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Ben Johansen
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Location: Door County, WI
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So, I've been seduced by that shapliest of lasses, the dovetail joint. Been practicing on a few decent bits of 2x4, and I'm starting to get a feel for my chisels. What tips would any of you grained brains out there give a rookie on dovetailing?



 
Mike Feddersen
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Ben,

I am not a woodworker, at least not in the last 40ish years, I did turn some lamps from
glued and planed wood scraps that turned out nice period wise(it was the mid 1970's).

But thanks to your question I to love dovetails since I went looking to see what they were.
I found some great little videos on Youtube that really made sense and were entertaining.









 
Katy Whitby-last
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The shape of your dovetails will vary depending on whether you are box making or drawer making etc so I would recommend some time looking at old bits of furniture. Also think about what wood you will be using. Something like elm is nasty for dovetails as the grain often doesn't run straight and you want total precision in your joint. Walnut is nice and gives a lovely clean sharp edge. Make sure you mark up very accurately and take time over cutting and paring the joint as any mistakes are very visible.
 
Curtis Budka
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I like Matthias's videos (the guy who made the ones first posted in the thread). He does a lot of cool, complex and intercate things that can sometimes only be done with machines. The thing is that the machines required to safely and accurately build cool things. A half decent table saw with a good fence will be around $300-400+. I personally much prefer to learn how to do things with hand tools. I feel that once you get the experience part down, you can get a few half decent chisels, a hand plane, and a dove tail saw for far far less than even the crappiest table saw and maybe even cut just as fast as a machine would.

Paul Sellers is all about doing quality work with hand tools that don't cost very much at all. This is his video on dovetails.

 
Ben de Leiris
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Here are some things I find make it easier.
-Careful and accurate layout! Everything follows from your initial layout so make it good.
-Cut tails first. I think it's way easier to mark the pins from the tails than the other way around.
-Use a marking knife instead of a pencil for fine work. It gives you a clean accurate line like no pencil can. Then run a pencil through the knife mark to make it easier to see. It actually makes two lines, one on either rim of the knife cut. Then cut out the waste until one of the pencil lines is gone. If you're layout was precise, at this point the joint will probably be tight and then you can pare down the sticky spots for a really good fit.
-Sharp tools are a must for clean work.
-I usually cheat and hog out most of the waste on the bandsaw. Then I lay the work piece on the bench, clamp a nice square block exactly on the shoulder line, and use it as a guide to chop out the last little bit with a sharp chisel.
 
tony Irving
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Location: Chariton,Iowa
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Great videos.Love dovetails!
 
Erica Wisner
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Curtis Budka wrote:...

Paul Sellers is all about doing quality work with hand tools that don't cost very much at all. This is his video on dovetails.



Ok, now I am hooked on Paul Sellers videos. I've been watching a few of the others for contrast - there's many ways to do this - but I love his mastery. Need to sharpen up some tools and try this stuff.
I think his dexterity comes with experience, and if you default to power tools, you get a different kind of experience. Mattias' jigs are masterful, but his hands are not as deft. Not being likely to become a production cabinetmaker, I suspect I'll get more lifetime benefit from practicing for dexterity... but maybe I can work my way up to being better at both arts.

One thing that's not being discussed is the direction of force that dovetails provide. In a box it doesn't matter much, and even decorative dovetails add some strength.
But for drawers, and probably cabinets and shelving, there's a distinct pull in one direction and less force in the other.
I'm guessing you mount the dovetails in the orientation where you can't accidentally pull the face of the drawer off.
That is, the dovetails are cut on the sides and hammered on from the sides, and the face and back have the tails (can be blind or full).

I'm also guessing that the tighter the detailing, the better it will handle force over time. Loose joints create uneven stress and loosen further; glue is brittle and becomes a weak point if the wrong force comes by. I watched Paul Seller's hand-cut dado video and he was interested in compressing the fibers slightly where they will support a shelf, but not in the case of the dovetail where you need a uniform, tight fit across multiple tails. I've heard of timber framers using cured pegs in green timber so the shrinkage tightens the work... wonder if there are any jointers tricks like that?

 
Ben de Leiris
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Location: Hinesburg, Vermont
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Erica you're correct about the orientation of dovetails on drawers. On something like a wall mounted cabinet, the contents are weighing down on the bottom, so there you'd put the tails on the sides to help hold up the bottom.

Another thing is that softer wood you are using, the more of an angle you need on the tails since it would otherwise be easier for the wood to crush and the joint to loosen. I have two dovetail marking jigs. For hard woods (not necessarily hardwoods) I use one that's a 1:8 angle. And for soft woods (not necessarily softwoods), I have one that's a 1:6 angle for just a little more bite. I guess it depends on the function of the joint, the piece as a whole, and the look you;re going for. No hard and fast rules.

Here's a trick I use when I want super tight joints. As I said, I cut the tails, then lay the tail piece on the end on the pin piece to trace the tails. Let the shoulder of the tail joint actually rest slightly on the end of the other piece, instead of being exactly at the corner where it really should be. I mocked it up in the sketchup drawing below. The one on the right is what I mean. It's exaggerated there, but in reality you only want 1/64" at most. Then the pins you trace will be the right shape but ever so slightly oversized. You can then pare down to an exact fit! If you're just starting out and not confident in cutting right to the final line right away, this is a great way to get super close without overshooting, and get a great looking joint.
dovetails.jpg
[Thumbnail for dovetails.jpg]
 
Peter Ellis
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Location: Central New Jersey
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Erica, regarding joiner's tricks like the cured pegs in green timber - yes, the same trick, in fact Draw bore joints in greenwood furniture construction, where the elements of the joint are varying degrees of green, but the peg going through the draw bore is very dry indeed.

Peter Follansbee explains this very well, and if you like woodworking but have not yet read his blog, well, it is a treat
 
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