I wanted to make something with dovetails and also use my new leg vise. I decided to make a frame for a mirror I had laying around using dovetails as the joinery. The wood of choice was Poplar and Cherry for visual interest reasons...
Cutting dovetails is a skill in which needs practice, in my experience anyway. So, I have practiced with pine and some oak, in fact the first dovetails I ever cut were in Jay's [Bates] shop. He's actually the one who taught me. I find the process of cutting dovetails an enjoyable one. It gives the piece your working with more meaning, I think, because you've invested time to develop the skill it takes to create hand cut joinery. It also looks great. Now, I don't claim to be an expert or anything, like I said in the VIDEO this was my first project using dovetails as the actual joinery and I think the frame came out pretty good for my first hand tool project. Continue reading below about how I made the frame.
Here's the video in case you missed the link above.
Tools used in this video:
Sliding t-bevel gauge
Veritas dovetail saw (tell them I sent you)
Stanley Bailey chisels
My thought process on cutting dovetails
The steps I took to get to the completed project are not necessarily the ones you might take. I'll go over the steps briefly below to give you an idea of my thought process.
The first thing I had to do (off camera) was to mill up the pieces of wood I would be using. You could make a similar project to what I made without the same thickness wood, but in this project I wanted the same thickness. So, after the milling process I determine the location of my dovetail shoulder which determines the size of my dovetail. I basically laid the wood out and visualized what I wanted. I used my marking gauge to indicate the shoulder line, the t-bevel gauge to determine my angles for the dovetail (on both sides) and used a pencil to darken those lines so I could see where to cut. Next, I used my mini square to connect the dovetail lines on the end of the work piece. After this step you can start cutting your dovetails. There are a couple of things to note here: 1) When cutting the tails remember to cut on the outside of the line and 2) When cutting the tail sockets remember to cut inside the line. I got a little carried away when cutting mine and ended up removing too much material in places. That's why you see gaps and why I need more practice. My thinking was to cut the tails out first, then use the tails to trace out the sockets and cut inside the line leaving a perfect fit. My advice is to go slow and take your time and leave everything a little proud because you can always remove material, but it's hard to add material. When it came time to assemble the frame I had one joint that was a little too snug and it snapped the end of the socket off. Looking back I should have removed just a tiny bit of material to relieve some of the pressure. In the end, it all worked out and looks great for a first time dovetail project.
I recently traveled out of town for some training and the instructor was from NYC. When asked about certain things he would tell us "ya know there's a running joke on the streets of New York when someone would ask you how to get to Carnegie Hall, you say practice, practice, practice".
I believe that rings true in a lot of things, but it certainly does for me when cutting dovetails.
Be sure to sign up for our free newsletter below to be notified of new blog posts, updates, and free woodworking plans. Our newsletter often includes a different version of these blog posts with how-to instructions among other things you won't find here.
Thanks for stopping by.
Receive future Blog posts by email when you subscribe below, it's free:
Subscribe and receive our free e-book!