How to Hand Cut Dovetail Joints Simple and Easy Hand Tool Woodworking Skill

No doves were harmed in the making of this video. Dovetails don't need to be precise, don't need to be dead on accurate, and if they have gaps and cracks and changes and problems then, oh well, not a problem. That is life and that is the way things go and it gives them more of a real feeling, gives them a hand crafted quality that you're not going to get from a machine, so don't worry about them being perfect. Just have fun and practice. Now I'm gonna take you through a process of making dovetails. It's very quick, very simple, very few tools and it's not intended to be precise and dead accurate. It's just intended to make a functional dovetail and that's really all I want to show you today.I'm gonna be doing a few videos in the future about doing them faster and doing them more mechanically, but still doing them with hand tools. So come along let's take a look at this.

Now before I get started with anything particular, what I actually want to do is take one board and I will set it up against my Moxon vice on the bench and then I will take its mating board, so in other words the corner that needs to match, and I want to make a scribe line for how deep the tails need to go. Now, if I was very sure about all of my drawers being exactly the same thickness I would use a marking gage and transfer that same mark onto all of them, but I'm not a hundred percent sure that they are exactly the same thickness, so I'm just going to use the actual drawer to make the mark, and then i can just reverse the process and make the mark on this one.

Fairly straightforward and simple process. As long as everything is pushed up against the Moxon vice you can fairly easily transfer the line. Now the first thing i want to do is actually take the workpiece and slide it down into the Moxon vice so there's about an inch-and-a-half sticking up. You know, this kind of pinches the middle so that it naturally wants to swing vertical and then clamp it down. So after clamping it in place, I need to lay out on the top where I want all of these cuts to be and what I'm gonna do is I made this little story stick out of a piece of scrap. And this way i can make all the tails at basically the same place on all the boards. That is lined up with the first mark here, and I'm going to go tick mark, tick mark, tick mark, tick mark.

I'm not looking for anything perfect because I do want these tails to be very organic, I want them all to be slightly different, I want a little bit of change in between tails, so making these exact is not that massive thing as long as they all look somewhat similar. Next thing is grab the square, another mark comes through and mark off the top of all of these. And before I go any farther I'm just going to mark out what I want to remove, so that my eye will automatically keep it, otherwise I have come across several times where I've made the mark on the wrong side of the cut, or cut on the wrong side of the mark or something like that and it just kind of ruins the whole aesthetic. Now I don't draw any lines on the face. i want my tails to look organic. I want them all to be slightly different, and so I set this at about that angle, I pinch the board so I can ride the saw along my thumbnail, and then I start the cut. Then with a mental mind of trying to keep the same angle I'm just going to move on to the next mark and continue down.

I'm not looking for perfection and I just keep going until I get close that marking gauge line. So I lower my heel on my side and I look over and bring it right down the line on that side. And there's my mark, so I'm just going to the exact same thing, turn the saw slightly in the other direction and cut all three of the other ones.

So now that I have cut the tails, what I actually want to do is come in to remove them. now I could come in with a coping saw and clean them out and some people like that, but I'm not a huge fan of that. Sometimes in soft woods I like to do that, but this not so much. I'm gonna start by keeping it now a little ways away sixteenth inch or so with marking gauge line. One good tap and you'll notice that it actually slides pretty close back to the marking gauge line and that kind of gives it a knife wall for the next cut and so I'm just going to do a few hits like that. And now that I have a knife wall I'll come in with the chisel and remove down to the depth that I chopped. Fairly straightforward and it's basically going to be this maneuver over and over again until I get close to halfway down this side. Then flip it over and do it from the other side. Let's clean these out, then come back in.

A sharp chisel is very important. I like to make it sharp enough it will cut every single hair that it touches on my arm, the first time, one pass every hair, but it's sharp enough. If it misses a few hairs, go back and sharpen it again. So once we get down to about halfway I'm not going to come back in and then pare it out. I want the halfway cut to be on the downstroke so I'm chopping the fibers. Also, I'm leaving some material out here on the end to support this tail. I don't want this tail flopping around when I chop from the other side. So I'm going to keep this fairly solid. So now to flip it over and do it from the other side. Fairly straightforward and simple process. Second verse same as the first. As I get close to chopping through I want to actually just take a little bit lighter tap That way I don't bust out as many of the fibers.

Just like that And you see how it kind of tips and rocks through so then I'll turn the bevel around and kind of push the point down and rock it forward. That makes it a little easier to come out. So now that I have the vast majority of the waste removed, what I actually want to do is come in and put the knife, put the chisel right into that marking gauge line or fairly close to it. It depends on how much you left. I have just a tiny amount and I'm going to undercut it just a little bit, make sure that I have what I need removed. Sometimes i will use the mallet and sometimes I won't. So the next step is actually going to be to put the side of the box into the vice so that is fairly close to flush with the top.

