by Christopher Schwarz
The No. 1 mistake made by first-time dovetailers has nothing to do with sawing or chopping – the obvious choices.
Instead, I’ve found that most fatal mistakes happen at the point where the shape of the first half of the joint – the tailboard or pinboard – is transferred to its mate.
During the transfer process, beginners fail to align the boards properly, or a board shifts during the transfer process. The end result is that the joint is horribly misaligned or, worse, it won’t go together.
To fight this alignment problem, I used to show beginners how to cut a shallow rabbet on the inside of the tailboard to help the two boards mate easily during the transfer process, reducing errors.
This strategy works great – if you can cut a square, well-placed rabbet. To be honest, it is difficult to teach beginners to do this with a rabbet plane at the same time they are also learning to knife, chisel and saw a dovetail joint.
I was beginning to wonder if the rabbet was more trouble than it was worth.
Blog: See a variety of 472 historical (and hysterical) dovetails
Video: Discover how to layout dovetails using dividers
Blog: Make the diagnosis when dovetails go wrong
Blog: Read our archive of articles and blog posts on cutting dovetails
In our Store: “Dovetail Mastery” with Chuck Bender
From the December 2014 issue, #215