Yes, the hand cut dovetail joint is still alive and well. Oh sure — in today’s world of power tools and gadgets, many woodworkers and production shops use jigs combined with routers, bandsaws, tablesaws, or purpose-built dovetailing machines to enable quick and repeatable results. But there remain very good reasons to cut dovetails by hand and many advocates who continue to practice this traditional skill.

No matter what your experience level (whether you’ve tried making dovetails by hand in the past or you are interested in learning something new) there are secrets to getting easier and better results. In this complete two part tutorial, I introduce to you Cabinetmaker Craig Vandall Stevens’s systematic approach. In this “Part One” video, Craig masterfully reveals his logical and precise steps to cutting elegant dovetail pins, quickly and efficiently. You’ll learn how to layout the pins using a marking gauge and bevel jig; saw cut to the lines; and cleanly chop out the waste with a chisel — all with minimal risk and trouble. Master the handmade dovetail. (9.5 Minute Woodworking Video – Part 1 of 2)

For part two in this dovetailing series go to: How to Hand Cut Precision Dovetails: The Tails (Part 2 of 2)

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Comments

I’d glad I watched this after the other one Craig did about cutting with a saw. I realized I should be flipping over the piece and I was probably hitting with the chisel too hard (probably because I wasn’t flipping the piece over).

Thanks for the great video and Craig does an incredible job explaining what he is doing while he does it and _why_.


Mark MacMullen

It’s ALWAYS nice to sit at the feet of a master and learn from watching and listening. Old School. Thanks.


Very interesting technique for removing the waste. I’ve not seen this before. Very clearly explained. I was taught (old school) to mark the depth of the waste both sides and use a coping or jewellers saw to remove the bulk of the waste and then pare by sight to the lines. It would be interesting to try both methods to see which is faster and more accurate. It may depend on the size of the pin waste. Thanks again to Craig and Keith.

Keith’s Note: Mark, it would be interesting to hear your feedback after experimenting a bit with this method.


boris fernandez

Great website, thanks. I am a starting woodworker. Thanks again.


I’m a huge fan of Krenov and what his students have been putting out from the schools. But on the subject of dovetails, in one of Krenov’s books, he explains how he scoops his pins and “carves” his tails to fit the slightly scooped pins. Either this was left out of the video or Craig just does not do that. Just wondering?

Keith’s Note: I forwarded your comment off to Craig, so let’s see what he says.


Stephen

Are there many types of dovetails or just one style. Thank you.

Keith’s Note: Well in a sense there is really one general principle for how dovetails are designed. But there are many variations on the theme.


Ron

Just a follow-up to my compliments given on another CVS dovetail Tips video.
I have started to use his method on my own dovetails. When I was chopping away the waste area on the pins, my clamped block moved back before I knew it… ouch. I think CVS mentioned how to recover if that happens. But if you have already cut too far back behind the marking gauge line , you can’t recover easily. So make sure your clamping block is *firmly* clamped over the work piece and watch for signs of movement. I will start using a narrower chisel so I won’t have to strike the hammer very hard. This will make it less likely for the clamping block to move. I’ll keep working on my dovetails and report back of successes or failures. I’m still hopeful that I can make superior dovetails using these videos…


I tried this method and I like it verses using a fret saw to cut out the waste. Thanks for the video’s on dovetail methods.


Correcting my website


Graham

Great Videos and a great idea. I would be interested to know what equipment you use.


JE

I have a problem with tear out on the pins. I finish cutting, test fit, and it looks great from the outside, but it looks like a beaver made his mark on the inside. Could the problem be cheap/dull chisels? Thanks!

Keith’s Note: Well of course, a dull chisel will make a mess of things. So start there. Also make sure that you make chisel cuts from both sides of the piece, in such a way that you work towards the middle of the material, as Craig demonstrates.


Nige

My old flatpack chest of draws is on it’s last legs, I’ve always wanted to design and make me own but never seem to have the time. Your video’s on dovetails has given me the push I need to start scetching up some ideas. Thanks.


JE

I got a new set of chisels and cut on both sides and I still get tear out. I am going crazy!!

Keith’s Note: It’s hard to say what might be happening. The first thought, which you may already have addressed is to make sure your chisels are sharp. Even new chisels need to be sharpened – especially new chisels. Beyond that you might consider the wood species. If you use a very soft wood, such as pine, you may get more tear out than if using a wood like mahogany. And lastly, just be patient and keep practicing. You will get better. That I know.


Hi Guys,

(I) really love the quality of your presentation/work. My methods are completely different but I really enjoyed watching another craftsman at work producing excellent results.

Cheers

Alan


Jon

I got tear-out using razor sharp chisels cutting red oak. My solution was to take less aggressive cuts on the second side. Easy does it. I would love to see Mr. Stevens do a blind dovetail.


Doug Connery

Hi
I really enjoy your videos. Both content and quality of filming are top notch.My favorites are one dealing with our raw material. More videos on trips to any hardwood mills would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks
Doug Connery


Don

I noticed on a number of these “how-to” dovetail videos (or any drawer joinery videos for that matter) there is no mention of how to hide the drawer base dado from showing at the ends. I’ve seen many boxes and drawers where the dado was filled in. Obviously these were made on a table saw. It should be noted that a router or other hand work must be used to make the dado.

Keith’s Note: If you cut a half-blind dovetail and you strategically layout the tails and pins, it’s possible to very nicely hide the dado from view at the front corners of the drawer. A french bottom is another nice way of building a very high-end drawer where the dado is hidden from view. This too requires a half-blind dovetail. Of course, this video does not demonstrate these techniques. Oh, I guess I’ve got another video to add to my list of must-do videos :-)


Please use a coping saw to remove wood to within 1mm of the cut line Craig.


Hi Keith, I am about to start my project this weekend using dovetails. After looking at the video, I may just put a stop block at the back of the piece that will stop the movement, I hope!!. The other video about the carpenters bench was a gem when (I was) working with long boards – easy when you see it! Safe travels sport.


jack bucchare

good stuff, looking forward to part 2


John Townsend

Wouldn’t it be simpler to cut a lot of the waste between the pins by using a coping saw? It seems to me you could saw out and leave 1/8″ on the marking gauge line then finish up with the chisel.

Keith’s Note: You could certainly due that. That would be another approach and would alter the concept discussed here.


Thanks for the video. I’ve been doing this for awhile now, but I still struggle with dovetails.


Chas

After an unpleasant and unrewarding attempt at making dovetails with a jig, I bought the hand tools to do it by hand. I’m at the point where the joints I make are functional(barely) but ugly. Your two videos addressed three of the problems that have plagued me. Thanks


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