To cut a dovetail

As the dovetail joint is such an integral part of Philip’s boxes here is a more detailed look at how he creates this joint.

The dovetails are set out on paper first. This is to visualise how the joint will look. A general rule is to have smaller dovetails towards the outer edges where there is likely to be more wood movement.

dovetails on paper

A tite-mark marking gauge is used to mark out the depth of the dovetails. The gauge is set up to be 0.5mm wider then the work pieces using 2 steel rules.When the box is glued the pins and tails protrude 0.5mm. This is planed away level with the box sides.

The marking gauge in action. The fibres are lightly scored on the outer faces until  the exact position of the pins and tails are known. Deep score marks in the wrong place are extremely problematic.

using the marking gauge
position of tails

The tails are cut first. This image shows where the tails are positioned on the end of the board. The first 2 cuts have been made.

A simple block of wood cut on an angle is used  as a guide for the tail saw cuts. It is critical that these cuts are perpendicular to the face of the wood, although the block does not guarantee this, it is a helpful guide.

saw guide
guide block

The block is cut on a one in eight ratio. For thinner stock such as tray parts  block with a one in six ratio is used.

All the tails are cut waiting for the waste to be removed.

tails cut

Here the waste has been removed just shy of the marking gauge line.

trying the fit
guide block

As this box is going to be glued up complete and the lid cut off afterwards, the walls at the point where the lid and base are separated have to be perfectly square to the face. A block is used as a guide to ensure this.

Cleaning out any waste from the corners where the pins will go. Philip has a very thin homemade chisel which enables him to do this.

paring with a chisel

Paring away the waste on the shoulders. It is critical not to undercut here or there will be an obvious gap when the box is glued up.

This is what the tails should look like after removing all the waste material.

waste removed
marking pin position

The next step is to mark out where the pins go in relation to the tails. The corresponding pieces are set up at right angles to each other and cramped together. A scalpel is then used to scribe around the tails.

Once the pins are marked out on the end of the board  a homemade square is used  with a one in eight angle to mark the faces of the pin board down to the scribing line  made at the start of the process.

homemade square

Here the waste has been removed just shy of the scalpel blade marks and scribing line.

This image shows the lines left by the scalpel blade.

paring away waste

A very sharp chisel is used to remove the waste up to the scalpel lines. If  all the waste is not removed  here the joint will be too tight and the wood could split when the joint is tapped together.

The moment of truth. If   all the previous processes have been carried out diligently the joint should tap together nicely.

trying the fit
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