Dead Expensive Dovetail Saws…. Dovetail table saw blade

Dead Expensive Dovetail Saws…

Most of you will know that the vast majority of my tools are what I would call good quality ‘workman like’ tools.

I have a few modern posh things, but they’re not in daily use. It’s nothing against them, but my old friends are like comfy old work boots. They let in a bit of water, but I just avoid the deep puddles.

My most expensive daily user could be yours for about thirty five quid. And that’s my Stanley No. 5.

Expensive will mean a different thing to us all, but what I mean here, is you should allocate a good chunk of your tool budget to getting a decent saw for your joinery. Mine is by Pax, but there are many brands available.

There is one exception to this though, and that’s my dovetail saw. It’s my one tool where I really find that quality counts.

If you watched my naff rant the other day, then you’ll know that I connect cutting good dovetails, with good pace (that’s the important bit) with a good saw.

So I thought I’d give you some of my thoughts on buying a good dovetail saw.

Buying Your Dovetail Saw – New or Old?

Unless you’re very proficient at setting and sharping, then an old dovetail saw will do you no favours. Cost wise, a good old saw seems to cost close to some of the new ones. If you do see a nice one at a bargain, then buy it. But don’t learn with it.

What Size for a Dovetail Saw?

Don’t buy a ‘dovetail saw’ for your dovetails. They’re too small.

Instead go with a small tenon or carcase saw.

These will still cut your dead small joints but will be much, much more versatile. Particularly if you’ll be jointing a lot of carcases and the like. It will also cut your small tenons and shoulders.

Even if you’ll use your saw mostly for run of the mill drawer dovetails, the longer length will give much straighter cuts, and be much faster. It will also help you to see square.

Go for around the 10″ (250mm) mark. Maybe a little longer if you work thicker stuff. What’s important is that you don’t go for one of these deep cutting saws. So the shallower the depth of plate, the nicer the saw will feel.

The versatility of this allows you to put your money in to one great saw, rather than splitting it up between several. Plus it fits well with a minimal tool kit. This part is personal, but I prefer to look after a few familiar tools, rather than have the pick of many.

A small tenon saw is versatile and will be used for most of your small joinery.

How Many Teeth on your saw?

Just because your joints want to be fine, doesn’t mean you need super fine teeth on your saw. Quite the opposite in fact.

Fine teeth, like a short length, will lead to inacuracies. They also clog quickly and are a pain in the arse to sharpen.

At 20 teeth per inch (tpi), my Pax saw came with too many teeth.

It makes it impossible to cut accurately. So I filed them straight off and set it up with about 14 tpi.

The difference was day and night, and I haven’t found another saw that I prefer to use (except for a Skelton).

Try to pick a saw out the box that has no more than 15 tpi. Go for slightly less if you work thicker or softer woods.

Do You Need Rip Cut, Cross Cut Or Both?

I find cross cut teeth a waste of time for anything other than very coarse saws. They come in useful below around 8 tpi.

When you’re dovetailing, most of the cutting is rip anyway, and even for others things finer rip teeth crosscut just fine. If you are worried then just create a knife line prior to sawing.

Rip teeth can be used successfully for any crosscuts in your small joinery. I like the simplicity of looking after one saw, and it prevents your budget spreading too thinly.

Blade Thickness for your Dovetail Saw.

You want a saw with a nice thin plate (which all good saws will have). A thin blade makes for a very precise feeling saw.

Do avoid going for the ‘super thin kerf’ though. These can be so thin that if you rush the saw (and who doesn’t), they tend to drift. If you’re buying a tenon or carcase saw then you shouldn’t need to worry, as these are all a little thicker anyway.

The big factor to consier is that you can get a coping saw blade down the kerf. And I mean a proper coping saw. I don’t like fret saws, particularly when you’re jointing at full thickness. This is another good reason to avoid a dovetail saw and instead opt for a small tenon. Nice and thin, but not too thin.

Another note, and this is most certainly personal preference, go for a nice heavy saw. A saw that can plough on its own steam is always more accurate, and a lot less prone to doing that bouncing thing when you’re trying to start your cut.

Anyway, there’s a bit for you to go at there. I’ll go into more detail on individual elements another time.

In the meantime, read my thoughts on the best dovetail chisel to go alongside your saw.

I like to use a coping saw for dovetail waste removal, so I ensure my joinery saw kerf is thick enough to allow access.

