My Favorite Dovetail Tricks
Five ways to increase accuracy and reduce the time it takes to execute this hand-cut joint
Synopsis: Pins first, or tails first? Either will do when cutting dovetails, says longtime woodworker Christian Becksvoort (who happens to be a tails-first guy). Becksvoort, who has cut thousands of dovetails in his years as a woodworker, shares his five favorite tips for making the job faster and easier, such as cutting two pieces at once, using alignment blocks and a graphite pencil for markup and fitting, and strategies for easier glue-ups.
From Fine Woodworking #171
Several years ago I contributed to an article, along with Tage Frid, that argued the merits of cutting pins or tails first (FWW #116). Frid prefers pins first; I’m a tails-first guy. But ultimately, as I tell my students, it matters little which part you cut first because once the joint goes together, no one can tell the difference.
Over the years I’ve been building furniture, I’ve cut thousands of dovetail joints by hand, and during that time I’ve developed a number of tricks to make the job faster and easier. These are my five favorites.
One of the reasons I think it’s more efficient to cut the tails first is that you need to lay out the dovetails on only one piece, then use those marks to cut the tails on two pieces at the same time. And when you transfer those longer layout lines across the end grain of two workpieces and use the lines to sight your saw, you get a more accurate cut. Also, when you cut two pieces at the same time, such as two drawer sides, the resulting joints match visually. So whether you are cutting case parts or drawer sides, lay out the tails, clamp the two workpieces together, and save yourself some time.
Have you ever dovetailed a drawer, glued it up, fitted…