Dovetails and Miters

I’ve been working on a small, double-slide-lid box for a new online course. Joinery at all four corners is dovetails, but two of those corners show a miter at the top. Those corners have both dovetails and miters.

Laying out the joints is not too different from laying out any set of pins and tails. One difference is determining what layout lines to cut and what layout lines need to be left alone (something I’ll cover in detail in the course). It takes time to wrap your head around if you only make these joints occasionally. Another difference is that you cannot transfer all your pins to your tailboard only reaching through from the front face of the joint. One of the lines is located behind your miter.

Two Traditional Techniques

Throughout the years I’ve watched woodworkers who saw the mitered corner after assembling the joint – of course, they trim excess waste from each miter before fitting the dovetails. The sawing process allows them to sneak up on the perfect fit. (This is the technique used in the 360Woodworking article “Framed for Figure.” If you’re a member, check it out.)

Others I’ve seen pare the miter to an exact 45° angle before fitting the pins and tails. And if the joint’s fit is as it should be, the dovetails and miters meet up with no gaps to be seen.

You may think of me as a “belt and suspenders” woodworker, but I find it best to employ both techniques. I believe that paring your miters to 45° helps dial-in the best fit, and a simple slice using your saw tweaks the joint to perfection. Thoughts?

— Glen D. Huey


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