Dovetails – Yea, or Nay?

BF_ExplodedDuring a couple of our “360 with 360” podcast (give them a listen if you’re not yet on board), we’ve discussed how woodworkers in our days enjoy showing off their dovetails. But during the periods, woodworkers did what they could to cover dovetails, or more specifically, end grain.

The block-front chest shown in an exploded view in the opening image, and what we’ll be building in a hands-on class here in the shop next month (there’s still a couple of benches open), is a typical Boston piece as evidenced by the single large dovetail that joins the bottom front piece (primary wood) to the secondary wood that makes up the balance of the case bottom. Plus, the top drawer fits directly under the case top (which is attached with sliding dovetails) and has no additional embellishments such as fans or shells.

Also found on this piece, the blades attach to the case sides with sliding dovetails; you can find this construction technique in use in many areas back then and today. It’s a great technique for strong carcase construction. What is different from period work is that we allow those dovetails to show in projects we build, but on many high-style pieces built in the mid-18th century, the sliding dovetails were covered by thin strips of wood.

To me, this is additional proof that dovetails – sliding or otherwise – are just another method used to join two pieces of wood and should not be celebrated. Cut and fit the joint. Do the work as best you can, but there is no reason to spend time agonizing over the layout to get perfectly sized pins and tails (no dividers allowed).

— Glen D. Huey

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If you’re free during the third week of June and want to build an iconic Boston-designed block-front chest, sign up today. We still have time to get the materials for you if need be.
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One thought on “Dovetails – Yea, or Nay?

  1. Good news for me. I just can’t seem to get the dovetail thing right. I just don’t want to spend my valuable shop time practicing one task. I use a jig and more often than not the joints never show or only show with a drawer open. Now I feel a bit better about not being one of those woodworkers not perfected in the art of dovetailing.
    Thank you!

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