Tapered Sliding Dovetails Are Easier than You Think
This wonder joint simplifies assembly and makes cabinets bombproof
Synopsis: Sliding dovetails are clean, strong joinery options for cabinets, chests, tables, and more. They are quick and easy to cut with a router. Tapering these joints solves the problem of the joint swelling and sticking during glue-up. The tapered joint doesn’t tighten up until it’s slid all the way home, making it ideal for solid-wood applications such as joining a top directly to the case sides, or installing a solid shelf at the mid-span to stabilize the case. The key is to get perfectly matching tapers, and Timothy Rousseau shares his tips for that, plus how to cut both through and stopped versions of the joint.
Sliding dovetails are clean-looking and strong, and I use them in cabinets, chests, tables, and more. They allow unique construction, letting me join case sides directly into a top that overhangs them or make a drawer with an overhanging front. Best of all, sliding dovetails are fast and easy to cut with a router.
But there’s a problem. When glue hits these joints, they tend to swell, which can leave you permanently stuck mid-glue-up, especially on wide pieces. You can prevent this by leaving the fit a little loose, but that weakens the joint and can look sloppy.
The solution is to taper one edge of the dovetail and the corresponding edge of the slot. The beauty of a sliding dovetail is that it doesn’t tighten up until it is slid all the way home. Though it might seem hard to get perfectly matching tapers, the whole process is easier than you think.
I use this joint most often on solid-wood cases that are deeper than 10 in. or 12 in. On chests of drawers, I use it to join the sides directly into the top, and for installing…