More Hand-cut Dovetail Cheating

This past weekend I was in the magazine shop working on a project for the August issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. The only hint I can give about the project is that the piece I’m working on has small drawers. In building those small drawers, I opted to use a couple techniques and ideas that were not used or demonstrated in my “Cheating at Hand-cut Dovetails” DVD.

Of course, I could create the small-drawer dovetails with all hand work as presented in the DVD, but these alternative working methods are worth discussing. And as it is with the optional methods included in the DVD, these techniques also speed up the process without changing the results.

First up is a technique that I use mainly on small drawers, but can be used on regular drawers if you choose. In the DVD, I explain how to use a band saw to cut the pins (with the aid of a shop-made jig) and the tails. What I didn’t explain was how you can waste away the material between the tails, otherwise known as the pin sockets – it’s a simple as sawing out anything that is between the two tails. This technique is extremely valuable when working on thin stock because it’s so quick. (In the photo, I’m working on through dovetails at the back of a small drawer.)

Another technique I use when knocking out half-blind sockets is to hog out waste using a Forstner bit in a drill press. Don’t get overly aggressive when selecting your bit size – it’s better to go smaller and make a couple holes per socket, but make sure you get out to the edge of your drawer front.

You can take the time to align the bit to your layout of the scribe line and the pin edge, but I think it’s best to remove the top layer using chisel work before moving to the drill press. You can then align the bit to your work by actually bumping the bit to the socket walls. After the majority of the waste is removed, the time it takes to finish the socket excavation with your chisels is much less. I use this technique when I have a lot of sockets to cut.

The last suggestion about dovetailing small drawer parts is to use a scroll saw over a band saw when defining the pins and tails. With a scroll saw, you don’t run into the same problems you find at a band saw, such as table adjustment. A scroll saw table is too easy to flip back and forth to match your slope angle – it’s also easy to bring back to square so you can trim off the half-pin waste on your tail board. It’s also such a fine cut you can really dial-in your accuracy.

— Glen D. Huey

One thought on “More Hand-cut Dovetail Cheating

  1. TwoHerbs

    this isn’t cheating, it’s innovating! I use these same techniques, depending upon the time/work that needs to be done and that I have available.

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