Different Dovetail Joinery

You’ve read a number of posts on this blog about our upcoming book based on furniture, photos and information found at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) and in Old Salem. I’m working on drawings of a few of the pieces and have come across a second use of a dovetail joint that is different, something not often seen in the furniture I study on a regular basis. It appears as a rabbeted joint, but it’s not (there is no holding power with a rabbet and this area requires holding power). Oddly enough, both uses have been found on desks where the desk top attaches to the case sides.

The joint is a full-blind dovetail in which neither the pins or tails are seen. Yes, I have seen full-blind dovetails before – they are generally used, and most often associated with, corners that are mitered, as in feet. (The strength of the joint is so much stronger than a simple butted, mitered corner – spline or no spline.) But this joint shows a lap on one of the joining panels and is known as a full-blind dovetail with lap (see the bottom photo).

To make the joint, the pin board is worked as you would when cutting half-blind dovetails. The change from ordinary work is with the tail board. It’s made using stop cuts as with the pin board, and you need to have a lap (rabbet) at the end of your board.

Begin the tail board by cutting a rabbet that is slightly longer than the lap or inset of the pin board  (1/64″). The extra length ensures you can cover the end of the pin board completely. To transfer the pin board layout to the tail board, simply locate the inside face of the pin board to your scribe line on the tail board then pencil or knife the layout onto the tail board.

Whenever I dovetail I overcut the scribe lines to make waste removal quicker. If you follow this line of thought when making full-blind lap dovetails, especially when used to join a desk side and top, you easily see the sawn lines – and that’s not appealing. Don’t over-cut the lines. The work is a bit more time consuming, but here’s the best part – when the joint is together you cannot see if the joinery is tight and well-fit or terribly off – as long as the joined pieces stay put. And the end results are clean when viewed from the inside or outside.

— Glen D. Huey

For more information on advanced dovetailing, pick up a copy of “Dovetail Mastery” by Charles Bender.

4 thoughts on “Different Dovetail Joinery

  1. Mark Maleski

    Fair answer, Glen. I was thrown by your statement “The joint is a full-blind dovetail…” I thought perhaps you could see gaps or other indicators to confirm the joint. I can’t think of another joinery method that would hold so well over the years, so you’ve convinced me.

  2. Steve

    That’s a great looking joint! I think a standard (mitered) full blind dovetail would not look right here. Were you able to observe the joint at the back side of the desk or is it covered with a panel?

    1. Glen D. Huey Post author

      Thanks a great question, Mark. The top of the desk was held firm (for 200 plus years) and there are no signs of any other joinery method, or nails. I suppose the desk top could have been doweled to the side, but that seems highly unlikely given the quality of the work elsewhere on the desk. In your opinion, what joinery method could have been used? Anyone? The only way to confirm the connection would be to dismantle the desk, or possibly to have it x-rayed.

COMMENT