Actually, leave it just a little bit proud and then I also want to make sure the inside the box is facing away from me. That way when I put this board on with the inside the box facing down I have a matching joint. And then i have this piece of scrap cherry just live edge block that I can put out here and it is the same height as my Moxon vice. So when I set something on there it's going to be flat and level. So i can actually bring this over and flush up the front of this until that is flush with the front of the board and the vice. Then I'll put pressure out back here, grab my marking knife and I'm going to mark out here exactly where all these tails are. Now that I have all those marks I can loosen this up, bring it up in the vice, that's about an inch and a half to two inches above the top and then just like at the other side make my mark. Now sometimes I might use a square to make sure that these cuts are vertical, but most of the time I'm just going to use a mirror image on the saw, because as you're cutting down in you can actually see in the saw plate the small reflection, and as I turn it it dips down, so I turn it this way.

It starts to come up higher and I want to make sure that that reflection is perfectly flat with what my eye sees on both sides of the saw. So I use that to draw my vertical cut. Now before I go any farther, I want to make sure that I put this in here, then I X out what I want to remove and not what I want to keep, because I don't know how many times I've accidentally cut out the pins. And I want to stay on the side of line with the X. And in my mind I want to keep that line there, so I don't want to actually touch that line.

So I'm going to be pinching the board with my fingers, letting the saw slide along my thumbnail. Look at the image and make sure it's nice and flat. Check my marking line. Then cut it down to my marking gauge line there, make sure I'm going to my marking gauge there, and continue on. And I'll do all of them on this side of the cut and then I'll turn over and I'll do all of them on the other side of the cut.

So I'll just continue on. So now that I've cut down all of the end I'm actually going to clamp it in the vise. Now I'm going to clamp it this way so that I can chop out either end. And take the saw and just like before I'll start it on that gauge line, make sure that I am straight across. Then I'm going to look at my reflection in the saw and make sure that I'm going straight down. And because this one has stopped and kind of come down at an angle (indistinct) disappears It came off the line a little bit but in the good direction so I'm going to just clean that up with a chisel in a minute.

So let's do that on the other side and then we'll go to the chisel work. Now theoretically, when I put this on here now it should slide perfectly all the way down and it's not. Now two things suddenly become very obvious to me. Number one, I cut on the wrong side of the line here and here. Oops, oh well, I might try and fill those in the future, but I need to do some cleanup. Now looking down in there I can actually see that it is tight in the corners. So I have two choices. Number one I can shape the pins to fit the tails, or number two I can shape the tails to fit the pins.

And in my preference I'm actually going to do a little bit of both. I want to shape the inside joint of each one so the inside of the box, so I want to leave the outside corners as tight as possible. So the tops of the pins I don't want to touch those as much, then the backs of the tails I don't want to touch those as much . So what I want to do is actually come in here with the chisel and I'm going to clean out the bottom backs of the tails just a little bit and then I'm going to clean out the sides of the pins just a little bit, staying away from this top corner. I want to keep the top corner nice and sharp. Now at this point I could drive them down and they're tight, but you can see this one is where I cut on the wrong side of the line. One good reason have a thin kerfed blade, but this corner is actually very very tight back here at the back end and you can see how it's actually kind of spreading the tail.

So what I actually do is clean out the back of this and I'm actually going to work on the pin and not the tail. So anywhere where you see that where it's getting really tight back in there, that's where you probably want to clean out one side or the other. Try and stay away from the outside joints, try and should stay away from the sure faces until the very end. Work it back and forth. Just take it on, test it, take it off, test it, test it Until I get it close to the end.

And there we go. Nice and fairly tight. You can see the spot where I cut on the wrong side of the line. Oh well, that's the way it goes, but yeah you live and learn. Don't expect perfection, but that joint will hold up just as tight as any other. So there you go, dovetails. There's nothing mysterious about them. Just give them a try and have fun and don't worry about perfection. Perfection will come with time and a lot of experience and they will end up looking better and better as do them. If there are gaps and things you can fill them, but why? They look far more handmade, they look more realistic. There's a physical quality to them that is functional and fun when there is a bit of a gap here or there or spacing and have some fun with it. Don't make this a drudgery or a task, make it enjoyable and that's what the shop is all about.

Don't worry about perfection, just worry about having fun and enjoy your dovetails. So I hope you liked this. I'm going to be doing a lot more dovetail videos. I kinda wanted to do this one today particularly to show off that you don't have to make them perfect. This will be just as strong as any other dovetail joint. We'll put a little glue on it and it's going to stay for a lifetime. So I hope you liked that. Don't be perfectionistic, just have fun. If you did like the video please hit like and go ahead and smash that subscribe button. I want to say an incredible thank you to the patrons on Patreon, they're the reason that this channel is still here today.

If you'd like to help out with that you can find out more over here. Also if you liked this video feel free to check out my others, you might find something you like there. Until next time have a wonderful day..

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