Q & A: What Kind of Saw for Dovetails?
I’d like to try hand-cutting dovetails for the drawers of a
sideboard I’m building.What kind of saw do I need for this job?
Dovetailing can become something of a religion
among woodworkers,with passionate true-believers in
one approach or another. There are many tools and techniques
that work, but when it comes to the saws, there are
two types: Japanese and Western.
Japanese-style saws cut on the pull stroke, have fine,
thin teeth and produce a very thin kerf.This means less
effort, and consequently,more control for many people,
especially beginners.Western saws cut on the push stroke
and produce a thicker kerf.They have either a pistol-style
handle, like the Lie-Nielsen saw we show at right, or a simple
straight handle like a chisel. Prices range from $15 up
to well over $100.
A good, sharp saw of either type will allow you to cut perfect
dovetails. But sharpening can be a problem.The teeth on
these saws are very fine, and sharpening them by hand is no
picnic, and doesn’t always work. Be sure your local sharpening shop
can handle saws
like this. Inexpensive
Western saws,in particular,
are not at their peak right out of
the box; they need further sharpening
and setting. Japanese saws work
right out of the box. There are some very
appealing Japanese saws that require no sharpening;
they use inexpensive super-hard replaceable blades.
What kind of saw you use is much less important than having
your wood flat, and using softer species like pine, and walnut.
Then, just practice.Cut a bunch of dovetails before you
try them on a project, and even if you’ve done them lots of
times before, warm up (and remind yourself how they go
together) with a test piece.
This story originally appeared in American Woodworker Tool Buyer's Guide 2002.