Some Notes on Our Tool Buying Advice:

We often hear it. I provide some thoughts on buying tools and it gives an excuse for people who dislike the advice to jump on the ever faithful ‘he’s in all the tool makers’ s’ thing.

My thoughts aren’t the only solution for buying a good dovetail saw, but when we provide tool advice we want you to be certain of two things:

1) The solution works for me. I use hand tools solely and aim for speed as well as precision. My tool kit is minimal and workmanlike, so a tool can’t be naff, nor will it be posh for the sake of it. If this sounds like your kind of woodworking, then I hope you’ll find the advice useful.

2) The advice is always impartial. We’ve never had any kind of sponsorship or payment for anything we’ve published, and don’t plan to do so in the future. Stating this means it would be illegal for us to do any other.

Which Saws Are Best For Ripping Thick Stuff? [Video] Second Hand Jointers – Hand Plane Buying Tips Used Hand Tools – What’s Worth Buying Old?

About Richard Maguire

As a professional hand tool woodworker, Richard found hand tools to be the far more efficient solution for a one man workshop. Richard runs ‘The English Woodworker’ as an online resource and video education for those looking for a fuss free approach to building fine furniture by hand. Learn About Richard The English Woodworker.

Комментарии и мнения владельцев

I bought mine years ago and I don’t recall them offering the 15 tpi, it was 20 tpi only then, hence me filing off the teeth. It’s a great saw, I’m pleased that they’re offering the range of teeth, and it’s nice to hear you get on with it!

your advice on thesmall tennon saw is great except without an example most have no idea what your talking about. most know a hand saw or a back saw but have never seen a good tennon saw especially here in the colonies what would be a good modelfor people to look at

Thanks Jim, In terms of appearance, any tenon saw will look similar to the Pax saw seen in the top photo. Most brands offer a choice of length, teeth type and tpi, so you should be able to take the general advice and match it closely with your preferred brand. Name wise the saws may be referred to as a tenon saw, dovetail or carcase saw but it’s the specs you want to keep your eye on. Cheers, Richard

I actually have 2 dedicated dovetail saws – a Gramercy tools (9 inch) and a Bad Axe Stilleto (12 inch). The Gramercy is has a.018 in plate, set to 19 PPI; the Bad Axe has a.015 in plate, set to 16 PPI. I am really considering replacing the Gramercy at some time with another Bad Axe, with a thicker plate and 15 PPI – it seems to work better and more efficiently.

Nice post and very well written (at least for a complete rookie like myself). I found your stories simple and “object-oriented” with no extra fancy poetry. Plain and simple, pros and cons explained. A real pleasure to read and a great, great help for me. Thank you.

Hey! Great advice! I have been considering between Veritas’s dovetail and carcass saw (rip). The carcass saw has 12 tpi, is that a little too few for dovetails? Loving your work! Thanks!

Wow, all we need is another super high end saw maker to oogle over (Skelton). Lots of pounds for those tho, will have to wait a bit or hit the lottery. Thanks for this saw info, will have to check out my tenon saws and see which one i can dovetail.

Hi Richard I started woodworking this year and when I looked at dovetail saws they do cost but with new saws it’s back and handles that cost. I like the look of the saws made in the 1800’s so what I did was find a few saws in bad shape and have the plates replaced and I have saws for about a 1/4 of the price of say a new Bad Axe saw. The dovetail saw I like to use is 12” with a I Hill late Howel (1830’s) brass back the back cost £10 and a near perfect Drabble and Sanderson open handle that cost £15 with the new plate is like having a new 1830’s saw and with the extra weight and length, for a learner it’s easier cut on the line. Peter

Hi Peter, where did you get your saw plates or/and where did you get them replaced? Is it expensive? Most of the saws I see have very bad plates/blades – buying them would be a gamble (on ebay, even very poor saws seem to command silly these days). It would be nice to bring one or two back to life without having to spend a fortune.

Your suggestion of buying a new saw over an old one for beginners is sound. I opted to buy a lovely looking tennon saw and after spending a lot of time trying to set it up I’ve resided to the fact that I just don’t know enough and need a good saw to compare against. I will get it working but I would prefer to be focussed primarily on cutting joints not getting a saw in working order.

