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Houndstooth Dovetails

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In my opinion, the most important considerations (in order) are:
Accurate stock preparation – no planer marks and very square ends
Marking out
Accurately cutting to the line

I used some maple that a friend gave me as an offcut and some mahogany I got from the old lab benches in my lab at work.

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First off, I needed to resaw the wood. After resawing, I thicknessed all pieces before hand planing to final dimensions.
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The hand planing is very important on faces and edges as we need to remove all marks from the machining operations to ensure an accurate joint. Rob Cosman says that this is essential and who am I to argue with him?

When planed, look at the boards and choose and mark the outside faces with a pencil.

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The ends need to be absolutely square and a shooting board is the best method to achieve this. My board is designed to clamp in the bench vice and to clamp the workpiece and thus allows me to plane using both hands which I find more accurate and much easier
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Gratuitous image to show the tools needed for the job – missing the coping saw because I completely forgot.
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Set the marking gauge to the thickness of the pin board (sides of box in this project) and run it all around each end of the tail boards.
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Next, set the gauge to about 2/3 of the thickness of the pin board and run it across the faces of the tail boards as shown in the photo on the left. Also run it across the end grain on the pin boards.
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Set the gauge to the thickness of the tail board and then run it across the faces of the pin boards to set the baseline for the pins.

Make a mark about 6mm in from the edges of the ends of the tail boards and then set the dividers to a third of the gap between these two marks. This is achieved by ‘walking’ the divider across the board without making marks and repeating this until the final point is on the second 6mm mark. When the dividers are set properly, make some marks in the end grain as shown in the photo on the right.

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Now set the dividers to half the distance between two of these marks to allow marks for the smaller tails to be made half-way between the main tails.
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Mark out the DTs using a ratio of 1:8 for hard wood – indicating the waste. I used a 0.3mm propelling pencil to mark mine (Rob Cosman uses a ball point pen).

Mark the tops perpendicular to these lines (I also marked the rear but this is not really necessary – but I always do).

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Mount the tail board in the vice with the lines vertical and make the first set of cuts. It is pretty important to cut with the aim of splitting the line with the kerf. I like to use a cheap mirror behind the board to ensure that the cut is accurate at the rear and I don’t cut beyond the scribed line.
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Swivel the board in the vice and cut to the second set of lines . .
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Use a coping saw with a very fine blade to remove the majority of the waste from the tails.
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Chop out the remaining waste using a VERY sharp chisel. Take SMALL cuts and pare back until the chisel blade sits nicely in the scribed line.
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When fully cleaned up the tail boards should look something like this. is often useful to support the chisel with a block of wood cut with two faces exactly perpendicular to each other – this ensures the chisel is held absolutely vertical.
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When fully cleaned up the tail boards should look something like this.
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Mark up all boards (I used A, B, C, D) to indicate which joints will mate. Clamp the tail boards to the pin boards using some sort of 90 degree jig – I used a cheap clamp from Axminster.
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Mount the tail board in the vice with the lines vertical and make the first set of cuts. It is pretty important to cut with the aim of splitting the line with the kerf. I like to use a cheap mirror behind the board to ensure that the cut is accurate at the rear and I don’t cut beyond the scribed line.
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Clearly mark the waste as it is really easy to cut out the wrong bits!! Extend the scribed lines down the faces of the boards and cut to the waste side of the scribed lines with the kerf touching the line.
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Remove waste using the coping saw again.
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Cut under the half pins to facilitate removal with a chisel.

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Chop out remaining waste with very sharp chisels – paring down towards the scribed line and taking very thin cuts
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Use a small chisel to cut a small chamfer on the inner edges of the tails to aid assembly.
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Now it is all ready to assemble (with fingers firmly crossed).

No test fits. Rob Cosman reckons that dovetails only fit properly the first time, so keep checking that your cuts are against the lines – pare any excess wood away using a nice sharp chisel.

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Now, smear glue on the long grain pieces and fit the joints together.

Belt the joint home using a STEEL hammer against a piece of waste wood held to the tail board as this will provide ‘feedback’ that you don’t get with a mallet and you will know when the joint is fully home.

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Comments

Nice post, but it's a pity the photos are so small, and can't be enlarged by clicking on them. I'm sure the results are beautiful, but bleary early-morning eyes have no chance of seeing them. There are a number of ways that this joint can be done differently*, and this rigid adherence to ratios for the angle of the dovetails is just fashion. It is not the way it has been done for centuries.

*I did a heap of dovetails yesterday and didn't use a gauge at all, for instance.
 
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