Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hand-Cut Dovetails - Pins-First and Tails-First

Between the heat in my shop and needing service on my Mac, these videos have been very delayed.  Sorry!

My bathroom vanity project required 6 drawers so I thought to turn dovetailing them into an independent series of videos (so you don't have to watch the vanity series :)

The first introduction video goes over what I'm trying to show in this series then covers general drawer anatomy and how it affects the layout of your joinery.  No dovetails will be cut or harmed in this video!  That's for the other videos...

There are 5 different ways to dovetail a drawer shown in this series.

The first two methods produce basic dovetails.  The first method shown is pins-first using a Western-style saw, the second method is tails-first using a Japanese Ryoba.  The point of these two videos is to show that regardless which is cut first or which saw style you use, you end up with... dovetails.

Certainly each method has some benefits over the other, but to me, they cancel.  Pick what you like, what you are comfortable with, and have fun with it.  I've never understood the near religious arguments between the two styles or even saw choice; surely the time wasted arguing this in forums or pontificating it in chat rooms could be better spent in your shop building something with either method! :)

So... here's the introduction; no action shots, but the drawer anatomy might be useful.

This next video is the first basic dovetail method based on a pins-first cutting style.  I'm using a Western saw here.

The second basic dovetail method is based on a tails-first cutting style.  I'm using a Japanese Ryoba saw here.

These basic dovetail methods layout the pins and tails equally.  If you want to change their sizes, even gradually, go ahead! I wanted the drawers getting basic dovetails to simply be even plus it makes explaining the method easier.

I am editing the other three videos and will release them as they become ready.  These forthcoming three are not basic dovetails, but more decorative dovetails.  I'll show how to layout Houndstooth dovetails by-eye and an easy procedure for getting them done.  I also show how to make what I call 'signature' dovetails; that is, a dovetail that is loosely based on the idea of a dovetail, but made to be decorative or a 'signature' of your work.  The last method will be a purely off-the-saw dovetail and some tips to get them done fast; they are intended to be fast dovetails with a bit of 'slop' risk; perfect for the back of a stack of 14 drawers you're doing or utility boxes in the shop.

Now, if you don't mind, I need to find a chatroom to pontificate the right way of doing dovetails... :)

Addendum: many people have asked me about the fretsaw I use. Enough, in fact, that it prompted me to make a review of the Knew Concepts fretsaw.


  • neilc said...

    Nice series Paul! What are the dimensions of your drawers? They look to be pretty short on the first two. Not sure if the bottom ones are going deeper into the cabinet or not.


  • HalfInchShy said...

    Thanks, Neil!

    The drawers are pretty wide, nearly 20", but only 12" deep due to clearances for plumbing. The only drawer I could possibly make deeper was the bottom drawer. When I put the vanity in place along with the plumbing changes, I may build that drawer box again to make it deeper or... make a box that goes there behind the drawer as a secret compartment :) Where else could you hide your bowling balls in security?

  • neilc said...

    Well - those shallow drawers give you plenty of space for your bowling shoes and shirts. So I think it only appropriate to give equal space for the balls.


  • Anonymous said...

    great stuff. what kind of coping saw and blade do you use?
    thank you

  • HalfInchShy said...

    Hi, Anonymous :)
    I'm using a Knew Concepts fret saw; fret saws take scroll saw blades and the ones I use are Pégas blades from Switzerland. The link is to Ben's Scroll Saw where I buy mine.
    Knew Concepts makes precision fret saws for jewelers then Lee expanded into making a saw for woodworkers. Mine is the titanium model, but there is a (nearly) equally rigid aluminum model. The link above is to the 5" saw page; the 5" refers to the throat as all the saws take the same length blades. You would want the woodworker models listed at the bottom because they include a pivoting clamp with detents at +/- 45º and 90º whereas the jewelers' do not.
    The specific blade I used in all these videos is a #7 skip tooth. There are smoother cutting blades, but they take forever; I pare a little anyway so I want a fast blade.

  • Vic Hubbard said...

    Excellent series! I'm definitely in the pins first camp. Seems awkward to cut the tails first. I'm holding off on the Japanese saw/Western saw debate until I get my Bad Axe saws. :oD

  • HalfInchShy said...

    Thanks, Vic!

    Two videos in this series show a preference for one or the other based on the special dovetails so you'll see that both have a place.

    Personally, and I didn't want to state this in the main post, my preference is to cut the cake first; gobble it up, then start working on the dovetails. Much better that way.

  • Carl O. said...

    Another excellent series. Thank you.

  • ChrisS said...

    Been a fan of the reviews for a while Paul, but this series is really fantastic. Thanks for helping me get handcut dovetails, and for showing us more than one way to skin a cat.

  • HalfInchShy said...

    Excellent, Chris! ...and thanks for the compliments!