Several years ago I contributed to an article, along with Tage Frid, that argued the merits of cutting pins or tails first ("Cutting Through Dovetails", available online to members of Frid preferred 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. Here is one of my 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.


Click to Enlarge  

Mark the layout on the face of only one piece. Use a chisel to mark the cutouts where the pins will go, then use the same chisel to chop out the waste.

Click to Enlarge   Transfer the tail marks. Use a pencil and a small square to lay out the tails across the ends of a pair of drawer sides.
Click to Enlarge   Make the tail cuts in both workpieces. By cutting the tails in both pieces at the same time, it’s actually easier to maintain the sawkerf at 90° to the face of the boards.

For more on how Christian Becksvoort cuts dovetails, become a member of to read his article "My Favorite Dovetail Tricks."

Photos: William Duckworth

From Fine Woodworking #171, p. 51