Dovetails- Hand cut or machine where do you stand?

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Forum topic by woodworker59 posted 06-04-2012 09:12 PM 6283 views 0 times favorited 81 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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560 posts in 3214 days

06-04-2012 09:12 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question jig router joining traditional

Personally I find therapy in cutting my dovetails by hand, I like to look of them and feel that its a dead give away to people looking at the piece that its hand made and not a production piece. I realize there are new jigs out now that will let you cut fancy hearts, butterflies, etc but they are still machine cut and obviously so. They look nice and all, but I prefer the rugged look of hand cuts. It allows me the option of size and spacing that can show to a perspective buyer that I put serious time and thought into my craft.. so what are your thoughts? Lets hear what others have to say on this, Hand cut or router made?

-- Papa...

81 replies so far

View Doss's profile


779 posts in 3278 days

#1 posted 06-04-2012 09:19 PM

Being an engineer, I have to say that I like the look of precision work. So, naturally I tend to favor router cut or even CNC machine cut. That is not to say that I don’t appreciate the work of hand cutting.

There are certain aspects I really find interesting in hand cut joints and one is the skill it takes to make a tight one.

What’s even more impressive to me is a blend of the two in question, the precision of a machine cut dovetail (or joint) that was done by hand. When I see levels of craftsmanship like that, I cannot help but be amazed.

-- "Well, at least we can still use it as firewood... maybe." - Doss

View HillbillyShooter's profile


5811 posts in 3305 days

#2 posted 06-04-2012 09:30 PM

Since I have a Leigh dovetail jig, I use a dovetail jig and I like it. I have no doubt that had our forefathers had power routers and dovetail jigs, they would have used them—it’s simply a matter of expediency, efficiency and economy.

-- John C. -- "Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples' liberty's teeth." George Washington

View bondogaposis's profile


5953 posts in 3364 days

#3 posted 06-04-2012 09:45 PM

I’ve cut them both ways and although my hand cut dovetails are a bit a crude I prefer them over the machine cut. I do find it quite a bit harder to hand cut half blinds so sometimes I’ll break out the router. I hope one day to get my dovetails to look real purdy and that is going to take practice, so in the meantime I’ll live with less than perfect.

-- Bondo Gaposis

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Jorge G.

1537 posts in 3488 days

#4 posted 06-04-2012 09:52 PM

By hand of course, no machine will make the variety and look of a well made hand cut dovetail. That is not to see using some machine aids, like a trim router to hog waste on a half blind dovetail is not permitted.. :-)

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View rockindavan's profile


299 posts in 3649 days

#5 posted 06-04-2012 10:27 PM

I feel like hand cut dovetails are one of the few things in woodworking that ties us to our woodworking ancestors. Now days almost every task can be touched with power tools from milling to cutting to sanding. Most of them are more efficient, some hundreds of times more efficient (milling stock). I would like to think that some tasks should remain clear from power tools to respect the art of the craft.

View jusfine's profile


2422 posts in 3939 days

#6 posted 06-04-2012 10:31 PM

I have used the PC Omnijig and the Leigh jig for dovetails and both worked quite well, the last being compound dovetails for a cradle with the Leigh. Took a lot longer to figure out than I thought.

Two weeks ago I took a seminar with Rob Cosman and was impressed with the hand cut dovetails he taught.

I think my next project will be finished with hand cut, and to answer your question, I like the look of both!

-- Randy "You are judged as much by the questions you ask as the answers you give..."

View PurpLev's profile


8648 posts in 4662 days

#7 posted 06-04-2012 10:41 PM

depends on quantity:

a few dovetailed boxes = by hand
20 dovetails drawers = jig

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View jmos's profile


918 posts in 3383 days

#8 posted 06-04-2012 11:00 PM

I’ve got a Rockler dovetail jig; used it once and it worked fine. Once I dialed it in it produced a very tight joint. That said, I cut all mine (mostly) by hand anymore just for the challenge. I find it enjoyable, in a frustrating sort of way, to cut them by hand and see how well I can get them to turn out. Although I do often cheat and cut the faces of the tails with a bandsaw so I know those faces are square.

-- John

View SnowyRiver's profile


51458 posts in 4494 days

#9 posted 06-04-2012 11:24 PM

I think hand cut dovetails are quite traditional. But I find that the only people that seem to really notice are other woodworkers. So to save time, I use the Leigh jig.

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

View Don W's profile

Don W

19894 posts in 3581 days

#10 posted 06-04-2012 11:40 PM

I like to hand cut dovetails, but I own a dovetail jig. (I don’t like the one I own, but that’s another story). I’m with Purplev, a few by hand for sure. If your cutting lots and time (and money) counts, I’d get out the jig.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View ShipWreck's profile


557 posts in 4766 days

#11 posted 06-04-2012 11:46 PM

I have done it both ways…...although much much more with jigs. I prefer the look of the minor defects of a handcut dovetail. If I made them in large numbers….......jigs.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


20274 posts in 4689 days

#12 posted 06-05-2012 01:48 AM

Hand cut. Jigs are for box joints ;-)

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Ken Fitzpatrick's profile

Ken Fitzpatrick

376 posts in 5037 days

#13 posted 06-05-2012 02:03 AM

Have an old Craftsman half blind jig for 35 years and it worked just fine for me. Splurged on a PC two years ago for the full cut ability. I really like jigs. Anything that makes the project go easier. I think even the Shakers would use jigs if they were available back in the day.

Hand cut are beautiful and I have seen a number of experts cut them in no time. They work wood every day, all day and I get it. Since I retired I can do the same but still like my jigs.

I do know how and have done some hand cut (just to prove to myself I could) but would only use it for something extremely special and sentimental.


-- • "I have noticed that nothing I have never said ever did me any harm."....... Calvin Coolidge

View bent's profile


311 posts in 4682 days

#14 posted 06-05-2012 02:14 AM

depends on who the project is for, and what they expect(time frame, price, style).

View Gerry's profile


264 posts in 4254 days

#15 posted 06-05-2012 02:31 AM

I agree with Sharon. That being said, I am just finishing a chest of drawers (9) using a Leigh jig for the first 4, getting spotty results.

I then used the router table with a shop made jig for the pins, transferred the pin tracings to the tail boards, and cut the tails by hand. ( yes, I know, tails before pins?????)

In the grand scheme of things, my favorite time was hand cutting the half blind dovetails in the bottom of the case. Soooo, I guess I prefer doing them by hand.

-- -Gerry, Hereford, AZ ” A really good woodworker knows how the hide his / her mistakes.”

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