Making Hand-Cut Half-Blind Dovetails

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Making Hand-Cut Half-Blind Dovetails

Half-blind dovetails are commonly used for building drawers. The joint shows from only the drawer side, where it is lapped into the drawer face.

The joint requires two different gauge lines on the drawer face because it doesn’t come through. One line marks out the thickness of the tail stock as usual. Gauge a line on the inside of the drawer face at just less than the thickness of the drawer side. The other gauge line marks out the depth of the lap. Put it in on the drawer face end at about three-quarters of its full thick ness (A). 

Use this last gauge setting to mark out the tail boards across their faces and edges (BI. Lay out and mark the tails onto the drawer sides. Set a sliding bevel for the angle, between 1:5 and 1:8 is common. The size-of the tails is generally two to three times the size of the pins, but above all be sure to make the pin size convenient for chopping out (C).

Cut the tails with the board held perfectly vertical in the vise. Angle the saw to make the tail cuts straight across the board. Practice will improve your ability to make these cuts accurately (Dl. Use a chisel to chop out on the gauge lines. Make the first passes fairly light, because the chisel acts as a wedge and can move off the line if you’re too heavy with the hammer blow. Clean up the waste with some cuts made straight into the board (E). 

Make sure the corners of the tails are clean and that the area across the pin sockets are all flat. You can undercut this area a little to help with the fitting. 

Making Hand-Cut Half-Blind Dovetails

This article is excerpted from The Complete Illustrated Guide To Joinery by Gary Rogowski. Text © 2002 by Gary Rogowski. Illustrations © 2002 by The Taunton Press, Inc.

Clamp the drawer face in the vise. Set the tail board or drawer side onto it and use a hand plane on edge to support the other end of the tailboard. By raising both boards up, you can more easily line up their edges with a flat piece of scrap. Line up the end of the drawer side with the gauge line on the end of the drawer face. Use a knife to mark out the tails on the end of the pin board while holding the tail board down tightly (F). No matter how the tails came out, their shape is now transferred to the matching board.

Reverse the pin board in the vise. Cut the pins holding the saw at an angle. Cut down to both of the gauge lines and no farther (G).

Then clean up the cuts with a chisel. Make the first chopping cut very light; then clean up the waste by holding the chisel bevel side down (H}. Continue removing the waste from both directions until you’re down to the gauge lines. Make these surfaces slightly undercut to create a good looking joint (I).

Fit the joint one tail at a time and don force the work. Always look for the shiny spots that indicate where a joint is rubbing. Pare these spots first. Work from one end of a board to the other when adjusting the fit (J).

This article is excerpted from The Complete Illustrated Guide To Joinery by Gary Rogowski. Text © 2002 by Gary Rogowski Illustrations © 2002 by The Taunton Press, Inc.

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