A few months back, Senior Editor Glen D. Huey taught me his “no fail” method for cutting through dovetails, and, following Editor Chris Schwarz’s advice, I cut one set a day for 30 days (OK — I cut them only during the work week, and ended up with about 24 sets). I posted the method and accompanying pictures on this blog in two parts. For Part 1, the Pin Board, click here; for Part 2, the Tail Board, click here.
For half-blind dovetails, the method really isn’t much different — you still mark, saw and chop. You simply don’t saw all the way through the half-blind tail board. I learned to cut half-blinds while making inset drawers for a Chimney Cupboard that will be in the February 2008 issue. First, I milled 1/2″ stock and cut the through-dovetails for joining the drawer sides to the drawer back. Up to this point, the method is the same as detailed in Parts 1 and 2 above.
Then, I set my marking gauge to 1/2″ (aka the thickness of my sides), and scribed a line at that setting on the inside face of each of my drawer fronts. My drawer fronts are 7/8″ thick, and the idea is to leave at least 1/4″ of material in back of the pins, so I had to change the setup on my marking gauge to mark the depth of cut on the end. Use this same setup to scribe the baseline on your tail boards (the side pieces).
Here, I diverge from Glen’s method a bit. He marks out his pins (and tails) with a pencil; I now prefer to use a marking knife, as I find my saw drops easily into the scribe line, and for me, that makes it easier to begin the cut. Whether you use a pencil or marking knife, the layout remains the same. Clamp the drawer front with the face away from you. Lay your dovetail gauge on top so the wider end is facing away from you, then, mark your first pin 1/4″ or so in from the top edge of the drawer starting the mark in the gauge line you’ve already scribed. Mark the second pin at the bottom edge, in 1/4″ or so. Now, you’ll have one big waste area marked.
This is a 4″ drawer, so I measured and marked two more pins (the 5″ drawer also has two pins and two half-pins, the 6″ drawer has thre full pins and two half-pins), and marked an X in the waste areas. As with through dovetails, you want to saw on the waste side of the line; having that waste area clearly marked cuts down on mistakes.
Now clamp the front face-side down flat on your bench, with the end to be cut hanging slightly over the edge. Instead of sawing through the face as you would with a through dovetail), the angle on your saw should be less severe.
Saw down to the line 1/4″ from the front edge; at the same time, you’ll be sawing past the scribe line on the back face of the drawer front by about 1″. (I had trouble believing this…so I went home and pulled out drawers from various pieces of antique furniture I own. Lo and behold – there were saw kerfs on the inside face of every drawer front.)
It’s on to chopping out the waste, just as you would with a through dovetail. The only difference is, you stop when you get down to your 1/4″ scribe line, and square the bottom. As always, undercut each just a hair. To keep from breaking out the pin edges, chop the top edges of the waste at an angle to the pins and knock it out.
You’ve already scribed the baseline on your tail boards (the side pieces of the drawer). Put the drawer side face down on your bench, and balance the drawer front on top of the side so that the baseline of the drawer side is even with the inside edge of the drawer front, then transfer the layout for the tails to the drawer side. Now, it’s a through cut on the tail boards, which will fit snug with your half-blind dovetail sockets on the drawer front, creating a perfect half-blind dovetail joint (with a little practice, of course).