Introduction: Making Half Blind Dovetail Drawers for a Walnut Desk

Picture of Making Half Blind Dovetail Drawers for a Walnut Desk

Using half blind dovetails is really great for certain projects like making drawers for example. Half blind dovetails don't go all the way through, like through dovetails so you can't see the dovetails until you open the drawer. I made four drawers with half blind dovetails for a desk that I built, so I wanted to go over the process of how I made them.

Step 1: Choosing Your Wood

For the frame of the desk I'm using walnut, so I'm going to be using walnut for the drawer fronts as well.

Now there are lots of different ways to build drawers. You can butt join them, or use pocket screws. However when it comes to strength and beauty, you really can't beat dovetails. Half blind dovetails are really nice when you don't want a seamless front, so that's what I'm using for this project.

Step 2: Building the Drawers

Picture of Building the Drawers

For the sides of the drawers, I wanted a nice strong, contrasting wood, so I ended up with maple which I resawed into thin 3/8 inch pieces. So I'm cutting the side piece to length, and here I'm using the one side to mark the other side of the other tails so they're exactly the same.

Mark out your tails. I'm using my first piece of wood to mark out the other boards, so they'll all be consistent. You can choose the angle you want, depending on the look of your project and your preference. Common angles for dovetails range between 7-15 degrees. Also decide how many tails you'll need, that will depend on the size of the board that you're working with. Mark an x on the pieces that need to be removed.

Step 3: Marking the Tail Board

Picture of Marking the Tail Board

When you have your dovetail lines in place, make sure to bring the marks across with a pencil or a knife.

Next, I'm marking the baseline of the dovetails with a marking gauge. This will determine how long the pins will be. This is also the distance of how far the tail board (the maple) will go into the pin board (the walnut).

There is a lot of customization possibilities here. You could really place the maple anywhere on the walnut expect at the end to still be half-blind.

Step 4: Cutting Out the Tails

Picture of Cutting Out the Tails

To cut out the dovetails, I use a rip saw, and it's a good idea to cut on the outside of the line (on the side of the x).

Once the dovetails have been cut, I place the piece in the vice and cut the sides off with a cross-cut saw.

To remove the waste in the middle I use a coping saw, make sure to cut rather quickly because you can't change the direction if you're going slowly. Make sure to stay within the lines!

Finally, clean up up the lines with a chisel.

Step 5: ​The Pin Board

Picture of ​The Pin Board

Now once the tail board is done, it's time to move on to the pin board. So I'm setting the walnut down flat in the vice, and I'm laying the maple right on top, marking out where the pins need to be.

Next I'm setting my marking gauge, and marking out the pin board, and bringing the lines down.

Then I'm cutting the pins at an angle with a rip saw, because I can't go all the way through. Since these are half blind dovetails, it's a little trickier than through dovetails, because the tails will fit inside the walnut, and won't show on the other side. So I can only chisel down so far, so I have to be a bit careful so I don't take out too much.

For this job I find it really nice to use a small mallet that's easy to control. Once I have some of it chiseled out I place it in the vice and chisel that way, being really careful to not go down too far. This is pretty time consuming, because you don't want to crack the wood and you want to stay within your lines.

Carefully chisel out the area until you have a clean pin board ready for the tails.

Step 6: Assemble

Picture of Assemble

I routed out grooves on the maple so I could fit a piece of hardboard for the bottoms. I also cut out a piece of maple for the back.

Once I had all my pieces I glued the dovetails together, slipped in the hardboard bottom, and nailed in the back.

Step 7: Conclusion - Watch the Video

For a much better perspective, make sure to check out the video where I do the half blind dovetail drawers for a desk.


rolaugh (author)2016-09-24

Nice work.

amberharding82 (author)2015-07-10

Durable :)

Murray and Michelle (author)2015-07-09

Very nice job. Love the workmanship. Very very nice!

nhampto9 (author)2015-07-08

Since I get my wood for free from pallets, I'm not as concerned w wasting wood or money as much as wasting time. (Walnut is for eating. Why cut it down?)

It seems to me that cutting wood is cutting wood. Hand sawing & routing both do the same thing. A handsaw is quiet & slow. A router is fast. The handsaw requires three cuts to remove the dovetail. A router requires only one.

I don't know why people are such glue fans either.

Last a few years? I made twin bunkbeds. The novelty wore off in 3 months. Separated to two beds. Room rearrangement left them sharing again. Bed frame got transferred to a queen size bed. Another rearrangement left no room for the frame so it was dismantled & finds life as a wardrobe. That's less than 1 year! I'm not aiming for 400 years, just next month.

If I have 3 hours to build X, then I don't have time to waste on slow methods.

