Sunday 19 March 2017

Thoughts on Dovetails.

Here's a nice pine box from Daniel. He used the 90 degree guide to pare down to the base line giving a nice flat bottom to his dovetails, good idea.  I've seen a few different ways to achieve this, the classic way is to chisel a hump in the middle from both sides and then carefully pare it flat. Personally I prefer a hollow in mine, it's faster, no less strong and gives me the reassurance of no gaps on assembly.

Many woodworkers assume that pine is an easy wood to dovetail, it's soft and forgiving which means you can bang home the joint without much risk of splitting. However that same softness is also a disadvantage as the sides easily collapse under pressure and spoil the crispness of the finished joint.
I've found the best combination for dovetailing is a 'hard' wood for the tails, which hold their crisp shape and a 'softer' wood for the pins with some flexibility. A classic combination is hard maple and walnut, which also gives a strong colour contrast to the joint.

The dovetail alignment board below was Marks first project with his new 1:6 and 90 degree guides and he looks to have done a great job. The alignment board is a very useful tool and a great project to get used to using the guides. It's best made from a single board (quarter sawn if possible) for future stability. If you leave the parts over long then any mistakes made in the joint can be cut off and you can have another go.

Using 3/4" board also makes you appreciate the need for squareness in your dovetails, the thicker the material the more chance your cuts will wander off square and the joint won't fit. This is where the magnetic guides really come in their own keeping the cuts straight, but above all, square.
Nice to see a bit of Blue Spruce tool porn in there!


  1. Nice article.Great photos.


  2. Hats off to Daniel and Mark. My saw and guides arrived recently and I am looking forward to my first practise efforts: but the bar is being set very high in these examples. Norman

    1. Hi Norman, good luck with your dovetails! All the best, David.