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  • Q: What ways are commonly used to make through dovetail joints?

    I have been reading Fine Woodworking off-and-on for a number of years, and this year subscribed. I recently bought a house with garage and was able to purchase a number of used King machines ( table saw, 6" jointer, 15" planer, 14" bandsaw, and drill press) , and have built a few projects using simple joints, but I am frightened at the prospect of tackling dovetail joints. What is the safest (mosts accurate) way to make through dovetails using the machines I presently own, wasting the least wood? I would love to start building I projects that I can be truly proud of. Thank you. I am afraid that I don't have the time to practice hand-cut dovetails.

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    Best Answer

    tkwood2 writes:


    I own an Akeda Jig…made by Kevin who worked for Leigh.  Both are in my area here.

    Although you can create easy dovetails with most jigs, the real fun is cutting and fitting them yourself.

    Take a look at Rob Cosman's site, get one (or more) of his videos, get a good saw and chisel combination, and have at it…make a lot of sawdust; you'll enjoy it.  Isn't that one of the reason you took up woodworking?

    BTW…watch out for the King equipment.  I bought some at KMS and had real grief.

    Have fun.



    2:18 pm March 24, 2011

    All Answers

    dave whittington writes:

    I Earl. I have a great dovetail jig the GIFFKIN. It is made in Australia. It is quick and easy to set up. There is a web site Google Giffkin it should come up. I guess you are in the USA, it would take some time to have it posted to you. If time is a problem. Then I would suggest that you purchase a Liegh jig. A little more complicated to start off using but once you understand it, it is possibly the most versatile.

    I forced myself to learn how to cut dovetails by hand. Did a lot of research on the web. Started of using my old 6'' back saw, then tried a junior hacksaw. After a lot of less that average joints (terrible being a perfectionist), I grew up and purchased a Japanese Back saw. I then had to learn how to use this. once you master the Back saw man can you cut some beautiful joints. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing your first perfect hand cut dovetail joint.

    I trust this will help. Good luck and all the best.

    Dave (South Africa) 

    Earl Vidler writes: Today is the day! I will try to handcut dovetails by the end of it. If they turn out, I will post pictures later.
    Earl Vidler writes: Now I know why an accurate marking guage is critical. I need to track down one. I am also looking for a dovetail saw, as I found that the old backsaw wasn't good enough. My next ones will be in pine also, as the oak was too hard. I am not giving up. The links on YouTube were very encouraging.
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    Earl Vidler writes:

    Thanks to each of you! I appreciate the input, now I need to do some studying.

    I did hear some King horror stories before I bought my tools. The local sellers quit carrying them "because quality started to drop". I hear they may be better now, but actually mine are fairly old.

    Ian Stewart writes:

    Dear Earl,

    Don't be too afraid of doing dovetails by hand.  Dovetail joinery is like any other in this respect that you have to mark accurately and then cut to the line. To get started I suggest that you get dividers, a 6:1 dovetail marker and a small square, with say a 75 mm blade and a Veritas marking gauge (wheel type).  I have used a backed Japanese saw with success.  Try and get one with rip cut teeth. Get the Rob Cosman DVD, that will guide you through the steps.  Practice on scrap wood, say 100 mm wide x 19 mm thick and make 2 or 3 tails in this width.  For your first project make a serving tray with one tail and 2 half pins at each corner.  That way, if the joint is a little loose you can clamp it when gluing it up to close the joint.  Through dovetails need more care than a half-blind dovetail (typically used on drawer fronts) because you can see both sides of the joint. Practice makes perfect.    

    Good luck.                                                                                                         Ian

    Timothy D. Haupt writes:

    Forget all the jigs that have the fingers that you have to follow with a hand held router. Go on ebay and pick yourself up the original Basic Incra Jig. You should be able to pick up one for less than $25.00 which is way cheaper than all these fancy manual jigs these guys are suggesting to you. All these other jigs you have to worry about getting it right the first time. The Incra jig is very accurate and moves in repeatable increments of 1/32". They don't have a demo video on the website for the basic jig but they do have a 3 part video demo of their top of the line LS system which I ended up getting and I relegated the use of my original Jig to the drill press, and any other use that could use a precision fence. But don't just take my word for it, go to the website http://www.incra.com/ and click on the Demos tab tneed    o see how this amazing system works. And like I said above the Original Incra Jig can be had for $25.00 or less or if you want to get a brand new one with instructional video it is only $49.95. Oh, while you are on the website the free downloadable PDF instructions for ALL of the Incra products are there to be had by simply clicking Product Manuals. The Incra System truly is the best, easiest and most accurate way to cut through dovetails as well as box joints double dovetails, and double/double dovetails. Click on INCRA GALLERY the third panel down on the right side ..........they have galleries of pictures of projects their customers have sent in for others to admire and most of them are fantastic. It is sort of a DARE..SEE what I made, see if you can make something better! Have a good time making dovetails my friend, they are easy to make now and not just plain ones I mean real fancy and complex ones!

     Kindest regards,


    Ron Clemens writes:

    Further to Steven's reply, I just finished reading a book called "Classic Joints with Power Tools" by Yeung Chan.  It's not a Taunton publication, but don't worry, Taunton folks: I didn't buy it; just borrowed it from my local library!  In it Chan describes a method for cutting through dovetails on the bandsaw

    To the best of my memory, cutting the tail board involves using a wedge-shaped jig that basically rides against the bandsaw fence to guide the work into the blade at the desired dovetail angle, with a stop to limit the depth of cut.  The pin board can be cut by tilting the bandsaw table to the correct angle, although Chan reports having better results by leaving the table level and using another jig to tilt the work.  A bit of clean-up with a chisel is usually required.  The tail board jig looks easy enough to make, but the pin board jig looks a little more involved in terms of getting it "perfect", so that will account for some time and effort.

