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Thread: To hand cut or just jig it?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Oliver Springs, TN

    To hand cut or just jig it?

    Hello all,

    I have come to a point in my woodworking journey were I have decided itís time to try my hand a dove tails. I have been looking at several sights on the net about hand cutting them and have learned a lot. I have also looked at several jigs (leigh, pc, rockler etc.).

    I'm leaning toward learning how to hand cut them. I could however see how a jig would be good for speed if you were making several drawer boxes at once, but I donít foresee that in the near future. Itís also hard to justify the cost of the jigs if I would only use them a couple times a year.

    I guess my question is does anyone have any recommendations for books or videos on hand cutting dove tails? What type of moderately priced dove tail saw would you suggest?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Charlotte, NC
    A book will not really help anywhere near as much as practice. The basic layout is pretty simple and after that it is a matter of sawing to the line and chopping out the tails. If I were you, I'd save the money you'll spend on books and buy a few pieces of oak and start practicing. There is plenty of basic info on dovetails on the internet! Personally I like to know how do thing with hand tools, but I also have a jig. If I had a lot of drawers to do and dovetails were spec'd, I'd use the jig!

    As for saws, this one will get you lots of replies. I have a gents type saw. You'll have a lot of people say the japanese saws are the way to go. It is really a matter of preference. With the western type saws you push the cut and japanese saws pull the cut.

  3. #3
    Alan DuBoff is offline Former Member (by the member's request)
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Last edited by Alan DuBoff; 02-27-2008 at 08:55 AM.

  4. #4
    John I am a huge fan of hand cut dovetails.

    First and foremost, its a hallmark of good workmanship. When someone asks you "are those hand cut dovetails" no matter what you say, or how you say it, if no is in the answer and that you used a jig, they are not as impressed. Myself I find myself constantly checking dovetails for the tell-tale nick of a saw when I am around antiques or any other kind of dovetails. Yeah its a sickness...

    As for instructions. I am also a huge fan of Rob Cosman. I met him when I worked for Lie Nielsen and he's a great guy. I have his video too and learned a lot from him. I think I differ in that I pop out my waste with a chisel and not with a fret saw, and I do my pins first and not my tails. Those are all little things though.

    Still I will give you a secret an old shop school teacher told me years ago. And while I promised I would never share it with anyone, much less on a public forum I will for the good of all woodworkers. Hand cut dovetails are actually easy to do. The secret is keeping everything marked, cutting to a line and careful chiseling. But yeah they are indeed easy.

    Oh one more thing. There is no way I can describe to you how content I am just being in my shop hand cutting dovetails. To say its a joy is such an understatement. There is no way I would give that up for a noisy router and chunky looking template and dovetailing jig.
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  5. #5
    John, The most important thing in cutting dovetails is the saw. You need one that is comfortable in your hand and tracks well meaning that it doesn't flop around in the kerf. I've used gents saws, japanese and Western and settled on a LN. It is expensive but it will cut perfectly right out of the box. Also you will never wear it out.

    I recently completed 3 chests of drawers for my wife and all carcase and drawer dovetails were hand cut. I used Rob Cosmans methods and they required very little fitting.

    Get a good saw and practice making square vertical cuts and your tails will look like you've been making them for years in no time.


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