I boght a Wenzlof dovetail saw 16 ppi. It has a deep plate for a dovetail saw and a walnut handle to die for. I still use my Lie Nielsen carcass saw for every day dovetails (is there any other joint for drawers?) My Wenzlof is better on hardwoods anyhow. I will check out the Skelton though!

Agree with you throughout – specially about rip vs cross-cut; a well-maintained 8-10 tpi ripsaw will cross cut beautifully. I have a couple of fine saws, supposedly for dovetails, but hardly ever pick them up – except once in a while for fiddly, small mouldings. I think many of us own too many saws; 85% of my sawing is done either with the 8 tpi 22″ Diston rip, or the 14″ Tyzac 12 tpi tenon, also rip. The only cross-cut I own is a 26″ SJ 5 tpi for heavy stock. Two or three good quality saws is a better idea than six of lesser quality.

I’ve been looking at the Pax 1776. They come with walnut handles currently which I quite like. They come in either 13 or 15 tpi. I’d be curious which you would recommend Richard. I use mostly pine but some softer hardwoods as well, nothing thicker than 1″.

thanks for that info on the dovetail saws !! your page is very informative so thanks for that. cheers lesp

I use an old 14″ Disston tenon saw, 12 tpi, filed rip and set fine to do all of my joinery, including dovetails. I like the extra depth on the plate, which lets me use the saw for tenons, too, when I don’t split them. Cutting fine joints isn’t really related to the size of the saw as it is to how well it is sharpened and set. Nevertheless, despite saw sharpening being my weakest skill and despite this saw being anything but perfect, it functions fine. If the teeth aren’t all equal sized or equal pitched, but you joint the saw and get a good set, you’ll probably be fine, even if a few teeth don’t come all the way up to the jointing. So, if someone can’t afford a new saw, don’t be discouraged, especially since all those new saws will need to be sharpened sooner rather than later. If you can afford a new saw, it is an easier starting point and if the seller truly delivers a sharp saw (not a given), then you get to feel what a proper saw should feel like. One advantage of 12 tpi is that it is easier to learn to file. To me, the hallmark of a good saw is that it doesn’t skate or wallow around when you are starting it on wider material. Instead, after a few feather light, sort-stoke rubs to get your body-saw-line lined up, one definite push and the saw has bitten in and it’s line is set. If a saw can do that, and if it doesn’t drift in the cut or make a jagged kerf, I can do joinery with it, probably regardless of the size of the saw, kerf width, plate thickness, and all the other stuff we fuss over. If you can afford multiple tenon saws, great. You’ll like them. If you can only afford one tenon saw, don’t be put off of woodworking.

Hi John, The best way at the moment would be email if that suits? Cheers, Richard

Hi Richard, Thanks for this simple and clear approach for choosing a dovetail saw. As a beginner this is most helpful fo me, and I shall be looking to the offers for new saw, that are within my reach. Skelton is not :-). I think that I have understood how tenon and dovetail saws are differnt/positioned one to the other. I have a complementary question though. Between Dovetail, Tenon, CarCass and Sash all that I have found so far is that the designation depends on size of the blade and the number of teeth. Is that assumption correct? Thank you in advance for your help. Cheers Lars

I recently received my Pax 1776 small tenon saw (15 tpi) which I bought based on Richard’s recommendation. After thorough research I had three or four prime candidates with not much difference in quality or price and ended up with ordering the Pax. The new version with walnut handles is a beautiful tool which performs extremely well. I highly recommend it for anyone choosing a small tenon saw.

I bought and old saw sharpened it.disappointed bought a new saw expensive but the difference is astounding. Problem.New saw gets dull tried sharpening it.disappointed again.revert to a good Japanese saw.but kerf to thin for coping saw.need to master sharpening

Hi David, after you sharpen the saw try putting a tiny secondary bevel on the tooth the strengthen the cutting edge from fracture. It was a tip I learnt from another master woodworker and it made my saw stay sharp for longer. He used a fine diamond file, made by eze-lap.

Hi Richard. thanks a lot for recomending the Pax saw ,and just before Christmas ? So that went to the top of me list! And the big man didn’t let me down. I’m now the proud owner of a 1776 tenon saw with walnut handle 15 tpi rip cut. I’ll be honest I can’t stop looking at it. it’s that good and hand built in this country what more do want. Anyway hopefully I’ll be able to get started on the work bench this year ,so all the best to you and Helen and keep up the good work the videos really are amazing ! I’ve copied a link to a video that shows the saws and plans been made enjoy everyone

Sawing has always been a bit of mystery to me but watching you work and reading this article has made it clear to me how to approach sawing. Here are my basic 2 rules I now follow with religious fervor: 1. Saw always in the waste. 2. Clean it up with a plane, chisel, spokeshave or a combination of these tools. It is not about the saw rather the clean-up.

