Dovetailed Beertote




Introduction: Dovetailed Beertote

Since I'm beer brewer, I like to bring beer when visiting friends and family. Therefore I want to make a beer tote for 6 half liter bottles where the bottle stands steady in stead of floating around in a plastic bag.

When I started on this project I wanted a tote made out of wood only. I could of course take the easy way out and just screwed or nailed a case together, but the look of half blind dovetails looks much nicer and it is something special with making something entirely out of wood.

For about a year ago I bought an used CMT300 dovetail jig and it haven't been much used, so for this project I thought it was time to clean the dust of it. I had all the materials needed laying around so I didn't have to buy anything for this specific project.

Step 1: Resources and Personal Protective Equipment

Tools that I used for this project;

  • Mitre saw
  • Thickness planner
  • Table saw
  • Router with 1/2" dovetail bit and a round over bit
  • Dovetail jig
  • Drill with 25mm forstner bit
  • Clamps
  • Caliper
  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Something to sand it down with
  • Jigsaw


  • approx 2m 172mm x 19mm rectangular boards
  • 25cm of 25mm dovel (actually an old broomstick)
  • 4mm plywood for walls
  • Wood glue
  • Methylated spirits

  • Finishing oil (I used Owatrol oil for this)

Personal protective equipment

  • Protective glasses
  • Dust mask
  • Earmuff / hearing protection

Step 2: Measuring Out the Sizes Needed for the Tote

To decide on the size of tote I took basis in a 0,5L bottle which is the most common bottle that is used in Norway. The base of the bottle measures 68mm, so in mye draft i used 70mm for each bottle so the bottle won't be sitting so tight in the tote. For this project I want to have room for 6 bottles.

Step 3: Laying Out and Cutting Materials

The boards I'm using is ordinary spruce planks used for sidings, they were originally 172 x 19mm, but I planed them down to 15mm for a previous project.

When laying them out for cutting, try to avoid to get knots where the joinery will come.

For the end walls I cut them a bit longer then needed, it will come in handy to have some extra material to cut of in stead of starting all over if (when) something goes wrong. The center piece is cut for the exact length.

The edges on the material where a bit rough, so I cut them on my table saw to get rid of the rough edges.

Before you cut your boards to length, take of the rough edges first. Then it is likely that you have some extra material that you know is the correct size as the rest of your project. I didn't do it like this, and regretted.

Step 4: Test the Dovetail Jig Setup

To get a good introduction for using a jig like this I recommend Colin Knecht's video. This is a really informal video about how to use Dovetail Jig Setup - A woodworking video

It is important to test the router jig on some pieces of scrap before starting to work with the pieces that is going to be used to something more than firewood.

I have made myself a list of all the things I need to check before I start the router

  1. Check that the end of router bit is exactly 12,7mm above the guide template. Use a caliper for this
  2. Check that both pieces is totally flat towards the orange bed.
  3. Check that the depth adjustment for the template is correct and equal on both sides. Use the reference mark.
  4. Check that there is no gap between the template and the wood.
  5. Verify that both pieces of wood is firmly attached.
  6. Don't lift up the router with a spinning router bit, it is both dangerous and likely to hit something,

As you can see from my pictures, the first cut I made didn't turn out very nice. So I made som adjustments and made a new try which turned out better. This shows how important it is to test the jig first.

Step 5: The Big Failure...

Well, with the jig all set up and the pieces for my tote placed firmly in the jig I started routing the pieces. I have to admit i got a bit surprised when I fitted the two pieces together and there was an offset. On the jig there is a bolt that can be moved if you want an offset, I moved this bolt and made a test cut that came out fine. I still don't get why test cut turned out fine and this cut didn't.

For me this was a setback and it took a couple of days before I went to the garage and proceeded the project.

Step 6: New Attempt!

Now this led to that I had to cut a new bottom piece, now is where the tip in step 3 comes in. I had spare materials, but the rough edges wasn't trimmed off. I took the new piece to the table saw and got it to the same size as the old one, but if I had cut the entire board on the table at first I wouldn't have to bother with all the adjustment that is needed to get it to exact size.

For the end board I just trimmed off the dovetail pins and it was ready to go!

I fitted the pieces back in to the jig and made new cuts that came out way better then last time.

Make sure to mark the corresponding joints, it is easy to swap them and you can end up with joints with poor or not fitting at all.

Step 7: Side Walls Part 1

After the joinery on the end walls is finish and dry fitted, the side walls is next. When the end walls are dry assembled, take a measure for how long the end walls will be.

It is important to take a precise measurement for how long the sides shall be and include the dovetails pin. If they are too long they will press out joinery in the bottom, if too short it will be hard to make them fit.

Mark the joints before you start to avoid confusion.

