Introduction: Dovetailed Wall Shelf

I built this project in a hand tool woodworking course taught by Tom Fidgen. This was the first project I built entirely with hand tools - I wanted to see what it would be like to complete a project without any machines at all. The project was small enough that I was able to complete it in just over 3 days and was a great learning experience. There are some obvious mistakes in this small piece but I was still happy with the way it came out and it was a real skill builder.

Step 1: Tools and Materials


Approximately 5 board feet of your favourite hardwood (I used cherry and maple)


If milling by machine: Jointer, Planer, table saw

If milling by hand: hand planes, marking guage

To cut joinery: chisels, marking guage, marking knife, dovetail saw, coping saw, dovetail marker, pencil.

Step 2: Dimension the Main Shelf

I began by dimensioning the cherry for the main shelf. I began with 1" thick rough cut lumber an ended with 4 pieces 7/8" thick. I dimensioned my lumber by hand but you can save a lot of time buy using a jointer, planer and table saw.

These are the dimensions for the finished main shelf pieces (these are the dimensions of my piece but you should size your pieces to your lumber and desired finished product).

Base: 10" X 5 1/4"

Top: 6 3/4" X 5 1/4"

Left Vertical: 4 1/2"

Right and Middle Vertical: 3 1/2"

Step 3: Dovetail the Shelf Pieces Together

I won't describe the full process for hand cutting dovetails since there are so many resources online to learn how. Here is an excellent instructable that fully explains the process.

Dovetail the base to the right and middle vertical, then the top to the middle and left vertical. Don't glue everything up yet, proceed to the next step first.

As you can see, my dovetails were not perfect and had some gaps. That's okay, I'm learning, right?

Step 4: Cut the Dados for Drawer Runners

Before gluing up the dovetails of the main shelf, you need to cut dados on inside of the verticals to house the drawer runners. I carefully marked out the lines for the dado with a combination square and marking knife. My dado was 1/4" wide and cleared out the waste with a 1/4" chisel.

Once the dados are cut, glue everything up nice a square.

Step 5: Make the Drawer

I made the drawer of out maple for a nice contrast with the cherry. I simply measured the inside of the cherry shelf to find the right dimensions for the drawer. I milled up the lumber for sides, front and back of the drawer: 3/4" for the front and back and 1/2" for the sides. I used maple plywood for the bottom.

I opted to rabbet the drawer together since I was a bit tired of dovetails at this point. I carefully marked out the rabbets with a marking knife and cut them out with a chisel. To accept the drawer bottom, I cut goves at the base of the drawer with a plow plane. I dry fit the drawer to make sure it fit and glued it up.

Step 6: Attach Drawer Runners

To make the drawer runners, I used off cuts from the cherry shelf. I approximately sized the runners off the runner dados then hand planned them to fit. I simply face glued the runners to the drawer.

Step 7: Finishing Details

As I was working, I made sure that my pieces where planned smooth and ready to accept finish. I took some time to clean up all the final details, ease the edges and make the piece look as nice as possible. This included adding some molding to hide where I had overshot my scribe lines on some of my dovetails.

I finished the main shelf with Danish Oil and the drawer with wax.