Good blog Richard, unfortunately I did but an old small carcass saw some time ago. The intention was to learn (have a go at) sharpening. It has a broken tooth though. Do I need to file everything down to the level of the break? That will just about get rid of all the teeth… Is there any other way? Any advice appreciated. Cheers e

Hi! I’m little late on this one. I’m now buying a saw for my joinery work and I’ve been watching Veritas carcass saw, but the rip tooth pattern is only 12tpi. Is it too coarse? Pax saw would be great, but the price is almost double. Thanks!

Hand Tools

This saw, known in Japan as Dozuki or Sun Child, is ideal for detailed cuts such as cutting accurate dovetails, trim work, general lumber and Hard Plastic with its Rip/Crosscut Teeth. The blade has 19 teeth per inch with the cutting edge hardened to HV900-1200. It cuts with the traditional Japanese pull stroke. Each tooth is impulsed hardened to insure consistent and long lasting edge. Recommended for dovetail cuts in material 3/4″ or lessThe blade is replaceable with a few turns of the thumbscrew. It has a comfortable traditional rattan wrapped paulownia handle.

  • Recommended for cutting: Accurate Dovetails Cut, tenons, General Lumber, Hard Plastic
  • TPI: 19
  • Blade Length: 9-1/2″
  • Overall Length: 21″
  • Blade Thickness: 0.3mm
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California Residents: WARNING: Cancer and Reproductive Harm.

Tatebiki Dovetail Saw (Dozuki Nokogirl) by Gyokucho

Purpose designed as a dovetail/general lumber saw for rip /crosscut, the Gyokucho tatebiki Noko is fast and smooth, it cuts beautifully under its own weight and is also very easy to keep on-line. The thin (0.3mm) blade removes very little material and leaves a clean surface for maximum joint strength. The blade has 16 teeth per inch with the cutting edge hardened to HV900-1200. It cuts with the traditional Japanese pull stroke. Each tooth is impulsed hardened to insure consistent and long lasting edge. The blade is replaceable with a few turns of the thumbscrew. It has a comfortable traditional rattan wrapped paulownia wood handle.

California Residents: WARNING: Cancer and Reproductive Harm.

Double Edge Flush Cutting Saw (Kugihiki Nokogirl) by Gyokucho

Flush cutting saws are delicate precision tools for cutting plugs, dowels, wooden nails and through tenons flush with the surrounding surface. This compact Japanese double edged saw with fine teeth spacing and extra-thin blade is the first choice for the finest cuts in tight spaces. The slim blade guarantees minimal cutting waste and due to the un-set teething they do not scratch the surface. The blade is hardened to HV900-1200 and extremely flexible, light pressure is all that is required to hold the blade down onto the work piece and achieve a truly flush cut.

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California Residents: WARNING: Cancer and Reproductive Harm.

General Purpose Saw (Usaba) by Gyokucho

The 180mm compact series are a new breed of high performance Japanese Saws:compact enough to fit into any tool box. The 180mm blade length is designed for use in tight space situations ,and easy storage.The “Usuba” type is perfect for general cutting in wood,bamboo and features a curved tip. It has a back stiff back plate for strait cuts and can cut through materials up to 1 3/8″ thick.

  • Recommended for cutting: General Purpose, Plywood, Curved Tip
  • TPI: 16
  • Blade Length: 7″
  • Overall Length: 15-1/2″
  • Blade Thickness:.3mm

California Residents: WARNING: Cancer and Reproductive Harm.

Tatebiki Noko Dozuki-Rip Cut Saw ( Dozuki Nokogirl) by Gyokucho

Dozuki Noko Giri are the finest cutting of any saw, either Western or Japanese. The blades are very thin and have a rigid spline of metal attached to the top edge to help keep the saw straight during use. Dozuki Saws are used for the finest miter, cross, tenon and dovetail cuts. They will leave a glass smooth finish on all hardwoods. Our Gyokucho Dozuki Saws are among the finest cutting replaceable-blade saws made.