The end walls are already routed on the ends so I can't just put them directly into the jig. I had to measure how big the offset is between the two pieces in and ordinary setup, and apply the same offset with the end walls in place.

With the end wall in place, a new problem occurred. The bracket for the template was resting on the wood so the template wasn't sitting flush on the wood. This wasn't a big issue since I was going to taper the end walls anyway.

I started with finding the center of the board. Then took the cap of a spray can to mark the round shape. I then used a ruler to draw a straight line between where top of the side wall will come and tangential to the round shape. To cut the taper, I used my mitre gauge and set it up with a stop block so I was able to get a repeated cut for both end walls.

Now I was able to start cutting the joint for the side walls.

Step 8: Side Walls Part 2

With the end walls tapered, they fit into the jig. It was a bit of a hassle to get everything lined up correctly since I had to get the correct offset and the end wall, which is not perfectly flat, was trying to lift up the template. Eventually I was able to cut all the joints, but I probably used an hour just for these four joints.

When cutting the last finger for the joint on the side wall, remove the end wall from the jig. Else, you will get a hole in the end wall that isn't suppose to be there.

When I dry assembled it, I found out that my measurements for the side walls probably wasn't as correct as I thought. They were a bit long and then pushed the end walls out of their joints from the bottom. At this stage there isn't much to do with this, it's either to start over or do the best from it.

After the whole tote was dry assembled I was a bit surprised how good it held together even without glue.

Step 9: Sanding Away the Planer Marks

After the material had been through the planer, some marks were left. I decided to sand them away before assembling to make it easier to sand them properly. Once again I marked the pieces to be sure which joints belonged to each other. I sanded with 120 grit using my fein multicutter, but you can use an orbital sander or just an ordinary sandpaper block.

Step 10: Handle and Round Over of the Edges.

One of the end walls was about 15mm longer then the other because of the mistake I made in step 5. I marked both for the cut, center for the handlebar and the round shape. To "cut" the round shape, I used my disc sander. If you dont have a disc sander it is possible to use a jigsaw or bandsaw instead. For the observant reader, yes, I had to trace out a new round pattern since I had to cut one of the end walls a bit shorter.

For the handle itself, I used a part of an old broomstick. I drilled a 10mm deep hole with a 25mm forstner bit for the handle, this way the handle will not glide out as it probably wood have done if it were a through hole.

I found out that the edges was a bit sharp, so I found the smallest (3/8") round over bit I had and fitted it in my router table. Be careful so you don't take the edges of the pins for the joints!

I dry assembled the tote and found out that the handle was a bit long, I just cut of a small bit and it fitted almost perfectly

Step 11: Glue Up, Clamping and Sanding

Glue up is always messy and a bit stressing which is the reason why I don't have a photo of the actual glue up process. Before I start gluing I cover my workbench with paper to avoid the mess on bench. I then lay out alle my pieces so it is easy to understand where they belong. I then apply glue to all the pins and smear out the glue before I connect the joint. I do this for all pieces until it is completely assembled. I then clamped the tote together and leave it to dry overnight. The glue I'm using is ordinary Casco wood glue.

After drying overnight I removed the clamps and started to sand the tote once more. I first started with 120 grit, but it was to much glue left and som of the joints needed quite a bit of sanding to become flush, therefore I went down to 80 grit to sande the joints flat. I then went back to 120 again to make it ready for finishing.

Of course I had to test it with 6 bottles filled with home brewed beer :)

Step 12: Finishing

After sanding, I found a box of Owatrol high gloss oil, this oil dries hard so it suits this tote good. According to the user guide on the box, I should first wash the tote with methylated spirit to clean it, so I did. After letting it dry I applied a layer of oil and the dovetails got more visible.

In total I applied 4 coats of oil on tote and the finish got a nice durable (hopefully) finish.

Step 13: Internal Walls

The internal walls are made out of 4mm thick plywood. I made one long and two short plates. In the long plate, I made two notches and one notch in each of the short ones. I used a jigsaw with a fine tooth blade to make the notches. It's not easy to make the notch perfectly straight with a jigsaw, so to make the notches to fit I just used sandpaper to get them the right size.

Step 14: Final Result and Conclusion

This project gave me loads of new experiences! There is so many small things and tricks I should have thought about earlier that would have made this project both a lot easier and probably the result a lot better as well.

The finished project turned out nice, but due to some miscalculations during the making the separate rooms got a to tight to fit all types of 0,5l bottles. My solution was to make two of the rooms a bit smaller. It won't fit a 0,5l, but it will fit a 0,33l longneck bottle just fine.

If anyone have a tip or comment for how I could have made this tote better or easier, please feel free to leave a comment below. Cheers!

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    2 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Excellent use of dovetails and wonderful tote!


    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you!