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Newsletter Article: Dovetail Joints

Hand cut dovetail joints are a sign of an accomplished woodworker. Designed to resist being pulled apart, these joints between two pieces of wood enable a  strong, long-lasting, and beautiful joint. Additionally, dovetail joints require zero mechanical fasteners, making them more attractive to the traditionalist.


There are two parts to a dovetail joint, the pins and the tails. The tails look like the tail of a dove (hence the name), and the pins are on the opposite board and fit in between the tails to create a joint that is impossible to pull apart, in one direction. Add some glue, clamp the joint together well, and it will be impossible to pull apart in the other direction as well.


The dovetail joint is an ancient joint that has stood the test of time. Step into any antique furniture shop, and you can pull out drawers and see that the overwhelming majority of antique furniture was constructed with the dovetail joint.


Depending on the project, function, and design, there are a number of different types of dovetail joints to choose from. Creating the correct dovetail joint for your project will enable you to create a strong joint and highlight your woodworking skills.  The following are the different types of dovetail joints:


Through dovetail. The most basic method of creating a dovetail is called a through dovetail. Here, two pieces of wood are joined together at their ends with a finger-like interlocking method which is seen from all outside surfaces. This method is used in everyday practice for joining the corners of frames, boxes, cabinets, and other items.



Half-Blind Dovetail.  A half-blind dovetail enables the woodworker to hide the joint from the front end. The tails are housed in sockets in the ends of the board that is to be the front of the item so that their ends cannot be seen.   Half-blind dovetails are commonly used to fasten drawer fronts to drawer sides. This is an alternative to the practice of attaching false fronts to drawers constructed using through dovetails.



Secret Mitered Dovetail. The secret mitered dovetail joint (also called a mitered blind dovetail) is used in the highest class of cabinet and box work. It offers the strength found in the dovetail joint but is totally hidden from both the inside and outside corners by forming the outer edge to meet at a 45-degree angle while hiding the dovetails internally within the joint.  The mitered corner dovetail joint is very similar in design, but it has just a single dovetail and is used for picture frames and other similar joins.



Sliding Dovetail. The sliding dovetail is a method of joining two boards at right angles, where the intersection occurs within the field of one of the boards that is not at the end. This joint provides the interlocking strength of a dovetail. Sliding dovetails are assembled by sliding the tail into the socket. It is common to slightly taper the socket, making it slightly tighter towards the rear of the joint, so that the two components can be slid together easily but the joint becomes tighter as the finished position is reached.


Deciding which type of dovetail to choose for your project is dependent on factors such as function and design. With technology advances as they are today, woodworking on a high level has become much more accessible. Creating dovetails by hand is a master skill in of itself. But, we are now able to use jigs, routers and specialized dovetail bits to ensure that the joint can be made perfectly and replicated an endless amount of times. So, when creating special projects you wish to last generations, you can be sure that dovetails will help ensure they will be long lasting.