  • Recommended for cutting: Joinery saw, Fine Finish, general purpose
  • TPI: 19
  • Blade Length: 9-1/2″
  • Overall Length: 23-1/2″
  • Blade Thickness:.3mm

California Residents: WARNING: Cancer and Reproductive Harm.

Seiun Saku Komame Double Edge Saw ( Ryoba Saw) by Gyokucho

With its two different tooth patterns, the Seiun Komame saw ensures optimum cutting performance not only cross cutting but also along the grain, making it the most versatile saw for carpentry and joinery. The thicker saw blade allows backless control and thus cuts of any depth flush to the surface. Because the teeth become successively finer from the tip to the tang, it is easy to start a cut and less force is required as the stroke progresses.The particularly fine 20 tpi crosscut teeth of this universal saw allow extremely clean cuts across the grain, the 10 tpi rip teeth are designed for a good cutting performance along the grain.

California Residents: WARNING: Cancer and Reproductive Harm.

General Purpose Saw ( Atsuba ) by Gyokucho

The 180mm compact series are a new breed of high performance Japanese Saws:compact enough to fit into any tool box. Japanese EVA handled, Pattern 293 Atsuba pull saw from Gyokucho. This is a professional quality saw with replaceable blade. The blade has a short stiffener which allows unlimited depth of cut and curved front edge of leading teeth to allow piercing starts in plywood panels. Crosscut 17 tpi teeth on a 1.5mm pitch make this a very unnaversal saw to have in the shop.

  • Recommended for cutting: General Purpose, Laminated lumber, Curved Tip
  • TPI: 17
  • Blade Length: 7″
  • Overall Length: 15-1/2″
  • Blade Thickness:.5mm

California Residents: WARNING: Cancer and Reproductive Harm.

How to Make Dovetail Joints with a Table Saw

A skill for the most capable of craftsman, dovetail joints are considered to be one of the most exceptional hand-cut joints in the woodworking world.

Not only are dovetail joints a beauty to behold, but they also offer a firm and elegant fit for combining two pieces of wood.

If you’re planning to work on woodworking projects involving visible joints, such as chests, boxes, and drawers, chances are you will need dovetailing.

Today, we’ll show you exactly how to make dovetail joints with a table saw. We’ll be discussing everything from the history of dovetail joints and how they’re built, all the way to their different types and troubleshooting.

So buckle up, and let’s get started!

Disclaimer: As an Amazon affiliate, this site earns a small commission for all qualifying purchases.

What are Dovetail Joints?

Before you can work on making dovetail joints, you must understand what they actually are. This will help you better know your way around a dovetail joint, making it easier to construct or even fix one if you encounter any issues.

So what is a dovetail joint? It’s an interlocking joinery method used by woodworkers or carpenters for building sturdy custom wood structures, mainly drawers.

Dovetail joints pretty much look like two pieces of intertwined fingers to create a durable, tight, and long-lasting connection.

They require no mechanical fasteners to stick together like other joinery techniques, which makes them very appealing to those who prefer traditional craftsmanship.

However, some dovetail joints have a modern twist where adhesives are applied to help prevent the separation of the joint over time.

The technique of dovetail joinery can be traced back to the earliest days of mankind, predating written history.

Furniture utilizing dovetail joints was found in the tombs of ancient Egyptian pharaohs and Chinese emperors.

Anatomy of a Dovetail Joint

Now that you have a basic idea of what dovetail joints are, it’s time to take a closer look at their anatomy. The dovetail joint consists of two parts: tails and pins.

The tails are the flared, triangular-shaped projections that are cut through the thickness of one board. They appear similar to a dove’s tail, where the joint gets its name.

The pins are the more slender projections that are cut along the grain of the opposite board to fit in between the tails, producing a joint that’s impossible to detach in at least one direction.

If you add in some glue to the mix, the dovetail joint will also be impossible to pull apart in the other direction.

There’s an ongoing debate in the woodworking world over which part should be cut first, but it’s generally up to the woodworker’s preference as there’s no “right” sequence to follow here.

Advantages of Dovetail Joints

As we mentioned above, dovetail joints are quite sturdy and durable.

Consequently, carpenters commonly use them to create drawers, cabinets, jewelry boxes, furniture, timber framing, carcass construction, and log buildings.

Dovetail joints are evidently the strongest of all joints, and so their most significant advantage is how the interlocking mechanism makes them extremely resistant to being pulled apart.

