Dovetail ‘Speed Run’ Competition

Reckon you've got what it takes to beat my record of 2:54 seconds? Take a look at the rules below to find out how you can enter.


Just to get all the boring stuff out the way; firstly, I am not responsble for any damage or injuries caused as a result of you attempting this challenge. Always be careful when handling sharp tools.

Secondly, despite having a panel of judges to pass or void the attempts, we are relying on these being honest submissions where no cheating has taken place. I get it, the prizes are awesome. But keep in mind how guilty you'll feel using tools that you didn't deservedly win. May the best craftsperson win.


Anyone worldwide is able to enter! Just make sure you follow the rules below and are prepared to be harshly critiqued on your work. Disputes are welcome, however the judges word will be final. All we ask is that you be friendly and courteous should you have an issue with the result. We're all friends here.


If you are the first person to beat the record and get approved by all judges, these are the prizes you will win.

Rob Cosman Dovetail Saw

Yes, you will win the very saw I used in my record attempt! If you'd like to know more about it, visit Robs store, or look at my review.

Matt Estlea Titanium Marking Knife

Yes, you read that right, Titanium. More specifically, a heat blued Titanium ferrule with a Boxwood handle. (I forgot to take a decent photo of it. Will update later!)

The Rules

Section 1: The Setup

1.1. Camera Framing

Firstly, your attempt must be filmed with a timer clearly in shot. Handheld stopwatches are not allowed as the display is too difficult to see from a distance. I would recommend using a laptop, phone or tablet with a timer app, or using an online timer such as what I did. Just make sure we can clearly see the time climbing!

1.2. Camera Quality

Your attempt must be shot in at least Full HD (1080p). Submissions in HD (720p) or less will not be allowed. This is because the pixelated image can aid in disguising gaps and inconsistences in the joint. Don't worry, most mobile phones are able to shoot at this quality nowadays.

1.3. You must always be in shot

Don't worry, you can cut your head and body out of shot if you'd prefer. But your arms, hands and joint must be in shot at all times.

1.4. The timer stops when Assembled

As soon as you assemble the joint, stop the timer. At this point, you are only allowed to use a plane to complete the final cleanup. That means no filler, glue, wedges or dust etc. Just don't take forever to do it! A minute or so max should do the job.

Hot tip, when using an online timer, pressing the spacebar is usually the quickest and easiest way to stop the timer.

1.5. No Camera Cuts

There must be no camera cuts between assembling the joint and showing it to the camera. Watch my unedited example below if you want to see what I mean. If you'd like to do further planing, thats fine. But again, don't cut the camera!

Section 2: Preparation

2.1. Use any wood

To avoid people being financially or geographically restricted with timber selection, feel free to use whatever wood you like for this challenge. That includes hardwoods and softwoods. Manmade boards do not count.

2.2. Dimensions

Your pieces must be 100mm wide by 15mm thick. If you prefer using imperial (ew), this is 4 inches wide by 5/8 inches thick. The length is up to you.

2.3 Layout

Your joint must include 3 dovetails that are spaced no more than 10mm from the edges of the board. I personally used the spacing pictured right.

Section 3: Attempts

3.1. The Joint must be hand cut

This means no bandsaws or router jigs etc. The entire process must be completed ‘unplugged'

3.2. Pre-set tools

Feel free to pre-set your measuring and marking equipment such as story sticks, dividers, marking gauges and alignment boards before starting the timer.

3.3. Use of Jigs

I'm looking forward to seeing what creativity blossoms from this rule: Feel free to use any jig you deem necessary to get the job completed. If you want to make my modified story stick, go ahead. (Damn, I wish I did make that jig now)

3.4. Keep it in shot!

Do not stop the camera or move the piece out of frame until you have shown it to the camera close up. We need to see the tails, the pins, and the shoulders on all three faces. No camera or editing trickery please!

Section 4: The Result

4.1. Cabinet Grade Dovetails

This means that gaps can be no larger than 0.5mm. An easy way to test this is by using a 6 inch rulers as a feeler gauge. I had at least 5 attempts that I thought were passable, but were voided using this quality checker.

4.2. That means no breakout or splits either!

There most be no breakout or splits visible on any of the faces. Otherwise you could crudely cut some dovetails in the softest wood you can find, mash it together, and claim there are no gaps. Which is true, but it'll also likely be riddled with splits and breakout. Cabinet grade, people! Cabinet grade…

4.3. Further Assessment

As you'll see from my attempt, gaps are visible, however would be easily close up when glue is applied and when planed flush. This is the reason for the tolerences of 0.5mm or less. Because anything larger than that often requires additional repairs such as dust and glue, or even veneer shims.

If you want to see examples of what is not passable, take a look at my failed attempts on my video summary page. Some were frustratingly close, but still did not hit the criteria.


Step 1: Post the video on YouTube

Your attempt must be uploaded to YouTube to make the judging process easier. It's up to you if you make the video public or unlisted.

The video must be titled ‘Dovetail Speed Run Attempt' with a link to this competition page in the description below.

Step 2: Get in contact

Drop me a message using this contact form with a link to your YouTube video. (If it's ‘Private' we will be unable to watch it. So please make sure it's either ‘Public' or Unlisted')

Step 3: Wait for Judging

When judging is completed, you will recieve a comment from ‘Matt Estlea' on your video with a summary of the judges scores (Pass or Fail)

I will be one of the judges, the other will remain anonymous unless they'd prefer otherwise. The outcome will be decided by a vote of majority among the judges.

Submissions Form

If you Fail

Have another go! There's no limit to the amount of times you can enter! But please be sure to only upload one attempt per batch. We will not accept admissions saying ‘Can you tell me which one of these 3 videos passed?'

If you Pass

I'll get in contact with you to arrange delivery of your Dovetail saw and Marking Knife. Anyone worldwide is eligible to win.


I know it looks like a lot of rules, but at the end of the day any honest and fair attempt will naturally hit most of these rules anyway.

The main thing to watch out for are the rules in ‘The Setup' section as these would be the easiest to inadvertently break. Because we really don't want to be voiding genuine entries for such silly reasons!

I wish you the best of luck with the competiton. Once a winner has been announced, we will post their video below.

Update: It happened.

1st Place

Tim Greenfield | 2:50.09

2nd Place

Matt Estlea | 2:54.1

3rd Place

Rob Cosman | 3:40.0

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