How To Create Various Dovetail Joints ? 

JULY 8,2021

👋 The cutting dovetail joint is one of the most elegant and striking woodwork joints. This type of joint is used in box constructions such as draws, jewelry boxes, cabinets and other pieces of furniture where strength is required. There exist several techniques for making dovetail joints. Learn in this post the various types of dovetail joints, plus methods for making these popular joints.

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  • "The way two pieces of wood fit together is a thing of beauty — and a great way to spot a quality piece of furniture."



"The way two pieces of wood fit together is a thing of beauty — and a great way to spot a quality piece of furniture."


What is a dovetail joint?  

A dovetail joint is a joinery technique used in woodworking, traditionally used to joint wooden furniture. Dovetail joints are known for their resilience to pull apart. When cut correctly and accurately, the “tails” and “pins” interlock with each other making it virtually impossible to pull the joint apart. Dovetail joints require zero mechanical fasteners, making them more attractive to the traditionalist.


There are two parts to a dovetail joint, pins and tails. The tails look like the tail of a dove (hence the name), and the pins are on the opposite board and fit in between the tails to create a joint that is impossible to pull apart in at least one direction. Add some glue, clamp the joint together well, and it will be impossible to pull apart in the other direction as well.


Despite its strength and attractive nature, this is a very hard joint to make and one that requires quite a bit of practice to get right, but once you have mastered it you can really get creative and make some wonderful and unique woodworking joints.

Dovetail Joints: Different Types 

Through Dovetails


The most basic method of creating a dovetail is called a through dovetail. They are common in the construction of crates as well as other complex wooden shapes. Here, two pieces of wood are joined together at their ends with a finger-like interlocking method which is seen from all outside surfaces. This is probably the most common type of dovetail joint and one that you will probably have seen on various items of furniture such as drawers, boxes and other items. 

Half-Blind Dovetail Joints


While a through dovetail is considered a classic joint, in certain instances you may want only a portion of the dovetail to be shown. A half-blind dovetail enables the woodworker to hide the joint from the front end. For instance, a solid dresser drawer front shouldn't show the dovetail joint, but on the sides of the box, it is perfectly permissible. Half-blind dovetail joints are perfect for such an instance.

Sliding Dovetail Joints


The sliding dovetail is a method of joining two boards at right angles, where the intersection occurs within the field of one of the boards that is not at the end. This joint provides the interlocking strength of a dovetail. Some classic furniture pieces utilized sliding dovetail joinery for wooden drawer slides, which allows the drawer to slide in and out, but with no up or down motion.

Secret Mitered Dovetails 


The secret mitered dovetail joint is used in the highest class of cabinet and box work. It offers the strength found in the dovetail joint but hides the visibility of the joint. You can use them for cabinet shelves, sides, as well as partitions with drawer fronts.


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How to cut a dovetail joint?

Part one: Cutting the tail

Step 1 –Mark baselines 


Lay the two pieces of wood against each other and, with a pencil, mark the thickness of each piece on the end of its mate. This line is called the baseline.

Step 2 – Mark the tails 


This is where your square comes in. The edge will make it easy to mark your way from the ends of the board, to the top square, and finally to the board’s face. Designate the areas you will not be needing with an X or similar easy symbol; these are what you will be removing. 

Step 3 – Cutting the Tails Out 


To get the recognisable “dovetail” shape you will need to cut down at an angle. Follow the marks you made in step 2 but only cut down as far as the baseline. Make sure your saw is cutting down into the waste side of the wood. This way, your “tail(s)” will not end up being smaller than intended. You can also use a dovetail bit if you want to save time!

Step 4 – Removing Tail Waste Wood 


Once you have cut in your tail lines, cut along the baseline to remove the excess material from either side of the tail. The best way to clear out the waste wood is with your chisel. 

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Part two: Cutting the pin

Step 5 – Mark the Pins 


Hold the tail piece of the joint against the end of the pin piece and draw around the shape of the tail(s). This will give you the outline of the pins. 

Step 6 – Cutting the Pins Out 


Use a dovetail saw, cut down along the pins lines you made in the step above or a dovetail bit if you want to save time! You will find a lot similar in this cutting operation as you did with the tails, too. With all of that done, once more it is time to clean out the waste wood. 

Step 7 – Fit Pieces Together 


As you go to fit the two boards together, you may need your chisel to make final adjustments. With the tails, and pins all adequately adjusted for the perfect fit, you are now ready to fit the joint! 

Deciding which type of dovetail to choose for your project is dependent on factors such as function and design. Creating dovetails by hand is a master skill in of itself. But, we are now able to use jigs, routers and specialized dovetail bits to ensure that the joint can be made perfectly and replicated an endless amount of times. So, when creating special projects you wish to last generations, you can be sure that dovetails will help ensure they will be long lasting! 


Josh J. Gur - CEO

CEO of Sanrico

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