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Practice!!! Mill some extra stock the same thickness as your work and cut a whole bunch of practice pieces. Also, when you cut the tails, clamp the work piece at an angle so that you are cutting on a vertical line instead of the angle of the tail. Cutting straight down is easier than trying to follow an angled line.

Make sure you mark which parts are the waste and which are the pins/tails. It's easy to get confused as to which is being removed. Remove most of the waste with a coping/fret saw. Use sharp chisels. Chop the waste only half way through then flip the piece and chop from the other side to avoid splitting out the work piece.

Those are the things I always mess up on.
 

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I can only echo what Lew said. I tried cutting dovetails by hand a few weeks ago and I have a whole new respect for people who do this all the time, my first few didnt turn out very well at all but I am getting better. Practice, practice, practice and good luck with it!
 

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I use a bevel square, but I'm going to make some 6:1 and 8:1 markers one of these days when I get an "around to it". :))

I use a marking gauge to mark the depth, a pointy pencil or knife for the long grain and a pointy pencil for the end grain. Don't froget which side of the line to cut!! I like making the tails first because that is the way Roy taugh me :))
 

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Travis,
I've found one of the keys to cutting details is to start with a good flat stock. Layout your pins, cut them with a good saw, then clean up the waste with wicked sharp chisels, using paring blocks as a guide. When sawing, let the saw do the work. Relax and slide it through the wood like it was a file. After you have cleaned up your pins, then layout and cut your tails. ALWAYS CUT ON THE WASTE SIDE OF THE LINE.

Like everyone else has said.. Practice Practice Practise and don't obsess over them. DT's dont have to be pretty to be strong joints.

If you have the time to watch a few short videos,, follow these links from Tom MacDonalds web site:

http://www.mlwwoodworking.com/Video/Episode_1.html

http://www.mlwwoodworking.com/Video/Episode_159.html

http://www.mlwwoodworking.com/Video/Episode_108.html

http://www.mlwwoodworking.com/Video/Episode_109.html

http://www.mlwwoodworking.com/Video/Episode_115.html

http://www.mlwwoodworking.com/Video/Episode_111.html

Bruce
 

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AS soon as you layout, put "X" on all the waste sides of the lines. Hopefully that will help, but not always :)) It's a good idea to mark the outside of the box too, hate to have the dovetails cut so the inside is out :-(( There are so many good joints that are easier than hand cut dovetails, they are mostly for esthetics IMO. I like them :))
 

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One more thing, I have found it is easier to pare the pins when making that final fit. Lot more room to work around them than the little slots around the tails. When You are doing the final fit, make sure your corners are well cleaned up. A little wood in there can cause you to pare the pins too much making the joint a bit loose and sloppy when the problem was a little fuzz in the corner:-((
 

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