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Dovetailed Hardware Organizer - Part I
Tools and Materials
Every woodworker I know has an abundant supply of scraps. Little slivers of maple, cherry, pine, and other woods are easy to toss into the fireplace but I—like many of my colleagues—have developed a compulsion to save everything. Truth-be-told, that compulsion comes in handy from time-to-time.
I recently realized I needed to consolidate all of my various brass and steel screws into one container—rather than have them living in various containers spread out across my shop, where I’m never able to find them. Sure, I could have headed over to the hardware store and purchased a cheap plastic box with dividers in it, but my growing supply of scraps, coupled with the need to practice cutting micro-sized dovetails, drove me to build my own little organizer.
Did you get that? A small project like this not only gives a craftsman something to do with his/her scraps, it also offers them an opportunity to practice their joinery—in my case, I thought I’d try my hand at some pint-sized dovetails, as I haven’t cut anything to this scale in quite some time. And if this practice round of joinery comes out less-than-stellar--who cares? It's a shop accessory, not a piece of high-end furniture. Here are the step-by-step instructions for my hardware organizer.
How to Make
Scribe Your Boards and Mark Your Tails
Mill Up Some Scraps: I had a whole trove of maple offcuts leftover from when I constructed my latest workbench. I milled them down to 1/4-in. thickness and then jointed an edge and ripped them to final width at the tablesaw. I also milled up some cherry for the bottom and dividers. These pieces of cherry were very pale, and not suitable for a fine piece of furniture, so a shop project was the perfect use for them.
Cut Your Tails
Lay Out Your Dovetails - Scribe the Base Line: To layout my dovetails, I began by setting my marking gauge to the exact thickness of the 1/4-in. maple stock I milled up for the container sides. Then I simply scribed a base line for my dovetails around all four sides of each piece (both ends).
Transfer Your Tail Marks
Lay Out Your Dovetails - Draw the Tails: Next, it’s time to layout the dovetails “tails.” The tails are the pieces that look like the tail feathers of a bird when spread out. I set my bevel gauge to a pleasing angle and then turned my attention to placement. I knew I was going to cut a shallow groove in the box sides to accept a bottom, so I layed out the tails in such a way that the groove for the bottom would go through a tail. The tail will now serve to hide the groove once the sides are glued up. Three tails are plenty for this piece. By the way, you only need to layout the tails on one face of one board—more on that later.
Cut Your Pins
Lay Out Your Dovetails - Transfer the Tail Marks: With the two sides held together at my bench vise, I used a small square to transfer the tail lines from the face of the board across the end grain of both boards at once.
The "Bottom" Line
Saw the Tails - Thumb Placement: I like to set my thumb just beside my layout line. Then I bring the saw up next to my thumb to begin the cut.
Saw the Tails: Now, with both boards held together firmly by the bench vise, I can make cuts in both boards at once. This is a very efficient approach I learned from Shaker furniture pro Christian Becksvoort. Here’s another tip—angle the boards slightly so that your saw is cutting on the level. It’s easier to control that way. Just make sure you stop sawing once your reach your base line. Be careful, it shouldn’t take too many strokes with the saw.
Chop Out the Tail Waste - Clamping: Now clamp the boards down to your bench with a step in between. This way, you’ll be able to work on the ends of two boards at once. Notice how I but a backer board beneath the workpieces? I don’t want to ding up by workbench surface with chisels if I can avoid it. Begin by placing your chisel into the scribe line, then give it a good wack or two with your mallet.
Chop Out the Tail Waste: Now register the chisel in the end grain and give it a tap in to release the first chip. Repeat this process. Once you're all the way through, don't forget to clean out all your corners. Those corners need to crisp and clean for the joint to seat properly later on. Also, don't forget to cut away those half-pin sockets on either end of each tail board.
Mark Your Pieces: Since each corner on a hand-cut dovetail joint is a custom fit, you'll need to mark each corner and make sure you assemble in the proper orientation while test-fitting and assembly later on. In this photo, I'm marking the two pieces that come together to make one corner with a capital "A." Subsequent joints will be marked with a "B," "C," and "D."
Use a Shim to Transfer Your Marks: Now it's time to transfer those tails to the end grain of your pin board. To do this, I clamp the pin board, end grain up, into my bench vise, flush with the side of my handplane as seen in this photo. Then I simply slide the handplane back a bit and clamp the board into place. Some folks don't go through the hassle of clamping and just use one hand to hold the board in place while the other hand does the marking. Whatever "floats your boat."
Transfer the Tail Locations: Now use a sharp knife to transfer the tail loactions onto the end grain of the pind boards. Remember to maintain the proper orientation using the marks you made earlier at each corner.
Tranfer the End Grain Marks: Now use a small square to drop a line down from each layout line on the end grain, down along the face grain until you reach your scribe line. Notice how I also filled in my scribe lines on the end grain with pencil. I'm able to see the leaded line much better while sawing.
Saw the Pin Board - Step 1: Here's a great trick. When sawing a pin board like this, start the saw at about a 45-degree angle to the board and cut down until you reach the scribe line. It's a lot easier to make a rip cut in this manner, as opposed to cutting flat on the end grain of the board. You get much better control.
Saw the Pin Board - Step 2: Once you reach the scribe line, level your saw out and once again, cut down to the scribe line. You're now cutting the material you didn't reach in the previous step.
Chop Out the Waste: Use the same techniques we discussed earlier with the tail board, to remove the waste here on the pin board.
Cut a Bottom Groove: Next, you'll need to cut a groove for your drawer bottom. You want to do this AFTER you've milled your drawer or tray bottom stock to final thickness. It's a lot easier to custom fit the width of a groove to a certain thickness of wood than it is to attempt to mill a piece down to the proper thickness for a specific groove.
The Final Word: Notice how my drawer groove is visible? That's OK. This is a project for my shop and I wasn't concerned with seeing that little detail. Yes, I could have made a stopped groove, but for a project like this, it's OK to take a shortcut or two. All in all, I'm rather pleased with these tiny dovetails. A few gaps here and there, but not too shabby for a guy normally accustomed to cutting this joinery in much thicker stock.