We don’t often cut dovetails by hand in the WOOD® magazine shop, mainly because of a lack of time. So when it came time to research this article, we turned to a local friend and furniture maker, Jack Settle. From 1978 to 1991, Jack ran a turn-of-the-century "Carpenter’s Shop" at Living History Farms in Des Moines, Iowa and taught thousands of school- age kids how to cut dovetails by hand. According to Jack, learning these time-honored dovetail techniques is simple, and improvement only requires patience and a little practice.
"When making a box, most students’ first dovetail joint is usually pretty rough. The second one gets better, the third is acceptable, and the fourth is downright decent," says Jack.
In most cases, you already own the tools you need to cut dovetails: a marking gauge, carving knife, dovetail saw, coping saw, bevel gauge, square, and a few chisels of various widths. So round up your tools, and let’s get going.
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