Making Dovetail Joints for Your Woodworking Projects

August 7, 2020 by No Comments

Many woodwork projects call for the use of dovetail joints.  This particular type of joint has been around for millennia.

Furniture built with dovetail joints has been found in tombs of ancient Egypt, as well as in tombs of Chinese emperors.

This joint, which is sometimes called simply a dovetail, is aesthetically pleasing, strong and does not fall apart easily. 

You see examples of dovetail joints in drawers where the sides are joined to the front.  They are a critical technique to learn in woodworking joinery.

You sometimes hear it said that making a dovetail joint is not difficult if you know how.  This sage advice is undoubtedly true for any skill. It’s the knowing how that causes the challenges.

Dovetail Joints Explained

In a dovetail, a number of pins are cut to extend out from the end of one board. They interlock with a number of tails cut into the end of another board. 

This interlocking shape of pins and tails forms a trapezoid. (A trapezoid is a four-sided figure with one pair of parallel sides).

Once you fit these pins and tails together, you glue them. No metal or mechanical fasteners such as pins, screws, tacks or nails are needed and you cannot pull them apart easily.

There are various types of dovetail joints, however. Each has a specific purpose.

Through or Plain Dovetail Joint

With this type of joint, the tails and pins can be seen from both sides.

Half Blind Dovetail Joints

With this type of joint, the tails and pins can only be seen from one side. One piece of the joint is cut in the regular way but the other side features cuts that go to a specific depth and not all the way through.

A half-blind is useful where you don’t want to see the joint. For example, the front of a drawer will look more aesthetically pleasing if you cannot see the joints —  even if they are otherwise beautiful dovetail ones!

Woodwork Tools Used in Make the Dovetail

Certain tools are helpful or necessary when creating a good dovetail joint.

Dovetail Saw

The dovetail saw is a type of backsaw (for better precision) that is used for cutting the tails and pins. You could also use a tenon saw instead.

The important thing to remember is to measure and mark your pieces of wood accurately with a pencil before making your first cut.

Chisels

Experienced woodworkers can construct dovetail joints using nothing but a saw. Less experienced diyers may need to correct their work to ensure a good fit. This calls for a regular bevel-edged chisel or a specific dovetail chisel to accomplish this.

Wood Filler

Most woodworkers can construct a dovetail joint by using a saw and optionally a chisel.

However, if you cut too far and are left with large gaps, then you have a choice. Either you can either recycle the wood for other projects or you can use wood filler to fill in the gaps.

If you opt to use wood filler, followed by a coat of varnish, you can achieve an eye-appealing joint despite the camouflage used.

Glue

PVA glue is a good choice when sticking dovetail joints together.

This video demonstrates a woodwork project being put together with dovetail joints.