Dovetail cutting tips can only help you to perfect your dovetail experience. Dovetail cutting has been around for decades. It was used in furniture and cabinet building as a unique form of joinery. It is unfortunate that a lot of this joinery has been lost in time. Dovetails are still used today but generally done by machines for production.

Tip #1

Dovetail cutting tips, you will learn keep your chisels sharp is #1 tip. It’s been said so many times, that it’s now become a platitude and lost it’s force. But there is no escaping this truth: Sharp tools work better. I sharpen the chisels I need for a set of dovetails before I start to clean up the tails. With a sharp chisel I can leave the mallet in my tool cabinet, and just use hand pressure to pare down the baseline. And, most importantly, it becomes much easier to pare right to the baseline, and a clean baseline is a key part of a tight joint. (By the way, you should be removing the waste between tails and pins with a coping saw, leaving just enough for paring. Chopping out the waste is crazy. I know from lots of personal experience.)

Tip #2

Use a cutting gauge to layout the baselines. The knife in a cutting gauge cuts a clean crisp line across the grain. The benefit of this is that before you beginning paring, you can use your chisel to run along the baseline (only in the waste area) and create a small ledge to register your chisel against, giving you a physical guide for paring. It makes it easy to get right on the baseline, but not beneath it. And if you haven’t gotten down to the baseline yet, there is still a small ledge–a nice visual indicator that there is more paring to do.

Tip #3

Use a pencil to transfer the tails to the pin board. This one really made a big difference for me. The pencil line is completely on the future pin. None of it should be cut or pared away. I work up to the line and just like that my pins fit without gaps. It helps to use a very pointy pencil lead so that you can get right against the tail where it meets the pin board, giving you a more accurate indication of where to stop paring.

Tip # 4

Listen to Phil Lowe. He knows the right way to pare a shoulder. I used to have a lot of trouble with those two outside shoulders on the tail board (the half-pin sockets), regularly cutting beneath the baseline. Using a cutting gauge helped some, but what really made the difference was a tip I picked up from Phil Lowe. Don’t pare the entire shoulder at once. Instead, pare just a narrow bit from one side, using the cut gauge lines on the face and edge to guide your chisel. Then use the newly pared section as a reference surface for the bottom of the chisel and pare another narrow sliver. Repeat until you are all the way across.

Tip #5

Stop cutting half blind dovetails for drawer fronts. I’m sure some will balk at this one. It’s a bit non-traditional. That doesn’t bother me. Here’s what I do. I cut through dovetails to join the drawer sides to the drawer front and then glue on a 1/8 in. thick veneer onto the drawer front. This creates the look of a half-blind dovetail. Before gluing on the thick veneer. I plane the drawer front to make sure it’s flush with the sides endgrain. When the thick veneer is glued down, you get a very clean and straight “baseline” for the dovetails. This technique also lets me conserve special woods. I typically use the same species for the front and the thick veneer (the glue line disappears).

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