Hand Cut Dovetails

Hand cut dovetails in my eyes are the epitome of a fine furniture touch that always blew me away. I purchased a Leigh dovetail jig a couple years ago when I got a bonus from work. This worked great especially when I was doing a lot of drawers of the same size like the drawers for my sons dresser. I purchased a dozuki saw for a couple other jobs I needed to do and I finally wanted to tackle something I haven’t done yet. Because I’ve been trying to improve a lot of my hand tool work I figured some dovetails would be a great way to practice a couple different skills; cutting with a handsaw by following a straight marking line and getting better with my chisels. The first step was learning how to layout the dovetails by hand. I already had a good marking gauge and the majority of other tools I needed to layout and cut the dovetails. The part I was missing was a dovetail template.

I had a look on the internet and while I was learning different ways to do the dovetails, I stumbled on Paul Sellers dovetail marking template. This was an easy little jig to make and gave me even more time with the handsaw.

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Here it is with the layout lines according to Paul’s site.

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And here it is all cut and ready to use.

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I’m still not sure what is the better method for me but I’ve had a reasonably easy time getting used to cutting the tails first. I will probably need to pick up a good marking knife at some point because up until this point I’ve just been using a utility knife which has been ok but I know when I get to making smaller pins, it’s going to be tricky to get into the small spaces. Really hoping for a Lee Valley gift card for Christmas to pick up the marking knife (and a couple other things too).

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And here is the final dovetail. Not *too* shabby for my first try. It really amazes me how people get these absolutely perfect right off the saw like most of the videos you find of people teaching these. I guess it just comes with experience but man, I did a lot of chiseling to get these to this state. I will mention that I did the coping saw method of cleaning out the waste. I can’t really be bashing my chisels at all hours of the night so I opted for the coping saw and then pare the waste down with a board lined up to the marking gauge line.

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Here is my second attempt with a piece of 1 1/4″ thick Poplar. Again, it’s not *too* shabby but there’s still gaps in the joints. Not enough for it to look horrible from a distance but by no means picture perfect.

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Here is the dovetailed drawer I’m doing for the Walnut and Hickory Entry Table. It’s definitely not perfect and I also opted to do a single pin because this is the first thing I’ve done so I don’t want to have more room for error with multiple pins.

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If I don’t feel like doing a project these days I’m trying to at least spend some time cutting dovetails or just generally getting used to working with my hand tools. I figured it’s time that I start making more than 1 tail as well so I can get better at the whole process. I did a pretty crappy job laying these out because I kind of just winged the spacing. I’ve been reading up more and more about how to use the proper tools to get the right spacing though so I’ll probably be doing more in the coming weeks.

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Here at the cuts for just the tails. I know they’re not perfect but I’m definitely starting to feel a lot more comfortable getting my saw lined up and committing to the cut at hand. I had a couple that left a bit of waste but all things considered, this was the best cutting I’ve done so far.

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This is my method to getting the tails all cleaned up once I’ve gone through it with the coping saw.

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And here we are, some multiple tail joints. In total both of these joints took about an hour to do everything. I had a LOT less cleanup with the chisel than my previous joints and I’m getting faster by the day to do these. I find it a very relaxing exercise and am having a lot of fun doing them.

 

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