Thursday, June 25, 2009

Handcut Dovetails Video

To view larger and in high definition, click here.

This is not the most expeditious way to cut dovetails and it's just one of several ways to make them. The video has been sped up; it actually takes me about 20 minutes to do what the video shows in 6 minutes 11 seconds.

You can quicken the process by not using a guide block, and you might be faster at chopping out all the waste with a chisel rather than removing the majority with a fret saw. A marking knife is great for transferring layout lines, but I use a pencil that's been bevel-edged on a sheet of sandpaper.

The double-folded piece of paper in the beginning of the video is used to offset the marking gauge about 1/64" so the pins and tails protrude a bit when conjoined. This provides some wood to shave off with a handplane so the mating surfaces can be made flush.

In my opinion, it's faster to cut tails first because you can saw both tail boards at the same time, plus transferring layout lines to the pin board is easier. But if you plan to make skinny, English-style pins, I suggest cutting pins first. It's nearly impossible to transfer the lines of thin dovetails if you cut tails first.

Always saw with the "show" side facing you. In the video, they are marked "Pins" and "Tails".

If you are careful with laying out, transferring, and cutting to your lines, and sawing perfectly straight, your pieces will go together on the first try.

For a write-up of one way to handcut half-blind dovetails, click here. It explains the use of a wide plane blade to assist in lining up the guide block, and lists the tools I use.

Music: Derek and the Dominoes (Eric Clapton) "Bell Bottom Blues" and the instrumental version performed by Vitamin String Quartet.

I used a 1:8 ratio dovetail marker because I had planned to use cherry. When I used pine instead, I forgot to use my 1:6 ratio marker. 1:6 works best with softer woods.


Ethan said...

Nice music video, VC!

Shannon said...

Great video! I like the guide block idea. I have seen that somewhere before but had forgotten all about it. I like your layout method (or lack thereof)very simple, and not over thought!

Frank V said...


What a great video, Kari. Thank you.

I like how you set the plane iron in the knife line to reference the block. I also like how you don't seem rushed (or at least that's the impression I got taking into consideration the video speed-up allowance.)Everything is crisp, purposful, precise.

I've been following your blog about 6 months now and it just keeps getting better!

Frank V

Sveinn DaĆ°i Einarsson said...

Keep those videos coming, I'm a woodvideos junkie. You might want to consider speaking on the video describing what you are doing.

Thank you, with greetings from Iceland, Svenni.

Frontier Carpenter said...

Great video!

I like the idea of using the plane blade to register your guide block. I will have to try that

Kari Hultman said...

Thanks Ethan!

Thanks Shannon! This is the way that David Finck taught me to cut dovetails and he studied under Krenov, so I'm guessing it's his technique as well.

FrankV, I never rush through anything. Maybe that's why it takes me about 3 years to finish a project. :o)

McHanic, I sound like a giant dork on voiceovers. Trust me.

Frontier Carpenter, the blade trick works extremely well.

Anonymous said...

Sooooooooo sweet - thanks!

Larry Marshall said...

Loved the video, Kari. I thought the use of a plane blade to set your stop block to be pure genius. Gotta try that.

I do disagree with your suggestion that leaving the stop block out can make things faster. In my shop that means I get to do them again :-)

Cheers --- Larry

Duane said...

My only question is where can I get that marking gauge?

Kari Hultman said...

Thanks Anon!

Larry, I know what you mean. I'm not willing to take a chance on messing up by not using the guide block.

dpmohne, I made that marking gauge in a class I took with Steve Latta, but you can buy one from Lie-Nielsen. They are found with the inlay tools.

Mitchell said...

I noticed at the beginning of the video, while marking the tails, you quickly became ambidextrous with the pencil eliminating the need for a third joint in your arm. Now that is way cool.

Using the blade for alignment is a sweet trick as well.

The greatest part of the whole thing, however, is the fact that you took the time and made the effort to share your knowledge with us. Now that is huge. That said, let me push my luck and ask if it is possible for a similar creation showing how to cut blind dovetails?

So when are all these videos going to be offered on DVD in a "Kari Original" carved case?



Al Navas said...


Thanks for this wonderful window into your hand cut dovetail technique! I loved it!!!

------ Al

Corey said...

Kari, these are really enjoyable videos! Keep them coming. I promise, I'll reciprocate and get a shop video on Youtube soon.


Kari Hultman said...

Mitchell, I normally would walk around the piece to mark in the other direction but I knew that wouldn't look good on video so I made myself ambidextrous just for that shot. I can do another one with half blind, but it would be really similar, so it might be kind of boring. Maybe I'll jazz it up by having my dog handle all the chiseling or something.

Thanks Al!

Corey, please do put a workshop tour on youtube--I love to see other woodworkers' shops!

Teresa Jones said...

Just catching up and boy did I miss a lot. Great videos, Kari! I enjoyed both of them.

When is the VC Woodworking School opening its doors?


Anonymous said...

I think your on a roll! When should we expect live shop video? Ha. Anyway, I was wondering what brand of fret saw you have. I've been looking online for one and am only finding junk. I'm not sure if anyone makes a quality one anymore. As always, thanks for the lesson. :)


P.S. I would like to put in an early video request for building a hand plane. Anyone second that?

Kari Hultman said...

Thanks, Teresa!

Dean, I use a cheapie fret saw whose handle always wants to fall off. That's why I have to hook my finger over the frame when I use it. I'm not sure where to get a nice one. A friend found a super nice antique fret saw but I've never seen one at dealer shows.

John said...

Good job. First I liked the brave use of a pencil. I think personally the whole marking knife thing is overblown. I think the ancients just didn't have pencils. Also, with all the talk about sawing waste my thought is that the saw is immaterial if you still have to chop with a chisle. Well done.

Dan said...

Kari, very cool video - thanks! And did I just see you cross-cut the waste from the outside tails with your rip dovetail saw? I do that too - I know it's not "correct", but what the heck it works fine! Of course maybe your dovetail saw is filed cross-cut, in which case I'm just an idiot, doing something very, very wrong on my own...

Kari Hultman said...

Thanks, John. If you put a bevel edge on a pencil, you can make a very fine line that is easier to see than that made by a marking knife (unless you're working with dark wood). But a marking knife can reach places where a pencil cannot, so I can see where one would come in handy. I might pick one up at the WIA in August.

Dan, you did see me use a rip/dovetail saw on a crosscut. Shhhhh

archiphile said...

nice work Kari

The Dovetail Kid said...

Hi Kari,

Nice work with the video, those dovetails look really tight and that's not an easy thing to achieve with a soft wood like pine.

Nice trick with the plane iron, I'll try that next time!

I didn't quite follow you when you said that it's easier to cut the pins first when you aim for thin English style pins.

Actually I fell exactly the other way around. When aiming for thin pins you only have one shot when cutting the tails. Since the space between them is so small there's not chance for adjustments there.

I cut the tails first and then transfer the lines to the pin board with a thin knife (Blue Spruce Toolworks).

Since you have more space between the pins it is easier if you need to adjust the width.

Juts my $.02....

Take care and keep up the nice work.


Kari Hultman said...

Thanks for the comment, Luis! I'm all for people doing things the way that works best for them and I appreciate other view points.

I meant that if you want to cut really thin pins and if you cut the tails first, it can be really difficult to transfer the lines to the pin board. If you have a skinny knife like Blue Spruce you can do it, but I still think it's difficult, because it's so hard to see what you're doing.

If you cut your skinny pins first, you have lots of room to see where to transfer your lines to the tail board. And if you mark your lines carefully and cut right up to them, you shouldn't need to make adjustment (or, very few).

I wholeheartedly encourage people to try it both ways and see which they prefer. :o)

Chris F said...

You can get decent fret saws at Tools For Working Wood and Lee Valley.

I'm told that the Grammercy Bow Saw (also from TFWW) is excellent for cutting the base of larger dovetails when used with the finest blade. The added length is supposed to make it much more efficient.

Anonymous said...

Hello Kari,
I just got a new iron for my plane and asked the folks on Knots at FWW what to do with the old one. Someone answered with the link to your video. WOW, very cool. There's nothing like watching beautiful hands do beautiful work. :)
I now have a use for the old plane iron.
Thanks for you effort.

All the best,
Tom G.
Bailey, NC

Kari Hultman said...

Thanks for saying, Tom!

Unknown said...

Great video Kari. Now I feel more confident to go hand cut dovetails.

Also, I'm a big Clapton fan so thanks for the music as well.

Virginia Woodworker

upriver said...

Fantastic video, but it leaves me wondering: How do you determine the width of each tail? Did you use dividers in advance to space them? Do you actually just wing it as the video makes it appear?


Kari Hultman said...

Larry, thanks. :o)

Upriver, I first mark the dovetails with a ruler so they're equally spaced. I had tick marks on the end grain before I started recording the video. There's no way they'd look that good if just winged it. ; )