1-Dovetail corner1

Dovetails. This symbol of woodworking excellence. What a pain in the butt.

They’re fussy. They require concentration and skill and enormous patience. At least if you want to do them halfway well. I do have students who after trying tail and pain by hand, turn to the router and dovetail jig. I get this. I never had clients who could afford hand cut work. This was out of everyone’s price range. I used sliding dovetails for their pieces instead cut with a router and bit.

But I understand as well the dovetail joint’s virtue in teaching accuracy and slowing down. This helps me at the band saw and the router table. In the end, I advocate my 5 minute dovetail as a means of getting our heads to the bench, slowing down, and training our focus to get tight. Because the work we do at the bench has a tight focus to it.

It depends entirely upon one’s intention while at the bench. If it is to build good work at a pace, then finding methods that work whether by hand or with a machine seems to me a fine choice. Check out the furniture of Greene & Greene and the Hall Brothers building for them. No dovetails used. All finger jointed drawers and cases.

If on the other hand, one’s intention is simply to be at the bench then hand cutting everything makes good sense too. Pace doesn’t matter then.

Simply answer this question: does it feel good to get work completed that you can feel proud of? Then use all the tools in your kit. {Note: I stop short of programming a CNC to cut mine, if I had a CNC.} If product isn’t your goal but process is, then mill your wood by hand too. But always ask yourself before you dive in: What do I want from this project?

If it’s a gift, get ‘er done. If it’s a gift for you, take your time and enjoy the ride. Either way you’re at the bench and that’s a good thing.

Dovetail chest Matthew DMP #12 013

Distance Mastery Student Matthew Kanomata’s Dovetail Chest







This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Dovetails

  1. Joe says:

    About 5 years ago, I was planning for where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do when in my mid 50s. I had liked my current job but thought it might be fun to finish out my career doing something different for the last 5 years. I looked at teaching at woodworking for the past 5 years as viable alternates. I enjoy both very much but have decided I didn’t want to pursue them as a full time career.

    In some respects that is a good thing for the woodworking. I simply don’t care how long something takes and I am never worried about making a profit or living from it. I have plenty of my projects for my home and gifts. As such, dovetails don’t scare me. It’s just something I need to practice. I’ve found a local person who does professional woodworking. I will spend the money to take some private lessons on dovetails and other things and just make them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s