Round Box with Impossible-Looking Hand-Cut Dovetails

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Project by Ryan Sandler posted 08-05-2018 02:15 PM 4015 views 3 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

You read that right: Hand-cut dovetails on a round box (as opposed to the tails or pins being round, which these are not).

This piece was inspired by this Woodgears article where Matthias rounds over the corner of a dovetail joint, turning a basic through-dovetail into something quite unusual looking. I thought I could take it one step further, by making a dovetailed box out of very thick stock, then cutting the whole box into a circle.

The problem? I had never made anything with hand-cut dovetails before. I’d done a few practice joints on a piece of scrap, but that was it. For anyone out there considering getting into hand-cut dovetails: If you like working with hand saws and chisels, go for it—it’s quite a satisfying activity. Do not, however, under any circumstance make your first project using 7/4 stock of a very hard wood :P.

Let’s just say nothing fit straight off the saw, and making things fit was a chore. Astute viewers will notice the large gaps around the dovetails that are packed with filler. I do feel pretty good that I at least got the depths and lengths right—once I got the individual joints to fit, the whole thing went together without much fiddling.

The box is made of pear wood, the lid has a couple strips of walnut. The knob on the lid is, (what else?) a hand-cut dovetail from the pear wood. Six small but strong neodymium magnets each in the box and lid hold the lid on. The (many) gaps are filled with a mixture of shellac and sawdust. The box was finished with a layer of clear shellac for sealer and color, then four layers of satin spray lacquer.

Here’s a few pictures showing how I made this work:

I started with 1.75” thick blocks of the pear wood. With the dovetails cut and the box dry-fitted, I cut five squares of hardboard and screwed them onto the outside corners of the box.

After marking approximately where the final box would be, I used the drill press to make holes straight down into the waste on the inside of the box.

Then I disassembled the box, and screwed each side onto one of the pieces of hardboard, and ran it through the band-saw on my circle cutting jig.

Then I glued up the box and screwed the remaining hardboard template back onto the outside corners to provide a pivot to cut the outside.

I used another hardboard scrap as a template for the magnets—I tried to carefully put each hole 60 degrees apart around the circle, but to be safe I made sure to have the smooth side up when I drilled the box and the rough side up when I drilled the lid.

Thanks for looking—thoughts, comments or smart remarks appreciated.

P.S.: I lied, the dovetails are only ~85% hand cut. My ability to cut straight down for the pins was so poor that I gave up on it after the first set of pins, and cut the sides of the remaining 3 on the bandsaw. The tails are 100% hand-cut though, and I cut out the waste on the pins by hand.

9 comments so far

View PaulDoug's profile


2687 posts in 3163 days

#1 posted 08-05-2018 02:29 PM

Interesting and beautiful results! Thanks for sharing the process.

-- “We all die. The goal isn't to live forever; the goal is to create something that will.” - Chuck Palahniuk

View lew's profile


13534 posts in 5215 days

#2 posted 08-05-2018 02:33 PM

That’’s pretty cool!

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

View BurlyBob's profile


10501 posts in 3725 days

#3 posted 08-05-2018 03:24 PM

Wow, that is really impressive.

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 4326 days

#4 posted 08-05-2018 06:54 PM

This is a beautiful box and those dovetails look very nice.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View GR8HUNTER's profile


9621 posts in 2172 days

#5 posted 08-05-2018 08:05 PM

very cool idea … thanks for sharing it … GREAT JOB :<))

-- Tony---- Reinholds,Pa.------ REMEMBER TO ALWAYS HAVE FUN :<))

View oldnovice's profile


7791 posts in 4827 days

#6 posted 08-05-2018 08:53 PM

Great idea and process, nice work!

-- "Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." -- Aldous Huxley

View splintergroup's profile


6950 posts in 2682 days

#7 posted 08-05-2018 11:13 PM

Love the lowdown on your process, very clever!

View NormG's profile


6576 posts in 4463 days

#8 posted 08-06-2018 02:02 AM

wow, very creative

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View Ivan's profile


17283 posts in 4327 days

#9 posted 08-06-2018 04:37 AM

This is so awesome and very clever made- thanks for sharing that idea. I realy thought that you made dovetails on rounded piece first.

-- Ivan, Croatia, Wooddicted

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