Why Do Dovetails Get All the Love?

I guess because they’re often visible in contemporary construction (and on drawers), dovetails get all the love when it comes to joinery discussions. Everyone wants their tails to be perfectly cut and fit, beautifully laid out and sometimes artistically designed (like the stunning “houndstooth dovetails” Rob Cosman demonstrated in our April 2006 issue – I have the sample joint sitting on the shelf in my cubicle, and without fail, every new visitor to our office picks them up to ooh and aah over them).

I, however, am an old-fashioned kind of girl. And in period furniture, dovetails are often covered up by moulding, so they don’t have to be perfectly cut – they just have to hold. And a somewhat sloppy-looking dovetail is plenty strong enough – a little gap in one corner won’t bring your casework tumbling down. (Yes, that’s my excuse for sloppy tails, and I’m sticking to it, thankyouverymuch!)

But the mortise-and-tenon joint, well, if that one’s too far on the side of sloppy (e.g. the tenon is too thin or has a sloppy shoulder) things could indeed go very wrong.

So that’s why Senior Editor Bob Lang recorded “Design Better Mortise-&-Tenon Joints” – a new CD with a narrated slide show that walks you through the steps to perfect the design and appearance of this critical joint. (Bob is an expert on Arst & Crafts furniture – see his many books on the subject – a style in which the mortise & tenon takes center stage.)

On this CD, Bob teaches you:

  • Rules for sizing joints in any situation: casework, tables, chairs
  • Proper fit and fabrication guidelines
  • How to adapt proportions for complex situations
  • How to break the rules (and stay out of trouble)
  • Weak points – and how to avoid them
  • Instruction on making through, drawbored and wedged tenons

Plus, “Design Better Mortise-&-Tenon Joints” includes our 13 best articles on the subject from Popular Woodworking and Woodworking Magazine.

It’s available now at ShopWoodworking.com for $16.99 (a $3 savings off the cover price).

— Megan Fitzpatrick

p.s. Yeah, I’d like to be able to cut houndstooth dovetails – I admit it. But right now, I need to finish my coffee table – in which there are eight mortise-&-tenon joints waiting to be cut.

 

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