Hand Cut Dovetails for Dummies

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Introduction: Hand Cut Dovetails for Dummies

Precision cuts and joinery is the mark of a skilled carpenter. Dovetail joints often have an aura of mystery about them. Dovetails can be tricky, but with a little practice you can have others envious of the decorative hand cut character that only a dovetail joint can bring to your next project.

When using dovetails for a joint that requires strength, end grain must be used. Side grain was used in this instructable because it was for demonstration purposes only. The same steps and techniques will work with end grain dovetail joints.

Step 1: Tools

Step 2: Layout One

  • Measure the thickness of the second board using the marking gauge
  • Transfer that thickness to the first board with the marking gauge
  • Mark the middle of the board
  • Decide on a layout for the dovetails (my layout is shown in picture 3)
  • Make sure to mark the sections that you are wanting to remove

Step 3: Cut

Using a hand saw, cut close to the line while not removing it till you reach the line left by the marking gauge

Step 4: Removing Wood

Use a chisel and mallet to remove the excess wood. Holding the chisel perpendicular to the wood piece, cut along the line made by the marking gauge. Flip the chisel over to cut toward the line made by the marking gauge. Do this over and over till the wood is removed.

Step 5: Repeat

Using the same steps shown before, remove the remaining excess wood from the first board.

Step 6: Layout Two

  • Using the first board as a pattern, transfer the outline of the dovetails
  • Using the marking gauge, transfer the thickness of the first board to the second board
  • Mark the sections to remove
  • Using a square, connect the lines to the line left by the marking gauge

Step 7: Cut and Remove Wood

Repeat steps 3 through 5.

Step 8: Final Fitting

If the previous steps have been followed, the two boards should not fit together. In order to get the tight great looking dovetails that every carpenter wants, carefully shave wood off the second board in the interface between the two. I used both the chisel and small sanding block to get them to fit.

Step 9: Sand and Finish

Depending on what you are making, you will want to glue the joint. If gluing, sand before and after to make sure that everything is flush.

Since this is a demonstration piece for a dovetail joint, I didn't glue it. I just sanded it and finished it with some danish oil.

Step 10: Share Your Dovetail Projects!

I want to see what amazing dovetail projects you can come up with. Please take a picture, make an instructable, share, repeat and enjoy!

2 People Made This Project!

  • rustytoy made it!

  • pfred2 made it!

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48 Comments

This reminds me of the Japanese wood working - all done by hand. Applause for working this complicated joint out by hand! I work in a wood shop now and then, and dovetails are a bit of a challenge though, when finished, they're really cool looking! Bravo!

Remembering that Japanese Craftsmen use pull saws which are much thinner and extremely sharp. This avoids that risky first push cut.

They don't even have to be thin... Just pull-action & SHARP

Oooh, I like that and it's so affordable. Looks like a comfy grip

We do what we can with what is available. Good test for workmanship! Good tools is a blessing, eh?

You can also use this to do all kinds of joints

That is one pretty... Uh, what IS that??

You sure enough can. That looks amazing! Great job!

Well done, and easy to understand. Here's a pic of some I did for practice several years ago.