Newbie Hand Cut Dovetails

  • Advertise with us

« back to Woodworking Skill Share forum

Forum topic by Walnut_Weasel posted 12-18-2009 04:58 PM 5519 views 2 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Walnut_Weasel's profile


360 posts in 3672 days

12-18-2009 04:58 PM

I have a few newbie questions I was hoping some of you may be able to help me out with.

First some background. I am currently working on a project where it is the first time that I have tried any type of hand cut joint – and I chose box joints. So far things are going well but very slow as I am taking my time to get tight fitting joints. I have already started thinking about the next project and based on how well the box joints have turned out, I want to step up to the next level and tackle dovetails. However there is one thing I am confused about…and it may be causing me to waste a lot of time meticulously fitting the joints.

I see lots of hand cut dovetail close-up pictures on the web but these always seem to only show the joint all the way up to the dry fit, and never after being glued up and trimmed flush (and if they do, the are not a close up.) What I find interesting is that most of the time, the dry fit dovetails shown in these pictures seem to have large gaps between the tails and pins. Will the glue really cause the joint to swell enough to take up that much space? Or is this the reason I can never seem to find close ups? What IS an example of a high quality hand cut dovetail? Does anyone have a blog showing good pictures all the way through the project?

-- James -

9 replies so far

View lew's profile


12821 posts in 4206 days

#1 posted 12-18-2009 07:01 PM

Check out Blake's blog on this.

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

View stefang's profile


16711 posts in 3784 days

#2 posted 12-18-2009 07:42 PM

Firstly after looking at Blake’s blog, you should at least in the beginning always X out the part you are removing before you start cutting to avoid the mistake Blake made (I have done it too). As for a tight fit, yes the glue will swell the wood to a point, but if the gap is not eliminated you can “pin” the end of the pins. That is, use the ball end of a ballpin hammer to tap the pin ends. You must fill fresh glue into the gaps before pining. The ball will spread out the wood enough to fill the gaps. Experience will tell you how much. For this reason it is good to have your pins a little longer and proud of the tails between 1/32” and 1/16” for example. That way you can chisel sand or plane off the unsightly dents in the pin ends afterward. This method works extremely well for smaller gaps. For larger gaps you can bang in a wedge of the same wood. As it is end grain this fix will invisible unless you use an electronic microscope to find it. Again, you need to put glue in the gap beforehand. Hope this will help you out a little.

If you are not a purist, another, and I think better way to saw dovetails is with a scroll saw with a relatively fine blade. You have to angle your table to cut the pins. If the table only tilts on one side you need an angle ramp for the opposite pins or you have to reverse your saw blade and cut with the workpiece from the opposite direction. If you have a scroll saw you will probably know what I’m talking about. If not, I hope you get one. They are very useful tools and not all that expensive depending on your choice. If you are experienced enough with the scroll saw you won’t have to chop out anything with chisels as you can do all the cutting with the saw. This takes some practice though and good technique. Either way I wish you success.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Derek Cohen's profile

Derek Cohen

462 posts in 4419 days

#3 posted 12-18-2009 08:30 PM

Have a look at the end of this review/article I wrote for a tutorial on cutting dovetails..

Regards from Perth


-- Buildiing furniture, and reviewing and building tools at

View TheDane's profile


5666 posts in 4113 days

#4 posted 12-18-2009 08:47 PM

Another place to look is Rob Cosman’s website ( and his videos on YouTube. I bought his shop manual on hand-cutting dovetails … the illustrations and step-by-step instructions are really top drawer.

I have the Veritas dovetail saw, and recommend it highly.

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 4218 days

#5 posted 12-19-2009 02:07 AM

hey they have some great links on handcutting dovetails above. if you want to see some other cool once head over to and search around that guy can cut em really good. Also i just did hand cut dovetails for my Serpentine Bow Front Desk and i have a close up picture. They should really be perfectly tight. You’ll see that with Tommy’s dovetails and mine on the desk. Of course it takes awhile. I had to cut the tails for the desk about 10 times just to get the 4 for the front of the two drawers. The curved side made it really difficult.

Click for details!

View Blake's profile


3443 posts in 4325 days

#6 posted 12-19-2009 08:31 AM

I forget if somebody showed me this or if I just came across it while searching. But this is the best video tutorial I’ve found on hand-cut dovetails.

Click on this LINK if it doesn’t load below:

-- Happy woodworking!

View versa's profile


29 posts in 3584 days

#7 posted 12-19-2009 01:07 PM

The glue won’t swell up the wood to fill gaps, your best bet, if you have gaps, is to use the chisel to cut a couple thin thin thin slices of waste wood and glue that into the gaps, once the glue dries the slices of wood will blend in and look you did a perfect job of cutting the dovetails.

View Derek Cohen's profile

Derek Cohen

462 posts in 4419 days

#8 posted 12-19-2009 01:53 PM

What’s special about this dovetailed box ….. ?

... then go here to find out! :)

Regards from Perth


-- Buildiing furniture, and reviewing and building tools at

View Walnut_Weasel's profile


360 posts in 3672 days

#9 posted 12-19-2009 05:55 PM

Great stuff guys. This really helped!

-- James -

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics