Dovetails

Author: Michel Theriault
Published: June July 2004
wood joinery dovetails
wood joinery dovetails

Wood Joinery

While dovetail joints are most often praised for their aesthetic appeal, their real claim to fame is the mechanical strength that they offer when two boards are joined at a corner. Take a closer look. Dovetail joints feature interlocking fingers with increased glue surface. That is more than enough reason to consider using dovetails for more than their attractive appearance.

Dovetail joints are made from two matching pieces, fitted together. The ‘tails’ are cut into one board. The matching ‘pins’ are cut into the other.

The pins lock the tails in place when stress is applied to the board with tails. That is why dovetails are commonly used in drawers. It is also why tails are always cut into the sidepieces. Keep this relationship of pins and tails in mind when you are incorporating dovetails into your projects, especially when there will be more stress applied in one particular direction.

There are two basic types of dovetails: through, and blind. The ‘through’ dovetail allows the joint to be seen from both faces of the joint. The ‘blind’ dovetail hides one face of the joint.

With time and patience, dovetails are relatively easy to make. They can be made by hand or with the help of a dovetail jig. When cutting dovetails by hand, be sure to practice on scrap wood first. If you are going to use a jig, consider your choices. Typically, dovetail jigs are designed to make either through dovetails or blind dovetails. Give some thought to what type of dovetails you want to make before buying your jig.

The Katie Jig is just one of many jigs that make through dovetail joints. By setting the jigs spacers you are able to cut a variety of different sizes and styles of dovetails. Once set, simply clamp the boards with the ends to be joined on each side of the jig. Then rout the pins with a straight bit and the tails with a dovetail bit.

If you prefer to make dovetails by hand, you can use a bandsaw to reduce the time it takes. Start by marking the tails on one board. Next, use your bandsaw to cut the waste out from between the tails. Clean up the joints with a chisel. Now position the tails on the end of the matching board and mark the pins. Set your bandsaw table to match the angle of the pins and cut out the waste. Clean up the joints with a chisel.

Whether you choose to make your joints with a commercial jig or by hand, dovetails communicate quality and craftsmanship. Take the time to learn this attractive and practical joint. Try incorporating dovetails into an upcoming project – one that needs a strong corner joint, or one that needs to withstand stress in one direction. It will serve you well for both of these purposes, and look great at the same time.

Next issue, Michel covers butt joints. Following issues look at mortise and tenon joints, mitre joints, finger joints, lap joints, and edge joints.

Tails are cut in one board

Matching pins are cut into the other board

Start by marking tails on one board

With bandsaw, cut waste from between tails

Position tails on the end of the matching board and mark pins

Set bandsaw table to match angle of pins and cut out waste

The Katie jig: One of many jigs that make dovetails

Rout pins with straight bit and tails with dovetail bit


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