Hand planing needed to begin dovetails?

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Forum topic by danielhoer posted 01-14-2017 02:57 AM 906 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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38 posts in 1425 days

01-14-2017 02:57 AM

Topic tags/keywords: dovetail paper tray planer question joining plane

I read that it is crucial to start with a square surface to work with when carving dovetails, and most tutorials I’ve seen show the use of a hand planer to prep the edges being joined. Since I’m looking for a project that will let me practice making dovetails, I decided to make a paper holder for my desk – basically just a rectangle that hopefully is good enough to keep after my attempt.

I am brand new to this site and was blown away to see some of the projects people have made here. Very inspired. I didn’t even know what dovetails were until I saw them as said “that’s what I want to learn how to make” ... it took a while just to find out what they were called. As soon as I found, I stayed up until 3am looking at pictures and reading stuff. I finally ordered the following: wheel gauge, a few chisels & mallet, cheap aluminum dovetail marker, dovetail saw, and coping saw. But a planer seems expensive and I don’t know a great way to find a used one right away. If I just buy a few pieces of wood from a box store, will they be square enough for me to begin making the dovetails? Also what is the best way to connect the bottom of the tray to the rectangular ‘frame’ ? (I don’t have much other tools at this stage… wanted to begin with the basics and work my way up from there). I imagine the bottom will be a thin piece of wood in the shape of: a rectangle. I am very new to this so any tips would be great. Cheers!

10 replies so far

View pintodeluxe's profile


6231 posts in 3727 days

#1 posted 01-14-2017 03:46 AM

You don’t need a plane to make dovetails. However you are correct that you need square, straight stock for dovetailed projects. Otherwise perfectly cut joints won’t fit together.

Most woodworkers use a jointer and planer to mill straight stock. If you don’t have those tools yet, just buy S4S finish milled stock. If you can’t find good stock at a home center, try a specialty woodworking store or hardwood retailer.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View Kirk650's profile


680 posts in 1662 days

#2 posted 01-14-2017 03:55 AM

For practice purposes, you can use some pine or poplar from Lowes or Home Depot. I’ll be practicing tomorrow myself. I just finished a Shaker Keeping Box and used box joints. I start the next one tomorrow. It’ll be for my youngest daughter, and this one will have hand cut dovetail joinery instead of box joints.

Instead of a coping saw for waste removal, I use a scroll saw. And for the dovetail cuts, I’ve finally decided I prefer a thin kerf saw that cuts on the pull stroke. But, that’s just me, and my present thinking.

Practice, practice, practise. And get some sharpening gear.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


16979 posts in 3532 days

#3 posted 01-14-2017 04:09 AM

If I just buy a few pieces of wood from a box store, will they be square enough for me to begin making the dovetails?


Pine is very forgiving when it comes to fit, but it’s relentless in pointing out the (less than ideal) edge sharpness of your chisels. But, it’s a trade-off, right? :-)

Try a dovetail a day for 30 days. You’ll be expert in no time.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View KelleyCrafts's profile


4381 posts in 1653 days

#4 posted 01-14-2017 05:09 AM

What smitty said. Plus pine is cheaper. Look into sharpening those chisels, you will need to constantly sharpen them. That’s a whole other topic that you’ll be researching until 3am. You can’t work any wood successfully without sharpening your tools. I promise it’s the most important thing.

I learned on pine, a dovetail a day for 30 days. I think my cut pieces were 5 dovetails each and I did one a day for more like 20 days because by then I was producing pretty decent dovetails. Take your time it’s not quick if you want them good.

Did I mention those chisels need to be sharp? And when they dull you need to know how to sharpen them back to good?

As for the bottom of your paper holder. You can cut a rabbet along the bottom edge of the sides and slide the bottom into the groove. Or you could just glue the sides down to the top of the bottom. For a paper holder that should work ok.


-- Dave - - pen blanks - knife scales - turning tools

View TheFridge's profile


10861 posts in 2400 days

#5 posted 01-14-2017 05:32 PM

The stock would have to be off massively for it not to work.

I would recommend just marking a line on the end grain and face grain and practicing cutting to it as well. Just use your dovetail marker and put a bunch of lines on a piece of scrap. Find a comfortable body position and go to town.

joinery is about cutting to a line and good chisel work.

And don’t try to chisel too much out at once. It can compress your line. Essentially moving it.

Edit: I recommend getting a marking knife as well.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View danielhoer's profile


38 posts in 1425 days

#6 posted 01-17-2017 12:30 AM

Thanks for the insight everyone! Kirk650, thanks for the suggestion for the practice wood types, scroll saw, and pull-style saw. Smitty, thank you – I will try pine and also learn to sharpen. Ki7hy, I didn’t think to glue it… that is how new I am to this. But that seems real obvious to me now and will probably be the way I go, at least for the first 30 trays I make… TheFridge, I really like this idea. Basically cutting a 90 degree ‘step’ into the wood to practice consistency, precision, yeah? I heard people say to just use a super sharp pocket knife instead of a marking knife…would you have a response to that? What about a razorblade/exacto knife if I don’t have a swiss army knife?

My saws, chisels, mallet, etc comes on Thursday.. very excited! Thanks for answering my question everyone.

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


16979 posts in 3532 days

#7 posted 01-17-2017 04:53 AM

Xacto is just fine for a marking knife. If the line is hard to see, pulling a sharp pencil point along the cut line helps with visibility.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. - OldTools Archive -

View MikeB_UK's profile


163 posts in 1948 days

#8 posted 01-17-2017 10:25 AM

Looking at the tools you got, you will want a Try Square or Speed Square as well.

-- If I say I'll fix something around the house I will, there is no use nagging about it every 6 months.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

6177 posts in 1496 days

#9 posted 01-17-2017 12:09 PM

A comment on buying lumber at the big boxes…

I routinely hit the bargain bins both at a smaller lumber yard and at the big boxes for odds and ends for projects, jigs, etc. I routinely see boards that are warped and twisted like pretzels but I also manage to come home with a lot of lumber that’s straight enough for dovetails. Be selective when you’re picking through and be willing to cut off a knotty section now and again, and you should be able to get a lot of practice without needing a plane or needing to spend a lot of money.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View danielhoer's profile


38 posts in 1425 days

#10 posted 02-03-2017 05:27 AM

Hi everyone. In case you are wondering I have been slowly (but surely working at this… my first few attempts were trash but on the third try I got a decent fit. This wood is “poplar” ? I don’t really like it, the chisels seem to only cut cleanly if you go with the grain. At the bottom left you can see how a piece blew out from the chisel. I am learning taking off less is best (The Fridge told me so…) Anyway thanks for all the support everyone.

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