These joints have a sizeable gluing area in case more strength is needed, and they look very attractive that they’re often used as a design statement.

over, you can use just about any solid wood to make dovetail joints, including aspen, maple, oak, plywood, melamine, and alder.

Any woodworker highly appreciates the provided flexibility.

What are the Tools Needed to Make Dovetail Joints?

Observing its joinery is an easy way to spot a quality piece of furniture.

When it comes to dovetail joints, you need perfect execution to make sure you can reap all the advantages of these finger-like fittings.

A key factor in creating a beautiful dovetail joint is having the right set of tools. So allow us to introduce you to the tools needed to make dovetail joints.

Best Dovetail Saw

For dovetail work, a saw with rip teeth is a must. Such saws have the cutting edges of their teeth almost perpendicular to the length of the saw.

Here we highly recommend using the SUIZAN Japanese Ryoba Pull Saw.

  • JAPANESE STYLE PULL SAW: This product is a “Pull Saw.” Most people are used to European saws, called “push saws,” which cuts through a pushing motion. On the other hand, Japanese saws cut materials via pulling and are called “pull saws.” In comparison to “push saws,” this Japanese product is lighter in weight, requires less power, and results in a cleaner edge.
  • JAPANESE STEEL: All SUIZAN Japanese saws consist of top quality Japanese steel. The high-quality steel makes razor sharp cuts.
  • MADE IN JAPAN: All SUIZAN products are manufactured in Japan by Japanese master craftsmen. The whole process of making these tools are completed in one of Japan’s towns known for its craft-making tradition with a history of over 100 years.
  • DIVERSIFY YOUR WOODWORKING LIFE: No matter if you are a master or a beginner, using traditional Japanese-style saws gives you a brand new experience and lets you make a wider range of woodworking products, thus changing your life!
  • For Rip Cross Cut, Blade Length: 7″(180mm), Blade Thickness: 0.02″(0.5mm), TPI: 19(1.35mm), Kerf Width: 0.03″(0.8mm), Overall Length: 16″(41cm)

As opposed to European saws that cut the wood via pushing (so they’re called push saws), Japanese saws like this one cut the wood via pulling, referred to as pull saws.

The pulling action results in much cleaner and more precise edges, essential to create a high-quality dovetail joint.

In addition to producing cleaner lines, this Japanese-style pull saw is also lighter in weight.

It requires less effort to work with, saving you valuable energy that you can FOCUS on perfecting the procedure.

We also really like the material of the SUIZAN Japanese saw. It’s actually made in Japan by master craftsmen using top-grade Japanese steel, which is durable, resilient, and oh-so-sharp!

Compared to conventional western-style saws, this saw is much easier to use, even for beginners.


Of course, a set of chisels and a mallet should be on your dovetail joint tool shopping list.

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You can work with a traditional joiner’s mallet or go for a small 14-ounce brass mallet to deliver a strong punch.

You can also opt for a basic chisel set in sizes ¼, ⅜, ½, and ¾ inches, which will definitely come in handy throughout your woodworking projects.

When deciding on smaller chisels, avoid ones with tall, square sides because they’ll cut into the tails while you clear the shavings between them.

So please pay attention to the sides of your chisels, you want them to clear the tails as you cut.

A Japanese chisel with sides beveled at 12 to 15 degrees is an excellent option for making dovetail joints.

A western chisel with a thin square land below the primary side bevel can also work fine.


You’ll need knives to make out the pins from the tails, so you surely understand why these tools are super important.

Many woodworkers like to use a thin single-bevel knife (for example, the V-point knife), so feel free to work with one as well.


Finally, you’re going to need dedicated markers – four of them.

Sure, you can use a sliding T bevel for marking out tails, but this is way less accurate and way bulkier than simply using markers meant for the job.

You’ll need markers with slope ratios of 1:5, 1:6, 1:7, and 1:8 to be able to make a square and a slope line across the end and the side of the board simultaneously.

You’ll also need a marking gauge to cut the cross-grain baselines.

You can use a wheel knife gauge or a Japanese model, but never use a single-point marking gauge. You don’t want to end up with fuzzy, torn lines, do you?

How are Dovetail Joints Made?

Once you have all your tools ready, it’s time to get down to business. Here’s a simple step-by-step guide to answering the question: “how are dovetail joints made?”

