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Precise Hand-Cut Dovetails

A new approach to half-blind dovetails guarantees a precision fit.

By Tom Caspar

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The handmade half-blind dovetail joint is an enduring symbol of fine craftsmanship. Every proud woodworker who has conquered the dovetail wants to show it off. In the old days, when every piece of wood was worked by hand, mastering this joint took lots of practice. But not today. Using machined parts and my new method, you can make perfect half-blind joints the very first time you try. There’s no fussy trial-and-error fitting.

Generally, a woodworker can follow one of two paths to make dovetails by hand. The classic artisan’s method requires going for broke and sawing precisely on a line. It’s fast and rewarding, but it takes a sure eye and a steady hand. The second, more cautious, approach allows you to saw away from a line, then pare to the line using a chisel. It’s slower, but by guiding the chisel with a jig, anyone can do it. That’s the method I’ll show you here. The secret is to use very sharp chisels with specially ground sides, and stick to the directions.

My method
relies on a few
simple jigs
to guide your
chisel. Every
paring cut is
straight and
square. It’s not
the fastest way
to cut dovetails,
but when
you use it,
I can promise
you precise
joints, even
your first time.

Click any image to view a larger version.

Pins and tails are the
building blocks of halfblind
dovetails. When
you dovetail a drawer, the
front is called the pin board.
The side is called the tail board.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker January 2006, issue #119.

January 2006, issue #119

Purchase this back issue.

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