Shoulder Your Dovetails
Make layout easier and get cleaner results
Synopsis: The shouldered dovetail is Steve Latta’s joint of choice for drawers, table stretchers, and carcases. It combines efficiency with a clean look. On drawers, it makes a huge difference to the stability and appearance of the finished product. On drawer pockets, it ensures a dead-square result. And on casework, it guarantees a square box and makes layout easier. As Latta says, “Why wouldn’t I use it?”
I can’t remember when I started shouldering my dovetails, but it has been a regular practice for most of my years as a cabinetmaker. In my early days, I noticed the old-timers shouldered the dovetails on spice chests to avoid cutting half-blinds. They quickly cut through-dovetails and covered the joinery with a molding. This combined efficiency with cleanliness, and in my book that is always a winning combination. I’ve expanded the practice to just about all my dovetails. The lip allows for an easier, more positive registration and covers up any inaccuracies or slight chipping that may occur.
I’ll walk you through this technique. It’s my typical approach for drawer construction, the top stretcher of a table, and carcases. The order of operations is almost the same for all. It is easy and saves time while adding to the overall clean look of the piece. Why wouldn’t I use it?
While creating the shoulder on a dovetailed drawer makes a huge difference to the stability and appearance of the finished product, shouldered dovetails aren’t much more work to create. After you fit the drawer front to the opening, lay out and cut the dovetails on the sides. I cut mine on the tablesaw using a customized blade for cutting dovetails. All the teeth are ground at 10° in one direction, and I tilt the sawblade 10°…