How long did it take you ( or your students) to learn to cut gapless dovetails

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tibi

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Hello,

I am now building a simple L-shaped wall coat rack for my parents. One side will be screwed into the wood wall and another side should hold in the plasterboard (by using the plasterboard dowel). I would like it to hold mostly on the side, where the coat rack will be screwed into the wood wall.

I have decided to join the two boards (ca 120 mm wide) with two dovetails. They will never be seen because they will be facing the walls, but nevertheless, I do not want to make them sloppy, as they will be seen during the assembly (my father will assemble it and I do not want it to look unprofessional)

I have cut some test dovetails only once, and they were no good (loose). I have started doing some straight test cuts (straight and angled) to learn to cut just next to the line with no gap and not touching the line and then I will cut some test dovetails in spruce. The final coat rack will be made from ash. Boards are already trued, so I just need to cut this dovetail joint, glue it and then drill holes for hangers.

I would like to ask, how long did it take you or your students, if you are a teacher, to be able to cut gapless dovetails consistently? If it is a matter of a week or two of everyday diligent practice, I will do it. But if it takes me a year or two, I will have to choose a different joint (badly cut dovetail will not hold the other board, even if it will not be seen).

Thank you.
 

Alasdair

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Havent done them in 30 years since school. My old woodwork teacher made us practice marking them out and then cutting to the line on old scrap wood for ages before we tackled the real thing. I got it pretty good after a while. Probably forgotten most of it by now though.
 

Ttrees

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Cosman's most recent video on the houndstooth was a really good watch,
no sharpening or anything, just straight to the work.
The only infomercial was for the ShawnshimTM and a half time 10sec badger to subscribe.
(only mentioning for those folks who get irked by both)
 

Jameshow

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I made a chest of drawers last lockdown and there were 5 drawers so I got fairly good...

Since then I have had a go with oak now that's another level.....
 

Jacob

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Doesn't take long to do them to a passable standard, as long as you pay attention to what you are doing and how to do it differently if necessary!
 

tibi

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I would say after about 5-10 dovetails for me, seemed to pick it up very fast, the key is marking out accurately and cutting exactly to the line and not going beyond it, practice is how you get better, there's no other way.
I am just practicing sawing straight to the line. I have made this dovetail template.


I can mostly now follow the line, with being maybe 0,1-0,2 mm off of the line. But I will not know if this is accurate enough until I assemble the first dovetail and see if there are any gaps.
 

Orraloon

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Hand cut dovetails are always going to have some slight imperfections thats just life and what makes them look hand cut. Long as its just slight imperfections and the joint holds its fine. What can look a bit ho hum at first fit usually look fine after the glue has dried and a trim with a plane. Like others have said after a few goes you get the hang of it and the more you do the better they get. Properly squared stock, sharp tools and good marking out are essential starting steps. No shortcuts there. This clip shows the method pretty close to how I do mine and also pretty close to what we did back at school woodwork.

Cutting Dovetails With Woodworking Hand Tools | 8 Steps

The light underneath is a new one on me but a good trick I will be using in future.
Regards
John
 

KimG

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"Because I want to" would seem to be a reasonable assumption.
 

Hornbeam

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How long it takes will depend on your other skills. If you can mark our accurately, saw straight to a line and pare to a line with a chisel, then not very long as really all you are doing is putting all these skills together. If you havent been using hand tools and cant do these basic then its not going to work. Get the basics right and everything will fall into place pretty quickly
 
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I wouldn't mistake gapless for strong. My dovetails look a bit rubbish (because I'm chronically incapable of cutting or chiselling to a line!) but you need a hammer to knock them apart. The chests and drawers I made 30 years ago are still solid

So it doesn't take long at all to learn to make solid joints, but perfection requires all the other skills, like @Hornbeam said.
 

johnnyb

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my guess is three screws and glue would provide as much strength as a single dovetail and make sure the 2 boards were at 90 degrees. a dovetail is not designed for that twisting load. it's for a straight pull load.
 

tibi

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I'm not understanding why you would use dovetails on unseen work.
It is due to the joint strength, that I need, not for the looks. Because only one board will hold the weight and most of the weight of the coats hung on the other board will apply a twisting force (torque) to that joint.
 

tibi

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How long it takes will depend on your other skills. If you can mark our accurately, saw straight to a line and pare to a line with a chisel, then not very long as really all you are doing is putting all these skills together. If you havent been using hand tools and cant do these basic then its not going to work. Get the basics right and everything will fall into place pretty quickly
I understand, that it depends on the previously mastered skills of each individual worker. My original question was more about how long does it take for an average Joe with no previous experience to cut acceptable-looking dovetails. I am just practicing those basics, but I would like to finish the project soon, so that is why I asked if I can get it in a week or two, or should I just rather change the joint.
 

paulrbarnard

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I understand, that it depends on the previously mastered skills of each individual worker. My original question was more about how long does it take for an average Joe with no previous experience to cut acceptable-looking dovetails. I am just practicing those basics, but I would like to finish the project soon, so that is why I asked if I can get it in a week or two, or should I just rather change the joint.
Cut yourself some short pieces of board about a foot long and make corners (don’t try to turn them into a box just practice the dovetails. The critical part is sawing a straight line where you want it to be. Being able to saw exactly to one or the other side of a knife line will let you do dovetails right from the saw. Get that right and the chisel is only needed for clearing the waste at the bottom of the tails and pins. Very fast and very satisfying.
 

Hornbeam

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I understand, that it depends on the previously mastered skills of each individual worker. My original question was more about how long does it take for an average Joe with no previous experience to cut acceptable-looking dovetails. I am just practicing those basics, but I would like to finish the project soon, so that is why I asked if I can get it in a week or two, or should I just rather change the joint.
I think the answer is the same as how long is a piece of string. Some people have very good aptititude/coordination and produce outstanding results almost straight away. Some people never get it.
As Paul said practice sawing straight to a line. Practice paring back to a knife line with a chisel and I would think most people would produce something fairly respectable in a weekend. Wood choice is also important. Coarse or highly figured grain is much more difficult, I would recommend chestnut or oak . Also thinner material is easier to start with as there is less room for deviation through the piece
 

thetyreman

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I am just practicing sawing straight to the line. I have made this dovetail template.


I can mostly now follow the line, with being maybe 0,1-0,2 mm off of the line. But I will not know if this is accurate enough until I assemble the first dovetail and see if there are any gaps.


that's a good start then, if possible just practise on some scraps first, until you feel confident enough, when I say marking out is important what I mean is transferring the pins to the tails, that step is critical, make sure you take the time to draw out the tails from the pins with a very thin pencil or marking knife if it's a hardwood, this is how you get gap free dovetails, making sure to saw right up to that line without going over it staying within the 'waste' side of the line, even doing it half your normal speed and try and get it straight from the saw with only very minor cleanup work with a chisel, the speed will come with time and more practise, don't rush anything.
 
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