Never been to an Ikea so I wouldn't know. Other than nails & screws, my cost is negligible.

So, again, why dove tail? I bought a new router to learn to use it. I own a Kreg jig but haven't used it yet.

Trust me. A machine in my hands shows plenty of 'frailty'.

IngenuityAtWork (author)nhampto92015-07-08

People who have done it both ways develop an appreciation for doing things with chisel and mallet; you might have to do both and gain experience to discover the reason why for yourself. Also, as you will find, routers/dovetail bits/dovetail jigs aren't perfect tools. There's a lot more to go wrong, it's more difficult to sharpen your cutting surface, you'll likely experience tear-out; also once you've developed your chisel skills it isn't as much work as you probably think currently. You'll find out as you go along, and are able to make informed decisions based on your personal experience.

nhampto9 (author)2015-07-07

1) Why dovetail at all?
2) Why not use a router?

So far, the only answers I've been able to find is "tradition". That doesn't cut melted butter w me.

srilyk (author)nhampto92015-07-08

Dovetails are a surprisingly strong way to join wood. If you ensure a snug fit you actually don't need adhesive.

As for not using a router... some of us decided to spend our money on good hand tools instead ;)

stoobers (author)nhampto92015-07-07

If you go through the trouble to make a drawer, and you use a router and jig to cut the dovetails, the money you spent on wood is lost, as you cut the wood up into pieces and glued the wood back together again. A few years from now, what you made ends up in trash. Don't waste your time joining with a router. Its a lot of work, and has no payoff, as you can get stuff much fancier mass produced at Ikea for less money.

But if you make the same thing by hand and join it by hand, the value of the wood goes up, and other than the age, looks like every antique made for the past 400 years. The joint is far stronger than screws (look up 'kreg jig').

Also, making dovetail joints on a router isn't as easy as making toast - lots of ways to destroy expensive wood quickly. There are size limits to the jigs, which are not present when working by hand. Also, dovetail joints aren't really too hard, they just take a while.

I don't even bother with electric saws anymore. It is better to have the imperfections show as a sign of human frailty than to try to keep up with the jones.

darbinorvar (author)nhampto92015-07-07

Well, first of all, a router is not a joint. Secondly using a router to do half-blind dovetails is pretty annoying. Thirdly, when you build yours you can choose whatever method you want. Check out the video linked above if you want to see my reasons.

mkronman (author)2015-07-05

When I saw the preview, I was thinking that this is going to be yet another "How to use a router" instructable.

I was wrong. Awesome!

heavyweather (author)mkronman2015-07-07

How would you cut blind dovetails with a router? Going in from the endgrain you would get a round cutout on the inside of the drawer that would show.

darbinorvar (author)mkronman2015-07-07


Basel Brush (author)2015-07-07

You are a very talented person, I envy you your skill.

crank_girl (author)2015-07-07

stunning! so when do we learn how to build the rest of the desk? :)

darbinorvar (author)crank_girl2015-07-07

Thanks, here is the link to the first video about building the desk.

Beekeeper (author)2015-07-07

Well done. It's really nice to see someone making proper joints the traditional way - like I do!

Two small tips though.

First, use a scrap of wood to knock the joints together, both when you are testing for fit and when glueing (and clamping). This will save bruising the wood.

Second, if you make your drawer fronts about an eighth of an inch (2 - 3 mm) oversize and cut the joints an equivalent amount deeper, then after the glue has dried you can shave or sand it down to its final size for a perfect fit. This applies to most joints such as through tenons or even regular dovetails.

Ralphxyz (author)2015-07-06

Wow, wonderful, thank you. So great to see you using hand tools!!

Suleymankutluer (author)2015-07-03

awesome work!

Thanks for the comment!

Stark Ideas (author)2015-07-03

Fantastic skills ma'am

darbinorvar (author)Stark Ideas2015-07-03


lwojcik2 (author)2015-07-03

That is hot!

Kafukai (author)2015-07-02

Nice wood crafting job, very accurate. I would use a 1/8" steel rotary tool cutting bit for cutting the dove tail shapes, and for the depth I would using a gauge stopper - but it is nice to see that people still use the old school methods very greatly, thanks for sharing :-)

darbinorvar (author)Kafukai2015-07-02

All roads lead to Rome :)

mjenk20236 (author)2015-07-02

Great to see the hand work.

darbinorvar (author)mjenk202362015-07-02

So much fun to do the hand work when you're in a relaxed mood.

Pat Pending (author)2015-07-02

Great result - impressive!

darbinorvar (author)Pat Pending2015-07-02

Thank you!

About This Instructable



Bio: Hi I'm Linn and on my Youtube Channel I have lots of great videos about building, construction and fun projects. You can also check ... More »
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