Hand-cut Double Dovetails

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Forum topic by Woodhacker posted 05-10-2008 05:26 AM 5913 views 1 time favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Woodhacker's profile


1139 posts in 4330 days

05-10-2008 05:26 AM

Topic tags/keywords: hand-cut double dovetail joining joinery

In searching I see several hits on some incredible projects using double-double dovetail joinery, from Odie and a few others. I was wondering if any LJs have experience with hand cut double dovetail joinery. I’ve recently gotten the nerve up to try a keepsake box using hand-cut double dovetails.

Since starting back into woodworking about 5 years ago, I’ve always admired the work than can be done with jigs, my initial exposure was magazine ads for the Incra jig. Then I saw them in person at a woodworking show and they were totally impressive in real life. And that got me thinking about trying them by hand.

After studying the ads for a while it looked like the key was to cut a rabbet on the ends of the pieces the depth of the first (or “middle”) dovetail, and the thickness of the sides of the box. The picture below is my first practice attempt on one corner, using Poplar and Walnut.

First Try

As you can see I made the rabbet on only one of the sides and didn’t realize the effect until marking out the second dovetail.

The picture below is my second practice attempt cutting an inital rabbet on both of the Poplar pieces.

2nd Try

The actual box I plan to make is using two different types of Rosewood for the sides and front/back, and using Maple for the “middle” dovetail. I plan to use thinner pins and a “middle” dovetail (the Walnut part) that is also not as thick. The Walnut “middle” dovetails in these photos are approximately 1/8 in. thick. I may try 1/16 in thick on the real thing, but that may be too agressive or risky.

I was wondering if there are any LJs that may have already tried this type of hand joinery and could offer any advice, comments, tips, lessons learned, etc.


-- Martin, Kansas

9 replies so far

View Betsy's profile


3393 posts in 4503 days

#1 posted 05-10-2008 06:52 AM

Martin – this dovetail is way, way more advanced than anything I’ve done. But I’d be interested to see a step by step tutorial/pictures of what you did. From your description, I’m really not sure how you did this.

It’s looks like a brilliant first/second try.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 4595 days

#2 posted 05-10-2008 07:42 AM

Pretty cool. I’m with Betsy about seeing a step by step.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View SteveKorz's profile


2139 posts in 4321 days

#3 posted 05-10-2008 07:55 AM

Martin, I’m very impressed… I’m trying to think my way through this. Did you first cut the tails large, then fill them with solid walnut, THEN cut the pins to fit within (chopping out the walnut)? If I’m thinking right, you’d have to have rabbets on each board… I’m curious how you do this…

-- As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) †

View BrianM's profile


116 posts in 4359 days

#4 posted 05-10-2008 12:29 PM


Excellent hand cut job you did.

This pdf file from Leigh show a process with jig. You will get the idea on how tough it would be by hand.

-- There is no such thing as scrap wood!,

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 4429 days

#5 posted 05-10-2008 12:54 PM


I can’t help you with the process but your does look pretty good for a hand cut version. I agree with Betsy and Gary about seeing your process.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10867 posts in 4659 days

#6 posted 05-10-2008 07:27 PM

After studying the PDF file, I’m still confused & bewildered.

I too would like to see the Step by Step photo-shoot… if possible…

Thanks alot for your help. Looks good… Glad you could figure it out.

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:

View blackcherry's profile


3343 posts in 4430 days

#7 posted 05-11-2008 03:36 AM

Thats mind boggling to even make the attemp by hand…impressive…Blkcherry

View Chris 's profile


1880 posts in 4598 days

#8 posted 05-11-2008 06:17 AM

Wow… yes please enlighten us! I would love to learn that… Of course it would help if I could cut a regular dovetail first.

-- "Everything that is great and inspiring is created by the individual who labors in freedom" -- Albert Einstein

View Woodhacker's profile


1139 posts in 4330 days

#9 posted 05-15-2008 12:58 AM

Thanks for the comments and encouragement.

Steve – Yes, you’ve got it right. Since I’m a “tails first” person on most dovetails whenever I can (guess I got this from Rob Cosman’s video series), I happened to start with the walnut tails, cut, then joined into the pins in the poplar on the left in the second photo. Then I cut off the walnut (in this case) flush, then cut the smaller tails inside the walnut tails. The key is the rabbet cut in the poplar pieces before starting the tail/pin markup and cutting.

I’ve just got started on this box, and plan to do a step by step blog, but it may be some time before I progress much on this one. I need to practice the joint more before I actually start the dovetails.

I also don’t have plans yet for the lid, but was thinking of extending the walnut (I’m using maple in the actual box) up and around the sides and across the top of the lid. This could be done via inlay or maybe a properly aligned thin strip of maple during glue-up of the lid. I’d be open for anyone else’s ideas for the lid.

-- Martin, Kansas

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