Carcase Dovetails

I can think of only a few 18th c furniture forms where carcass dovetails can be seen at all. As I recall, none can be seen from the front.

Dovetails have become for modern woodworkers what Alfred Hitchcock called a “MacGuffin” . They are meaningless to the execution of the piece and have distracted woodworkers from the real effort of cabinetmakers past and present.

The carcass dovetails above are not perfect or even beautiful. They are what I can produce quickly. There are some gaps. Get a long last look because soon they will be covered by a molding forever.

What I’d like to say about dovetails is this: Learn how to saw. In my opinion, sawing is the gatekeeper for dovetailing and a whole range of other joinery. Beyond that, be happy with your dovetails and turn your attention to more important things. There’s a lot more to making furniture or executing traditional joinery than dovetails.

– Adam Cherubini

13 thoughts on “Carcase Dovetails

  1. Ron Potts

    Chris
    Check out Rob Cosman’s site robcosman.com – He is a Canadian who is also the Lie-Nielsen dealer in Canada. I have watched him cut both through and half blind dovetails and he cut, glued, and joined them without a test fit. Beustiful work!
    He tours Woodcraft stores in the winter and puts on week long courses in Calgary Alberta in the summer. He has some great videos avaiable from Lie-Nielsen. I am enrolled in "train the hand" next summer and look forward to unplugging more often.
    Ron

  2. Dining Room Furniture

    I have a lot to learn from you guys, actually I am trying to renew all my furniture at home and I was thinking to have it custom made. I hear that I can easily find creative woodworkers. Is that true?

  3. Chris C.

    Adam,

    Love the blog and am learning a great deal
    about all-hand furniture making. I am
    not ready to drop all of my power tools yet, but
    I am really enjoying adding a number of
    unplugged tools to my arsenal. It sure is
    quieter!

    Now for my contrarian thought. I don’t
    fundamentally disagree with some folks being
    overly obsessed with the particulars of
    furniture joinery. And dovetails are one
    of the most common obsessions.

    However, a peek at some historical pieces
    indicate that at least some of these
    woodworkers were particular and perhaps
    obsessed with their joinery and their
    dovetails. There are plenty of examples
    of period pieces with airtight joinery. I
    have no reason the believe these craftsman
    were not able to execute these joints
    quickly. There are a number of modern
    woodworkers who can produce airtight dovetails
    very quickly using only handtools. In fact, I recently read that
    one of them makes so many dovetails that
    he does not even need to test fit them before
    glue up! A picture of the completed dovetail
    shows no gaps and a very elegant looking joint. I wish I can remeber who it was. Maybe
    Christian Becksvoort, but I am not sure. ??

    Chris

  4. Tom Sneed

    Adam – how will the upper and lower portions be attached? If mechanical fasteners, will that pull them together to eliminate gaps or will some slight planing be necessary for the same?
    THANKS! Tom/Raleigh, NC

  5. dave

    I was talking about full blinds — which you never hear anyone talking about doing nowadays. When you spend a day dovetailing a drawer, who wants to hide it? 😉 Personally, I wouldn’t mind doing some full blind dovetails if they were quick and strong.

    Dave

  6. Adam

    Neil,

    I don’t have any pictures of that cupboard at present. If you send me an email, I’ll send you some photos next time we do a shoot.

    Adam

  7. Adam

    Dave,

    Are you asking about half blinds or full blinds? Either way, through joinery is always easiest. Through mortises too.

    Adam

  8. dave brown

    Modern woodworkers don’t mention blind dovetails very often but they’re a natural step in the evolution of through dovetails hidden by molding.

    In your opinion, which would be quicker: through dovetails hidden by molding or blind dovetails?

  9. Nap

    Hi Adam,
    Any chance I could see a better picture of the cabinet next to your bench? Caught my eye looks like something I’ve been meaning to build.

    Thanks,
    Neil

  10. Jerome Bias

    Adam, what is your procedure for prepping boards for edge glue ups. I know that edge joint both boards at the same time and that you don’t put a whole lot of time into flattening them. When i tried squaring the edge of two boards at one time, I found that unless I dressed both faces pretty nicely, when I put them in the vice the top edges of the boards didn’t stay right next to each other. They kind of bowed out.
    In the end I liked the joint that I got, but I felt that I had spent too much time dressing my boards, before I glued them up.

    Thanks,

    Jerome
    Mebane, NC

  11. Elo

    Your lower case is progressing beautifully!

    Sawing is truly a central "nerve" in woodworking isn’t ? You can’t saw straight, you can’t do much.

    In a way, it’s interesting that you mention the overemphasis on the dovetails, how tight and nice they look. A modern perspective for sure. the story is elsewhere and you will continue to tell it that way for us. Thank you for this fresh angle on hand work.

    On another note, incredible edge work on the panel. How do you succeed so well at it? Which plane did you use? it must be a pain to get that kind of result against the grain.

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