Dovetail practise

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Established Member
6 Apr 2012
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Ok my river table is on hold for a week or two as I'm waiting for epoxy to cure and also extra wood to come from the saw mill.

On a good point the wife is in hospital for the weekend (knee operation) so I thought it would be a good time to practise a Dovetail box.

Having never ever made a Dovetail box before I would like to know the best wood dimensions to start with in this I mean the height is 75mm high to small I'm also thinking of using oak for the face/front and chestnut for the sides I do have some Sapele well I think it's Sapele if that would be better.

I have also maple and walnut but I'm saving that for Christmas gifts ( lined memory box) for the in-laws

I have watch lots of video's and read lots of articles read Custard post and also been to Derek build of his nice coffee table
I would make a box for screws, drill bits or something.
Then it can be as rough as a badgers rear end and you will not get too stressed but you will have something to show for your efforts.
The fourth corner should end up twice as good as the first (or if you are a impatient like me, the other way around).
It might just be me, but I find hard wood easier that soft wood.

Hope all goes well for your wife.
I think dovetailing is all about accurate sawing so I would not worry about practicing sawing dovetails. Instead square a knif e line round the end of a piece of scrape say 15-20mm from the end then guage a series of lines round the end to the knife lines and try sawing to the lines aiming for one side of the cut to just kiss the line and the rest in the "waste". Repeat that until you can follow the line on both sides and stop precisely on the knife line. Practice cutting on both the left and righrt sides of the line. If you can do that you are 90% of the way to cutting good dovetails.

I think that you've identified the element of practice, until it becomes second nature and the differing techniques, often individual approaches to the same end by different people.

There are lots of videos by lots of people, including one I saw the other day that deliberately cuts slack (but accurate) pins and tails and proceeds to fix them in place with glue at all.
Apparently a New-World-Jacobean-derived style, though I have yet to see it in any Jacobean furniture here in Blighty. I must say that used with contrasting woods it has some appeal aesthetically.

However, the point that I was labouring up to is one that was drummed into me as an apprentice,..... "It's not what goes wrong that's important - it's how you put it right".

You will inevitably cut a wonky pin or tail...... developing methods of putting it right is worth considering - instead of taking the easy way out and ditching the whole piece for a new start.

I made this little box on a 2 day course with the ever-so-patient Roger Berwick in bucolic Norfolk last week. It's American cherry and 8x8x5 inches. The tails get progressively bigger and it looks in proportion to me, so you could scale to fit your board.


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well I didn't get anything do in the workshop this weekend as running to and from the Hospital all weekend and having my son visit from Southampton which was really nice to have him home for a day.

I did manage to do some more research and read a good article on a four week course where the first week(day) was designed on sharpening chisels first then the second week(day) was learning to cut straight the third week(day) was to make dovetails (no boxes) yes just a two board joint. The end of that lesson was the important part of the lesson each student(6 in total) was given 14 boards to take home and practise one joint per day to develop muscle memory. the last week was refine dovetails and make a box.

this was a really good article

so this week I'm going to concentrate on as some has said sawing and develop muscle memory.

I have already milled my wood (pine) for my first box (sharpening stones) as my plastic box is now to small.

I know I could by or make a dovetail magnetic jig but I want to learn this with all hand tools I have waxed my Veritas Dovetail saw and bought some 3 x 1 for practise sawing

Thanks to all that have replied to this post
It's been a few years since I cut a substantial amount of DT joints. Despite the time I have been woodworking, I know I would now need to cut a few practice joints to 'get my hand-in' so to speak. Hopefully it wouldn't take long to reawaken the muscle memory or whatever it's called!

My legs are getting stronger and I have been able to stand at the bench for about 20 minutes, before having to sit down. So far I have just done some overdue tidying, but it shouldn't be too long now; just as long as I am spared! :mrgreen:


John (hammer)
This is my first Dear John Letter LOL

John I don't know the history of your LEGS but I'm really pleased you are on the side of getting back into your workshop well done.
So I've been really busy looking (running around) after the wife.

she is doing really well.

Anyway I've been making lots of sawdust with my Veritas Dovetail saw I really like this saw silky smooth and really fine kerf 20 tpi plus quite easy to start the cut with little to no jumps.

May be I chose the wrong type of dovetail to start cutting dovetail but it's what I wanted to cut

so here is the images of my first ever dovetail (blind for the front of box)


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the last image it does look like I've cut past the base line but that is just the black ink pen I used to mark the wood. It looks like I cut the wrong side of my marking lines But I found it more challenging
remembering witch way the angle went, so hopefully the next side I will cut the right side of my line


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Grand! You've made a start.......well done.

Did you mark out the pin board using a knife? It looks to me like you may have used a pencil, but a knife will give you a big jump on in accuracy. Perhaps the most difficult part of the the whole joint is marking the tails onto the end-grain of the pin board, and the ultimate nightmare is having the board move in the middle of the job. Take all the time you need to get the boards lined up properly, then really think through where you are putting your hand to hold it so that you don't have to move whilst scoring with your marking knife. Work slowly and carefully, and only mark once.......two parallel lines are too confusing!

The verticals you can mark with a pencil, but the end-grain marks should be with a knife (and obviously you need either a gauge line scored with a marking gauge, or you need to use a knife and square. Your very last chisel cut is with the tip of the chisel nestling into the gauge line, and at that stage you should only be removing about half a millimetre of material.

I couldn't see my verticals today, so here's a trick:


Pick your timber very carefully before you try this approach:


......and then it is just careful gnawing back towards your lines:



Well done!! Keep practising.
By the way, looking at your first photo again, it would seem that you might not be helping yourself hold the chisel correctly. Those clamps are in the way of holding the chisel by the blade, so it looks like you might be grasping the handle instead. This isn't great for close control. I use my elbow to hold the work, and don't clamp it at all. Also, in pine, you should be using a much narrower chisel. I use a quarter inch chisel, only, for cross grain cuts. Anything else pulls out lumps.
Thank you mike also thank you for the tips.

I have cut all the dovetails now except the last one. I have called it a night. Time for some TV and a pizza.

pine is so so hard to work nice and neat even with razor sharp chisels soft sponge comes to mind.

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