. Maybe this blog will push me. Keep it up, man!

-- Wish I were Norm's Nephew

View Furnitude's profile


380 posts in 4019 days

#2 posted 02-23-2011 08:35 PM

Excellent work. You’ll get there. Practicing is the only way to get better. One suggestion I can offer (because someone suggested it to me) is to work hard on your handsaw skills. Get a board and use a square to mark 20 or 30 straight lines about an inch or so long. Be really conscious of everything you are doing and what the results are, then go at it. You’ll realize that if you make very, very light strokes without really pushing down, your cuts will get straighter and straighter until you’re surgical. Have fun!

-- Mitch, Also blog at

View Furnitude's profile


380 posts in 4019 days

#3 posted 02-23-2011 09:09 PM

One more thing. Have a look at this video from Kari Hultman from The Village Carpenter:

This is fun to watch and serves as a great tutorial.

Her blog is

-- Mitch, Also blog at

View Randy Sharp's profile

Randy Sharp

363 posts in 4185 days

#4 posted 02-23-2011 09:14 PM

Ben, great post! The photos add a tremendous amount of encouragement for those of us who are afraid to try hand-cut dovetails. You are an inspiration to a lot of LJs for sharing. Thanks!

-- Randy, Tupelo, MS ~ A man who honors his wife will have children who honor their father.

View Dave's profile


11434 posts in 3352 days

#5 posted 02-24-2011 03:35 AM

Go Ben Go go. The Japanese call them swallow tails. They have been found buried with mummies. In very old ship wrecks and all points of the globe. If you didn’t have glue it is one of the joints you could use. I agree with the above post. Get to know your tools. Check this out.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View topspin's profile


62 posts in 3930 days

#6 posted 02-24-2011 09:50 AM

Nice effort. Just keep practicing. You’ll find that as your saw technique gets better and if you’re a little more careful with the chisel cleaning them out you’ll get great results quickly. You should plane the test pieces flush to really see how you did. Once you wedge and sand a little they’ll look pretty good.

BTW….Much better than my first few trys.

-- Seems that talent only gets you so far... effort makes you successful.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18672 posts in 4188 days

#7 posted 02-24-2011 10:26 AM

Looks like you are getting there. keep at it. I started by watching Woodwright’s Shop and Roy cutting them. Some of my early ones were very good, then I found out how hard it was to repeat the preformance ;-)) Kind of a beginner’s luck.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

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