If you have ever attended one of my woodworking classes or a seminar on joinery, you probably have been bored to tears by my dovetail story. Or you laughed out loud. Just as my mind has, my dovetail work has evolved. As I began building furniture, I knew that I would have to dovetail if I had any hope of selling my work.
My first dovetail chapter included an old Sears template guide that produced perfectly sized, perfectly shaped dovetails with identically sized pins and tails – the kind used on kitchen cabinets. Ugh! Phase two brought about a better dovetail jig. With it, I decided that half-blind pins and tails were too difficult to set up, so I built drawer fronts from 1/2″-thick stock then applied a 1/4″-thick shaped drawer front (kitchen cabinet construction was still in my blood). That process worked until a customer noticed the half-ass technique and verbally chastised me during the delivery. After a bit more trouble with fingers moving, I gave up jigs and succumbed to hand-cut pins and tails. I defined each pin and tail with a dovetail saw cut, then chop out waste with a chisel.
After some considerable hand-cut experience, I remembered that I was in business to make a profit. Hand-cut dovetails are period correct, but the process is slow when every minute has to earn dollars. As I discovered a way to cut the pins using my band saw and an angled platform as shown the photo above, my dovetails evolved again. I could power-cut the pins, but continued to chop away waste using my chisels. My tail boards were produced using the same techniques, but without an angled platform.
This method of dovetails produced perfect angled cuts that detracted, at least to my eye, from the hand-cut look I wanted. It was time for another evolution. This time I decided to hand-cut the pins and tails, but use a power tool to hog away the waste as depicted in the opening photo. This provides a hand-cut look – I am sawing the actual pins and tails – as the angles and the width of pins and tails different. It also provides a time savings due to the quick removal of waste when creating pins – waste between the tails is either nibbled away while at my band saw, or it is chopped out using chisels and a mallet.
If you’re not quite clear on this technique, below is a short video. You tell me, is this still a hand-cut dovetail joint, or is this a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Leave a comment below.
Build Something Great!