Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dovetail Tutorial / Slanted Dovetail Box #2

     The second slanted dovetail box is made of Zebrawood and Walnut.  The length of the tails adds some difficulty to it but I think the final result is well worth the effort.  I can only echo what I said in an earlier post -- smaller does not equal easier!  This seems like a good time to do a tutorial on making dovetails.  There are many ways to do them and like most other woodworkers I've come up with a system that works well for me.  My preference is to cut tails first.

Stanley #140 Trick on Table Saw, not OSHA approved
     Stanley made a skewed plane that could be used to cut a rabbet of sorts on the end of your drawer or box sides.  The purpose of this trick is to create a shoulder that will sit against the front piece and give a clean intersection inside of the box or drawer.  A set of skewed planes was used and Lie-Nielsen makes their quality pair but they are pricey.  This way works too, keep in mind that tails wouldn't be this long in a typical drawer, you'd have 3/4" of blade showing at most.  I suppose you could use a tenoning jig for this as well but this way works, just be careful. Keep a firm grip on the wood and around your rip fence.
     After this step is complete it's time to lay out and cut the tails.

Cutting the Tails

          I generally cut both sides of the tail boards at one time, before transferring the tails to the pin board you should check them for square:

Checking Tails for Square
     If the sides aren't square you'll have a real hard time fitting them into the pin board.  In case you're wondering what the green tape is for I found it pretty confusing keeping track of which end is up so this was just a way to mark them.  After these edges are square it's time to remove the waste between the tails.

Removing Waste
     A small section is removed right on the scribed line to give the chisel back a flat surface.  I'll generally enlarge that until I'm half way through.  There's really no reason to remove all of the waste to the end of the board.  By leaving it, there is more support and less risk of a ragged cut when the tail board is flipped over to remove all of the waste.
     Now it's time to transfer the tails to the pin board.  To hold the beveled sides for this box it's necessary to either use the cut offs or make an angled jig like the one shown here:

Jig to Secure End Pieces
     Transferring is done with a marking knife and due to the length of these (1 1/2") I make about 2 additional cuts in the waste area to make removing it a bit easier.  In the above picture the pin board is almost complete but the jig is also used for the initial steps of chopping out the waste.  Notice the additional cuts made in the waste area.

Holding Jig

Holding Jig

     A complication with this box design is keeping everything square during glue up.  The small size makes it tricky to check for 90 degrees because the clamps take up a bit of room.  If the box wiggles when it's on a flat surface here's an easy method to make it sit flat.  I'm using decorative screw hole buttons for feet, these are glued on into 1/2" holes.

Decorative Screw Hole Feet
     Next you clamp a piece of 100 grit paper to a flat surface, I'm using the tablesaw and by putting weight on one end of the box and rubbing it back and forth on the sandpaper it's a quick process to remove any slight wiggling:

Taking Care of the Wiggle

     This box has just been oiled so it's on to the next one.  I'm planning 2 more of the Slanted Dovetail boxes as well as 2 more of the Urban Ranch design.  I have a beautiful piece of curly Maple that I want to showcase for some other boxes, right now I'm leaning towards a sliding top design similar to the style of boxes the Shakers made to hold candles.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Jay, since the shop is heating up I have to be careful not to sweat on the tails -- the moisture makes them swell up and hard to fit, just kidding!