    I haven't tried Chan's method simply because I already own a Porter Cable Omnijig, which, by the way, does a great job on through, half-blind (both fixed and variable-spaced) , and sliding tapered dovetails , as well as box joints.  I never would have bought it at the regular retail price, but when it went on sale for less than half that, I couldn't resist.  With the money I saved, I was able to pick up some useful optional accessories.  These also get very pricey when you start adding them up.

    Just to add a plug for Taunton, I also recently finished reading the latest edition of "Taunton's Complete Illustrated Guide to Bandsaws" by Roland Johnson.  It's an excellent book to help woodworkers get the most out of their bandsaws.

    Best of luck and happy woodworking!

    Charles Devine writes:


    Dovetails can be cut by hand, on the table saw, band saw or with a router.  Router jigs are not cheap and most have a learning curve that to some makes hand cut joints look easy.  If you go this route get a jig that lets you vary the spacing of your dovetails or you’ll get bored with the monotony of your work.  The greatest advantage of the router jigs is that, once you master them, no hand fitting will be required. 

    The table saw can be used with jigs or by simply tilting the blade to cut the tails and angling the miter gauge for the pins.

    The band saw also cuts dovetails well with jigs to set the angles.

    Unlike the router jigs either saw will usually leave you with some chiseling to do to get the fit you want until you master the technique and blade selection.

    The following (and other) authors have written books with more details-

    Mark Duginski

     Yeung Chan

     Gary Rogowski



    Steven Meade writes:

    Earl,  To answer your question, of the tools you listed, your bandsaw is the best tool to use for your dovetails. It will require a jig and you will still have to finish things up with a chisel. Take a look at "Popular Woodworking" shop class series "Cheating at Hand-cut Dovetails" by Glen Huey. It shows you how to use the bandsaw for that exact purpose.

    I know you say you don't have time to practice hand cutting dovetails but, it is not as difficult as you must think, and it is by far the least expensive way to do it. I got a quick lesson from Charles Bender, of the Acanthus Workshop, at a woodworking show and was able to complete a very good joint the first time I tried. There are several people that have published DVD's on the subject including Charles Bender, Rob Cosman and don't forget Frank Klausz. Any of these will get you started in the right direction.

    No matter how you ultimately choose to tackle the project there is a learning curve and set up time for all of them.


    Bill McMullen writes:


    John Bullar has a video on you tube, making hand cut dovetails here is the link


    Spencer Owades writes:

    FWW published an excellent article titled 

    Machine Cut Dovetails 

    The look of hand-cut joints 

    from the tablesaw and bandsaw 

    by Mark Duginske. I built this jig and had great success with it. Just note that if the bevel angle of your table saw is opposite what is pictured then you have to make the jig as a mirror image of what is shown.


    Good luck!

    TK Wood writes:


    I own an Akeda Jig…made by Kevin who worked for Leigh.  Both are in my area here.

    Although you can create easy dovetails with most jigs, the real fun is cutting and fitting them yourself.

    Take a look at Rob Cosman's site, get one (or more) of his videos, get a good saw and chisel combination, and have at it…make a lot of sawdust; you'll enjoy it.  Isn't that one of the reason you took up woodworking?

    BTW…watch out for the King equipment.  I bought some at KMS and had real grief.

    Have fun.



    John Alberti writes:

    I love my leigh 18" dovetail jig. It was easy to learn and I'm still finding new ways to use it. Worth every penny I spent on it. Basic drawers are a piece of cake. My work looks great. when I have time I like to use hand tools but the ease of use and the beauty of the joints is hard to beat.

    Timothy Brennan writes:

    Hi Gina.  I currently own the Rockler 12" dovetail jig and can attest to its worth.  Cuts the tails and the pins at the same time, comes with 3 bits (box joints, too), and is very easy to set up and get going.  And for ~$100, you can't beat it.  If you are planning on doing big boards (>5") get the dust extraction set up and hook it up to a shop vac.  3-pin drawer sides aren't an issue, but you quickly won't be able so see a thing with larger boards.  Good luck and have fun.  It will take some testing, but once your set-up is dialed in, it will stay that way.

    Gina Eide writes:

    Good question Earl. Hopefully others will weigh in soon with their suggestions.

    In this round up article on dovetail joinery, FWW magazine editor Asa Christiana recommends using a commercial dovetail jig with a router. I don't know if you have that equipment... the dovetail jigs can be kind of expensive.

    Mario Rodriguez demonstrates how to use one of these in this free video series on Fine Woodworking: http://www.finewoodworking.com/wall-cabinet/.

    If you're able to... I would definitely give hand-cut dovetails a shot at some point. One of my first projects was a Shaker style stool with hand cut dovetails as part of a class. It was very satisfying. But I guess it depends your goals in woodworking... is it to churn out furniture or to get enjoyment/satisfaction from the process.

    But you're right, hand cut is time consuming, we spent many hours just practicing before we actually started cutting real parts.

    Here's more on practicing your dovetails: http://www.startwoodworking.com/post/practice-your-dovetail-joints

    Earl Vidler writes:

    Hi Gina, I would like to get to that point (hand cut dovetails) in the future, but I am not ready yet. Has Fine Woodworking ever evaluated the dovetail jigs as there are a number of them advertised? I do have a 2 hp plunge router, and would enjoy seeing FW's picks for a Value jig. Thanks, Earl