How to Cut the Dovetails

In this lesson, I will show you how to cut the tails on a dovetail joint detailing everything from how to wield the saw, all the way through to chiselling the baselines.

This lessons objectives:

  • The most important part of dovetailing
  • How to precisely saw a dovetail
  • How to accurately chisel the baseline
  • How to achieve a perfect fit

Now that you have some crisp and accurate marking out lines to follow, it's now time to begin cutting them out. This is where things can begin going wrong so it's really important to get some sawing practice completed beforehand. Make sure that you can consistently cut a square line across the endgrain of a piece of timber before working on the actual piece.

By the end of this lesson, you will have all four tail components cut out and ready to transfer onto the pin boards in the upcoming lessons.

When I first started woodworking in 2012, we were given a Gents Saw at Rycotewood to saw the dovetails. While I didn't mind the ergonomics of the tool, the width of the kerf and the raggedness of the cut were disgusting! I really struggled to get the cut started and also achieve a clean finish.

As a result, I upgraded to the Veritas Dovetail Saw which saw me all the way through to 2019 (pardon the pun) and is what I now recommend to beginners. There are 2 version available; the 14tpi standard tooth or the 20tpi fine tooth. I would advise you to get the standard 14tpi saw as the 20tpi tends to clog up when cutting thicker material.

The Veritas 14tpi Dovetail Saw

Another option for a dovetail saw is a Japanese Saw. These cut on the pull stroke and are often easier for beginners to use. If you live near a woodworking tool store, I would implore you to go and try both options before committing to one. 

The Katz-Moses Dovetail Guide

If you are looking for instant, accurate and clean results when dovetailing, look no further than a Katz-Moses Dovetail Guide. This little tool helps keep your cuts square and at the correct angle by guiding your saw through the cut.

It features 2 magnets that are magnetised to the side of the saw and can work on both sides of the tails simply by rotating it 180 degrees. In addition, you can also cut the pins with this guide, as well as the 90 degree shoulders!

Many people hold back when purchasing one of these as they have been convinced by other woodworkers that they are ‘cheating'. Last time I checked, woodworking is not a competition. You are perfectly justified in wanting instant and more importantly good results on timber that you have purchased!

Don't be put off by people who try to steer you away from this tool. Despite being able to cut dovetails freehand, I often reach for my Katz-Moses guide when I just want to get the job done. As a result, much of my workshop furniture is dovetailed together simply because it's so easy to do!

I find that this guide works best with the Gyokucho 372 Dozuki saw as it can cut slightly deeper than a standard Japanese Saw. This allows you to cut deeper into the material while using the guide.

Supporting Material

Click the images below to see supporting material helping you with this part of the project.

How To Saw Correctly

Learn the fundamental techniques when it comes to hand sawing as well as learn some of the common mistakes beginners make when using a saw for fine joinery.

5 Tips to INSTANTLY Improve Your Dovetails

If you're looking for some extra little tips to help you with your dovetailing, there are some great pointers in this video that will help you to improve everything from your marking out to sawing to chiselling.

How To Use a Chisel Correctly

This is another one of those topics that people feel there isn't much to learn. However once you break down the process of chiselling into subjects such as viewing angles, power transfer and chisel geometry, you open up a whole new can of worms. This is well worth viewing.

Have you got the plans yet?

Package includes working drawings, a cutting list, and a 3d SketchUp model!

The Student Series

Want to see another beginner make this project before you? It's a great way to scope out any mistakes before you make one yourself!

Should you saw or chisel the angles? – 0:59

Sawing for the first time – 1:55

Sawing an angle accurately – 4:12

Which hand to hold the chisel / How to orient component in the vice – 6:07

Overview – 8:04

Techniques when sawing angles – 12:35

Is using the Katz-Moses guide cheating? – 12:55

The funniest part of the series – 15:10

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