How To Cut Dovetail Joints By Hand – A Step By Step Guide To Hobbyists And Experts

Dovetail joinery is pretty good to look at, and certainly perfect and strong joinery hacks. The tricks are much harder while cutting dovetails by hands, and it takes years of experience to adopt the skill. But tools can assist you to make your way simpler to accomplish the whole process. Today we have focused on How To Cut Dovetail Joints By Hand.

Plain wood is simply the best when used for furniture, and joints are always odds. But the simple hacks of dovetail joints bring about a revolutionary change in wood joinery for attractive furniture.

The invention of dovetail joinery is not of the new era, but it originated from the ancient civilization. Experts say that the dovetails were found in the Egyptian tombs and Chinese rich furniture also.

The dovetail tricks and techniques are seen to use for making cabinets, drawers, boxes, and other woodworking projects. Dovetail joints are not merely the joints but used as the particular design statements. The well-built dovetail joints are sturdy and approximately unbreakable compared to any other woodworking process.

An argument - pins or tails first!

Does it matter a bit which part you should cut first - pins or tails? No straight answer is accurate for such a riddle. Over the years of experience gives me clues to think it's efficient to cut the tails first. The reason is that you make a layout on only one workpiece and cut the tails on the two workpieces at the same time using the same predesigned layout. It results with a more accurate cut and ultimately saves your time.

Different Types of Dovetail Joints

You might notice that dovetails are used to join different angles of workpieces. Based on the angle types and shapes, dovetails may be a bit different. Let's have a look at them.

1. Through Dovetails

Thorough dovetail Joint

The through dovetails are the most basic dovetail joints and an incredibly strong piece of trick. In this process, no gaps found between the pins and the tails, and perfectly adjusted within the two workpieces.

2. Half-Blind Dovetails

Half-blind dovetail joints

While joining workpieces together, sometimes you allow only one portion of joints visible and other invisible. Only single part visible dovetail joints are half-blind dovetails, and this kind of joinery is more popular for making boxes and drawers.

3. Sliding Dovetail Joints

Sliding dovetail Joint

The sliding dovetail is a piece of long groove tail with angled sides adjoining with a corresponding longboard pin that is cut into the end.

4. Dovetail Jigs

Dovetail Jig Joint

When you are bored with making dovetails by hand, you have an excellent option to use Dovetail Jig and router to curve your dovetail joinery. It is a predesigned steel frame where the workpieces are placed to cut with router bits matching the pins and tails.

5. Box-Joints

Dovetail Box Joints

Box-Joints are a kind of simpler joints that are not so visually appealing. The adjoining pins and tails are square, not angled. It appears to be weaker joints compared to other dovetails.

How To Cut Dovetail Joints By Hand - Step By Step Process

Dovetail Joints by Hand-Step by Step

You now know how important is the dovetail joints in any woodworking projects. But it's harder and years of experience is required to adopt the skill. Today I’m going to write about how to cut dovetails by hands quickly and precisely. I’m going to use some tricks and hacks that are developed by Christian Becksvoort, David, and other famous woodworkers.

It begins with the following steps illustrated step by step for better understanding.

You need some essential woodworking tools to complete the whole process. We will mention the tools when what needed.

Depth Line

First of all, what you need is to scrape the depth line on all four sides of your workpiece and cut into the bottom of the adjoining grooves to make long pins. So, the bottom of the grooves is being cut, and there’s a straight scraped line in both the pieces of the wood. A piece of little wood scrap plate will easily be placed into the scraped line of the groove to make an excellent drawer. It can help us to put two tall boards together perfectly to cut the tail on both the boards at once.

Depth Line

Tails Angle

Now before begins a layout, we need to choose tails angles.

The slop ratio of tails angles may vary depending on the size of dovetails and boards. We chose 1: 6; which is about 10 degrees. What we need to do now is to curve in each other sides of the wood plates leaving about a quarter inch left in both sides.

Angle Slop Ratio

So, the measurement is about 45 mm each. We will divide it by 2 to make small tails, and subdivided by 2 again to form a perfect size of tails. We found 4 equal subdivisions now formed on each plate.

Angle Sub Division

Now we can draw the center lines over the two separate plates, and then will transfer the central line on the face side of only one tailboard. Remember to cut the two boards at the same time.

By using your chisel, you can now mark the width of the tails. You can mark the width of the cutouts where you like to do. Using the same narrow tip chisel, you will be able to chop out the waste and figure it out easily.

Dovetail Tails Width

It’s time to draw the lines with the predesigned angle of 10 degrees. Make sure to draw the lines in both sides of the tails.

Splitting Layout

When finished, you need to start splitting the layout. It is not essential to make everything perfectly because it’s not so complex angle. Some people can get it quickly.

So, let’s start now splitting the pencil line. According to David, it is the most important skill for cutting the dovetails. It’s so tough and important job splitting the line, literally cutting on the pins socket sides.

Splitting Layout

To make your life easier, you can cut out the waste part on the scroll saw over hands. Or you can do it with just chisel it out.

When you intend to chisel out over the tails, make sure the right position of the chisel on a depth line. And then by tilting the chisel at the same degrees on the waste part on the halfway, you do the same thing on the other side.

Depth Cleaning

This way, it will half clean lines and the borders of joints. You need to do some inevitable cleaning.

An important thing you have to do when you measure the two boards at the right angle. The same piece of scrap board will put these two boards into the line together. 

Scrab Joiner
Scrab Joiner 2

The precise transfer of the pins line is very important here. You can use a knife for that. The laying out job is very important at that stage. We will mark every board individually so that we can cut the two boards at the same time.

So, the same thing splitting the line from inside. It’s more important to do a precise job at that stage. Again in the same way removing the wastage over the scrap lines, you can use a chisel to remove the waste part of the tails to make it clean.

Video Review

A video of the famous woodworking expert, C. H. Becksvoort, is embedded here for your better understanding. 

Getting The Plates Together

You can now try on to place the two plates together to make the perfect match. You will see that it’s now too tight to fix with the hands. So, use a hammer to make a little pressure. But it will not be a perfect joint.

To make it perfect, make some marks with a pencil to identify which part is so tight. Then sharpen the edges of the tight parts shaving with a chisel. It will then make the perfect fit. Try that again, and you will see that’s much better now. These tricks work well when you clean the whole box. You just put it together and see the perfect dovetail joints.

So, how does it look?

In conclusion, I want to share some interesting hand cut joints.

Dovetail Joinery 2
Dovetail Joinery

Final Verdict

These are the tricks and secret hacks you can apply for creating beautiful joinery in your next woodworking projects. The secret tips on how to cut dovetail joints by hand will give you some technics that will surely save your time, and enrich your designing skills.

Be safe and happy woodworking!

Richard K. Christensen

As a hobbyist, I love DIY and want woodworking life better. I took writing as a profession and never looked back.

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hybworks.co.uk - July 29, 2020

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