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Hand Cut Dovetai Joints

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Garno

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I have never in my life cut a dove tail joint by hand.
Usually I rely on the router and a rather expensive jig to cut them.

With everything I do regarding woodwork I tend to favour power tools, that's cutting, plaining and sanding all done with power tools.

I have now decided to try and wean myself away from them and to try and do most of my projects by hand tools alone, I have even purchased one of those Japanese saws that look like spatulas to help me cut out dovetail joints.

I have a dovetail marker offering up 2 different angles which has prompted me to ask this question. How important is getting the correct angle on dovetails or will any angle do? My thoughts are that providing they are not too narrow, any angle should do and the wider the angle the stronger the joint.

I am no doubt missing something so obvious but thought I would embarrass myself on here instead of making yet another lopsided box for SHMBO. Hopefully this time next week I will be asking about lids :?
 

Mike Jordan

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To be boring it's supposed to an angle of one in six for softwood and one in seven for hardwoods. But just use an angle you like! Speed of making comes with practice.
 

Cheshirechappie

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It doesn't really matter that much.

Studies of old furniture and woodwork tend to show that earlier (16th and 17th century) dovetails tended to be quite exaggerated in their angle - say about 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 or thereabouts, and as technique developed and furniture designs became more refined in the 18th century, angles became less exaggerated, especially in harder woods - say about 1 in 8. The pins also became finer in some cares, culminating in the so-called 'London pattern' dovetails seen in drawers of some fine furniture, which have pins barely a saw-kerf thick at their thin ends. Many pieces that have survived from those periods show that all those angles and arrangements of pins and tails 'work', and can last very well indeed.

The lesson from this is that you're free to do pretty well as you wish - lay 'em out in whatever way and with whatever angles look pleasing or appropriate to you.

Edit to add - just googled 'dovetail joints' and looked at 'images', and this came up. As you can see, all sorts!

https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=do ... ORM=HDRSC2
 

custard

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Good for you Garno, dovetails really aren't that hard. It takes a bit of practise to get really slick, but even if early dovetails are a bit gappy they'll still be incredibly strong joints that will likely outlast all of us!

Regarding angles, there are fashions here like in everything else. The tradition is 1:6 in softwood and 1:8 in hardwood. But actually wider angles in hardwood are becoming much more common, personally I use 1:7 but I know quite a few makers who are using 1:6 and even 1:5. Visually I think they're trying to distance themselves from box joints and emphasise the flared angles inherent to dovetails.

Bottom line, you use whatever you like, you won't be wrong and there's sure to be a big name authority somewhere who totally agrees with you!

Good luck and shout if you need any help.
 

Jacob

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There is nothing refined in principle about so called "London Pattern" dovetails, they just happen to be the easiest to mark out and cut (with a single saw kerf).
Commonly used angles, in old work, vary from the vertical 45º ish to zero ("box" joint), sometimes with decorative variations. Take your pick. The modern 1/6, 1/8 is just something made up in a magazine article somewhere.
A strong joint such as you might want for a heavy box or cistern, needs roughly equal sized pins and tails. A lightweight drawer can get away with just a few single kerf pin holes.
 

mrpercysnodgrass

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Over the years I have dismantled hundreds of dovetailed drawer linings, many from first class pieces of eighteenth and early nineteenth century chest of drawers and commodes and the vast majority of those dovetails are cut by eye. As others have said the angle is not that important. Here is a good video showing how they can be cut using just three tools and not a ruler or gauge in sight.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ix3mphs ... gs=pl%2Cwn
 

Garno

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mrpercysnodgrass":13w5xz5r said:
Over the years I have dismantled hundreds of dovetailed drawer linings, many from first class pieces of eighteenth and early nineteenth century chest of drawers and commodes and the vast majority of those dovetails are cut by eye. As others have said the angle is not that important. Here is a good video showing how they can be cut using just three tools and not a ruler or gauge in sight.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ix3mphs ... gs=pl%2Cwn

Wow great video, I liked the use of different thicknesses of wood.
 

woodbloke66

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Garno":1ufsf6kz said:
... projects by hand tools alone, I have even purchased one of those Japanese saws...
Lots of good stuff here about dovetail angles etc, but if you're new to hand tools and Japanese saws in particular, the latter can be a little strange. They're a 'learning curve' but the slope isn't too steep. Take it very steadily, with a very light touch, remembering that the saw cuts on the 'pull' stroke. Let the saw do the work as there's no need to push it through the timber; if you apply too much force pulling it back you can wave goodbye to several teeth along the blade - Rob
 

Garno

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woodbloke66":2xnw2hnx said:
Garno":2xnw2hnx said:
... projects by hand tools alone, I have even purchased one of those Japanese saws...
Lots of good stuff here about dovetail angles etc, but if you're new to hand tools and Japanese saws in particular, the latter can be a little strange. They're a 'learning curve' but the slope isn't too steep. Take it very steadily, with a very light touch, remembering that the saw cuts on the 'pull' stroke. Let the saw do the work as there's no need to push it through the timber; if you apply too much force pulling it back you can wave goodbye to several teeth along the blade - Rob

I am still getting used to it, I have noticed they are very unforgiving saws and it is easy to stray from a marked pencil line. SHMBO suggested I use a pen to mark the wood ... I just gave her a look that all us blokes know. Thing is I think she meant well :shock:
 

Phil Pascoe

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Quite a few carpenters and joiners use biros for marking rather than pencils. It's not that unusual.
Not that it's necessarily going to make your cutting more accurate, of course. :D
 

Garno

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phil.p":23tba0kq said:
Quite a few carpenters and joiners use biros for marking rather than pencils. It's not that unusual.
Not that it's necessarily going to make your cutting more accurate, of course. :D

I feel guilty now for the look :oops: I genuinely thought it was always done by pencil.

SHMBO thought it would be more accurate so maybe she deserved half a look :D
 

woodbloke66

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Garno":o9i5nr1o said:
I am still getting used to it, I have noticed they are very unforgiving saws and it is easy to stray from a marked pencil line. SHMBO suggested I use a pen to mark the wood ... I just gave her a look that all us blokes know. Thing is I think she meant well :shock:
They can be unforgiving if you're too harsh with them. Try pulling it through the wood by holding it with just your thumb, forefinger and second finger at the end of the handle....you don't need much effort to make it cut and certainly no downward pressure. As to a pen, I use a thin, black Bic biro most of the time to mark out d/t's. Try it, it works! - Rob
 

custard

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JB's main concern about pencils is how they blunt in use and therefore the line becomes thicker. I agree, which is why I use a 0.5mm propelling pencil. The advantage of a pencil is that when it smudges it's easier to erase than when an ink biro smudges.
 

thetyreman

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rotring make a 0.1 mm ballpoint pen, not cheap but I bet it's pretty good.
 

custard

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I seem to recall trying a Rotring many years ago and it wasn't that great, the details are a bit hazy now but I think it was to do with it getting stuck in the grain of open grained timbers?

Incidentally, I will use a biro occasionally, just not a black one. I find some timbers, like say Wenge or Rosewood, make it very difficult to see layout lines, then I'll try a red or green biro, or if those fail a white pencil.
 

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