Hand-cut Dovetails 2.0 with Rob Cosman

If you’re interested in learning to cut dovetails by hand, boy do you have choices. Google hand-cut dovetail videos and the returns total more than 100,000 (no, I didn’t count them). Yesterday I watched Rob Cosman’s second DVD on dovetails, hence the name “Hand-cut Dovetails 2.0.” It’s been 10 years since his first dovetail video. While I haven’t watched that DVD, I’ll bet things have changed throughout the years. I can tell you that 2.0 is a good, informative dovetail DVD worth the investment.

Cosman begins with a demonstration of the dovetail process. He walks through the steps without much information just so you see the process as well as the end result. He then moves on to talk about the tools needed. I find this section of his DVD valuable because he justifies his choices and in doing so he shares insight gained from experience, such as how a wheel-type marking gauge is his choice because it’s easy to adjust with one hand as you work, how he tweaks his fret saw to make it work better and how to rework the blade on a marking knife for better results.

The next section is devoted to simple exercises to make you a better dovetailer. He discusses how stance influences your sawing abilities and has a neat trick with a strip of tape that helps keep your cuts square and aligned.

Once you’re ready to actually make dovetails, Cosman demonstrates each step of the process in detail. I would call this section of the DVD “Dovetailing for Engineers” because there is nothing skimmed over or left out. Every step is examined in detail. This is a good thing because to be better at dovetails, you have to understand all the intricacies of the joint.

I particularly like the divider layout method described and how to hone in on correctly sized pins, how he uses his thumb and finger to locate and fine-tune his sawing line to the layout line, and how he works back to the scribe line after removing the majority of the waste with a fret saw. Along the way you get plenty of tips to make your work better, such as the increase in control if you choke-up on your chisels when you pare tight areas, and how to work so you don’t blow out the show side of the joint.

On the downside, Cosman takes every opportunity to sell you one of his other DVDs – I admire his work, but found these quickie commercials a bit of a hitch to the learning. Also, while demonstrating at shows and making personal appearances, he produces whisper-thin plane shavings. After each stroke he tosses a shaving into the air for the “wow” factor. That’s fine for the shows, but there is no reason to do this during the DVD. I found it distracting.

All in all, Cosman knows the secrets to better dovetails and shares his knowledge in “Hand-cut Dovetails 2.0.” If you’re cutting your first set set of pins and tails or you’re looking for ways to improve your dovetail skills, I recommend this DVD – even though he works tails first. Pins First Rules.

— Glen D. Huey

As I said, there are many dovetail DVDs from which to choose. Here are a couple from shopwoodworking.com:

In “Cheating at Hand-cut Dovetails” I explain the process for hand-cut pins and tails, but then I demonstrate how to speed up the process using power tools – without sacrificing the hand-cut look.

And if you’re dead-set on a pins first approach, check out “Dovetailing Apprenticeship” with Charles Bender. Bender not only explains the steps to great dovetails, he briefly discusses sharpening and explains a great method for layout that’s sure to keep your drawer parts properly arranged.

10 thoughts on “Hand-cut Dovetails 2.0 with Rob Cosman

  1. Rik

    “After each stroke he tosses a shaving into the air for the “wow” factor.”
    According to other video’s, he does this out of habit to keep the shaving from being pulled under the plane since he chooses to not lift the plane up when pulling it back for another pass.

  2. lindhrr

    You can make fun of the tape on the saw and clamp handles….BUT Cosman is correct ……..About 50 years ago,befor Cosman was ever born, this same idea was given to me by a master mechanic. a master mechanic ..he used it on the end of hammer handles..i have used it since…tape on some tool handles gives a mechanical advantage and safety factor for some operations you do not get with the smooth looky niceee handles…enough said!!!!!!!!

  3. msweig

    Can you please give a little bit more details on what the differences are on the dovetailing DVDs. You mentioned it briefly above (on the pins vs. tails first), but which ones do they chop the waste out, vs. cutting it out?

    1. Glen D. Huey Post author

      Mr. Cosman is the tails-first guy while Mr. Bender and I cut pins first. Cosman cuts the waste with a fret saw, but Bender chops with chisels, as do I.

      While it appears that Chuck and I work the same, there is a major difference – Chuck peels the first layer of material at the scribe line creating a place for the chisel to rest, whereas I position a chisel just in front of the scribe line and as I drive the chisel, it moves back to the line.

  4. aerobott

    I love the idea of using hockey taping on tool handles. Rob’s correct in not taping his blades though. Although it gives great puck control, I just don’t see needing that kind of control on my screw driver or saw blades.

    Great tip Rob.

  5. Mitch Wilson

    And don’t forget his hockey stick taping of his tool handles. I wonder if the rubber knob I used on my old goalie sticks for 20 years would fit on my dozuki.

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