A Simple Dovetailed Tote

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This article is from Issue 88 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Sharpen your machine-dovetailing skills with this handy project.

O ne of the best parts of my job as an employee at the Woodcraft Store in Seattle, Washington is sharing my love of woodworking with beginners. This project is a popular class that covers woodworking machinery and workflow, but the star of the show is the Porter Cable 4212 dovetail jig. Students enjoy learning how to use this jig and are surprised by how quickly they can make one of woodworking’s most mystifying joints. And rather than sending them home with sample joints at the end of the day, graduates leave with this useful tote. Obviously, this carry-all can find all sorts of practical uses, but more importantly, it reminds them of a new-found skill.

But why should beginners have all the fun? More experienced woodworkers looking to hone their skills or use up leftover lumber will find this project easy to build, and quite handy.


Visit our website to watch a short instructional video of Steve building this very tool tote.

Set the Jig

The instructions that come with the jig are easy to follow, but here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Mill your stock, plus two extra boards to set the jig.
  • These boards are used to test setup and fit and for a spacer/backer board that will prevent tearout.
  • Start with the Tails. Select the tail side of the template and the dovetail bit with its corresponding bushing. Mount the spacer board under and perpendicular to the template, registering it on the left-hand stops. Mount a tail board vertically in the front left of the jig, flush with the spacer board, again registering the stop. Set the router’s depth of cut to a hair below the template, and cut the tails.
  • Rout the Pins. Flip the template to “pin mode” and install the straight bit and bushing in your router. Mount an end piece (pin board) vertically. Set the router’s depth of cut as before and rout the pins on your board.
  • Fine-tune the fit. Aim to press-fit the joint about two-thirds of the way by hand and then lightly tap it home with a dead-blow mallet. To tighten the fit, move the template toward yourself, to loosen the fit, move it away.

Tackle the Tote

Cut the grooves and dadoes

At the table saw outfitted with a dado stack, groove the side and end pieces. Then dado the end pieces.

Make and shape the handle

Finish-sand the sides and ends, then dry-fit the tote and cut the divider to fit. Affix the template (below, right) to the workpiece. Now use a 15⁄8" Forstner bit to drill a series of holes for the handle. Bandsaw the top curve and end scallops. Smooth the curve at the belt sander, and the scallops and handle interior at the spindle sander.

Peg the ends

Measure and mark the holes for the pegs in the ends, and drill through the face of the end pieces and into the ends of the divider. Glue and tap dowel stock into the holes, and flush-cut when dry.

Finish up

Use a hand plane to smooth the pegs and dovetails. Knock down sharp edges with sandpaper and apply your finish of choice.


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