  • Decide which wood board is going to be the tail and which is going to be the pin. This depends on the project you’re working on.
  • measure the thickness of the pinboard using your marking gauge.
  • With the thickness set from the pinboard, use the marking gauge to mark around the tailboard (on all four sides).
  • Determine the number and size of tails and proceed to mark and measure the tails.
  • Use your dovetail saw to cut the tails starting at the top. Be careful not to cut past the line you marked with the marking gauge.
  • Cut the wood away to leave the tails behind. Cut across the wood towards the base of the tails on each side using your dovetail saw.
  • Chisel along your thickness mark to remove the wood between the tails. Avoid chiseling too much, about four or five soft hits should do the trick.
  • Chisel away from the front of the extra wood, removing small bits of wood at a time. Alternate between steps 7 and 8 until you reach the center.
  • Once you get to the center, flip the board and repeat the same process starting from the other side. Don’t chisel all the way through to the other side of the wood to avoid damaging it.
  • Clean up the tailboard by smoothing out any rough edges using a file or sandpaper.
  • Measure the tailboard’s thickness with your marking gauge, then mark the four sides of the pinboard just like you did with the tailboard.
  • Line up the boards to measure your pinboard, then trace the edges of the tailboard onto the end of the pinboard using your marking knife.
  • Mark straight down on both edges with the marks along the top of the pinboard as your guide. After that, cut, chisel, and clean the wood as you previously did with the tails.
  • Put your pieces together!

What are the Different Types of Dovetail Joints?

There are different types of dovetail joints that you can make depending on the project’s function and design.

Generally speaking, there are five types of dovetail joints: through, half-blind, sliding, secret mitered, and secret double-lapped. The following is a breakdown of each type.

Through Dovetail Joints

This is the most basic technique of making a dovetail joint. Here, the two pieces of wood are fitted together at their ends with a finger-like interlocking pattern, letting you see the end grain from both boards.

The through dovetail joints are typically used for joining the corners of boxes, frames, cabinets, and carcass construction.

They’re also known as plain dovetail joints (or English dovetail joints in drawer construction).

Half-Blind Dovetail Joints

Also called a single-lap dovetail joint, the half-blind dovetail joint is pretty much the opposite of a through joint because you can hide the joint from the front end.

In other words, you can’t see the end grain on the boards because the tails are housed in sockets at the ends of the board.

The most common application of half-blind dovetail joints is attaching drawer fronts to drawer sides.

Sliding Dovetail Joints

The sliding dovetail is a technique of joining two wood boards at right angles, where they intersect by sliding the tail of one board into a socket that’s not at the end of the other board, but rather in the middle.

Otherwise known as French dovetail joints, sliding joints are used to attach cabinet sides to shelves, sides to cabinet bottoms, table frames to adjacent sections, shelves to horizontal partitions, cabinet sides to front rails, sides to front drawers, as well as neck and body in guitars or violins.

Secret Mitered Dovetail Joints

This type of dovetail joint is found in the highest box and cabinet work class.

Also referred to as a full-blind mitered dovetail and full-blind dovetail joint, the secret mitered dovetail joint is totally concealed from both the outside and inside corners.

It’s created by making the outer edges meet at a 45-degree angle while keeping the dovetails hidden internally within the joint.

Such a joint is used when strength is required without a visible joint.

Secret Double-Lapped Dovetail Joints

This one is similar to the previous secret mitered dovetail joint except that you can see a section of the end grain on one edge of the joint.

Troubleshooting Dovetail Joints

  • If you end up with a minor gap, use glue to fill it in, then add sawdust while it’s still wet to make your own wood putty.
  • If you end up with more significant gaps, use a chisel to remove some pieces of excess wood in the pinboard. If you still have a small gap afterward, use the glue and sawdust method to fix it.
  • If you got gaps of different widths, use your dovetail saw and carefully cut through the wood to make the cracks somewhat even.

Then, fill them with glue and wood shavings of similar thickness as the gap width. Let it sit for a few minutes to allow the shavings to swell and fill in the gaps.

Once dry, use a knife to cut excess shavings and sandpaper to smooth things out.

Wrap Up

There you go, everything you need to know on how to do dovetail joints.

Remember, choosing the correct type of dovetail joints for your projects doesn’t only allow you to benefit from the strength of the joinery, but also highlights the level of your carpentry skills.

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