Hand Cut Dovetails - Tails

Hand cut dovetails are often a sign of fine woodworking. This article is about how to cut the tails. If you are new to hand cut dovetails I also have an article on dovetail layoutdovetail jigs and cutting pins.

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Begin by laying out your dovetails and cutting the pins as I discussed in earlier articles.  Then take the pins and use them to mark the tails on the other board.

Make sure and mark the inside and outside  of each board, since it will make a difference which way they are facing.

Once your lines are marked carefully cut the lines (making sure to remain on the waste side of the line), then chop out the waste in between. It is helpful to mark the waste on your board so you don't get confused. It's especially important when cutting tails to keep them the right size, since the pins have already been cut, so you can't change the size of the tails without throwing off the pins.

As with pins, make sure and chop with your chisel straight down, then flip the board and do the same on the other side. This gives you clean shoulders on each side. If you don't do this you can end up with tear-out and ruin your beautiful dovetails.

Once the tails are cut, fit them to the pins. You will most likely need to "adjust" the size a bit to get a tight fit. You want the joint to be tight, but not so tight you need to smash it with a mallet. The perfect fit will take a smart tap to get it into place.

Once you have mastered dovetails you can use them in other places. You can use a dovetail as a tenon to attach an apron to a table leg, for instance. In the photos below I roughed out the mortise for the dovetail with my router. Then I laid out the tail and cut along the lines. Since this is, in essence, a half-blind dovetail I cut at an angle. Keeping within the lines on the waste side, as usual. Then I chopped out the waste and fit the tail into the mortise.

Dovetails make a good strong joint and are useful when you know you are going to need a heft join.

Happy woodworking.

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