Define dovetail (noun) dəv-tāl
1. The visual dovetail definition. It’s the type of joint you see in this picture, connecting two sides of an antique tool chest:
2. The functional dovetail definition. You have two flat, solid wood boards that you want to connect to each other. You already tried nailing or screwing them together. Something didn’t seem right. Would the nails hold? Should you be worried about that hairline split in the wood where the screw entered? And what the heck did people do before there were cheap nails, decent screws and power drills?
The dovetail joint predates power drills by quite a margin, and will outlast them by at least as much. It is a relatively simple and very strong way to connect two flat boards. Wood glue, which has existed for thousands of years (and is super-strong in its modern form), is applied to the connecting sides of the joint to make it hold.
If you’re interested in knowing just a little more, know that the two connecting sides are called “pins” and “tails.” You cut one series of pins or tails, then use that series to trace its complementary set on the other board. It’s really fun when you see this done, and do it yourself, for the first time. Click here for a how-to blog post by our own Glen Huey. And click here for part two of that article.
3. The philosophical dovetail definition. As Ron Harper wrote to us, the dovetail joint “fosters endless debate about the proper technique for executing it.” We try to avoid all that silly debate around here, though we’re not above a little plain old silliness.
Here, for example, is how Megan Fitzpatrick and Roy Underhill settled the age-old argument of whether to cut pins first or tails first:
I’m not sure who won.