Compound Dovetails

01pwm1304cmpddovetailDiscover how to join oblique sides with through-dovetails.

By Tom Calisto
Pages 32-35

As an avid sailor and full-time furniture maker, I’ve always wanted to make a proper sea chest replete with rope beckets and a compass rose inlay. The compound-angle dovetails are the only tricky aspect of the sea chest so I designed this little handled tote to practice oblique dovetails. This tote tray is useful around the house and fun to build. The angles of the oblique dovetails offer a challenge.

The first step in building the tote is to mill the lumber to thickness and width then rip the bevels on the top and bottom edge. Tight-fitting dovetails begin with accurate compound-angle butt joints. See the chart and drawing on page 33 to determine your layout. The tray in the opening photo has three tails, but for your first attempt, you may choose to make two tails as seen in the step photos.

When cutting the ends it’s important to note that the bevel angle will be directed in the opposite way of what you might think. On a mitered box the angle will be directed toward the inside of the box. This is not the case for this project; the angle is directed toward the outside of the tray.

After cutting the four tray sides to length with the proper compound cuts on each end, make a “paring block.” The paring block is used to trim the dovetails to their baseline and it acts as a stable platform when transferring the tails to the pin board. The paring block should be made from a hard, closed-grain wood such as maple. Make the paring block from 8/4 stock that is roughly 8″-10″ long and slightly wider than the sides of the tray. Each end of the paring block gets a compound-angle cut representing the left- and right-hand angles on the tray sides.

Lay Out & Cut the Dovetails
Mark the baseline on both the pin boards and tail boards. I recommend using a cutting gauge instead of a marking gauge for this. A cutting gauge produces a finer line and the blade can be adjusted to compensate for the beveled ends. The baseline is referenced from the end cuts on the sides. The fence must be held tight against the end grain. Set the depth to a little over the thickness of the sides (around 1⁄32″).

Web Site: Visit the author’s web site to see more of his work.
Pattern: Download a full-size PDF pattern for the tray divider/handle: Tote_Handle
Web Site: Here’s a good compound angle calculator.
In Our Store: Warm up for compound-angle dovetails with a simpler version of a dovetailed tool tote that has simple angled ends.

From the April 2013 issue #203
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