How to Cut Dovetails by Hand Easily and Effectively

Do you want to learn how to cut dovetails by hand? Are you in search of an easy to follow guide to cutting dovetails with your hands?

Even though cutting dovetails is an easy process, it involves some woodworking skills and knowledge of woodworking machinery and tools.


What is Dovetail joint?

Dovetail joints are basically interlocking of wedge-shaped parts known as pins and tails to connect two wooden pieces applied with the joints.

These elements provide resistance to the joint. Also, a properly created dovetail joint has a decorative quality too. These are most commonly used to make drawers, and it is rare for items like these to break under stressful conditions

Dovetail joints are mostly used to build drawers, boxes, and cabinets. The shape of the tails and pins in the joint makes it impossible to break. Glue is required to strengthen the joint but no fasteners or screws are required for it.

There are various types of dovetail joints but out of them, the most popular choice is to use a half-blind dovetail joint.

Joinery and precision cuts are the skills required in a carpenter. Dovetail joints often have a mysterious hype about them.

Dovetails are difficult to make and with a little practice, you will have others envious of the fine hand cut characteristics of your dovetail joints in your project.

Advantages of Dovetail Joint

The dovetail joint is renowned as one of the supreme joint of fine woodworking as it is a blend of function and form.

The reason it was used for centuries is its strength and simplicity. Getting accurate dovetails depends on your tools and skills to chisel and saw a line.

Also Read:  How to Know Whether to Repair or Replace Your Roof

Dovetails are beautiful to look at and are extremely effective and strong in joining two wooden pieces with a right angle.

Cutting Dovetails with hands can be a tedious and slow procedure, but with a few tricks, it can become a much faster process.

This is not supposed to be the most accurate way but it is the simplest method to hand cut dovetails without using special jigs or tools.

How to cut dovetails by hand?

It’s been several years now that I have been building furniture and organizing woodworking classes for my students too.

Over those years, I have cut thousands of dovetail joints with my hand and during the time developed a large number of tricks to make the job easier and faster. In this article, I will share some of my favorites.

I have written the step by step guide keeping in mind the common issues that a woodworker might encounter.

So, whether you are a beginner or an advanced woodworker, with these steps you will be encouraged to try out your dovetailing skills or refining the skills you already possess.

Before starting directly on the dovetail pieces for your furniture, cut some dovetails in lumber first. Do it again and try to refine your cuts in the process.

Cutting dovetails with your hand lead to a rewarding and extremely relaxing experience. The custom layouts and fine pins of hand-cut dovetail elevate the level of your work.

Here are some of the basic how-to concepts that you should follow for cutting the dovetails.

Tools required:

  • Saw
  • Mallet
  • Wooden clamp
  • A small set of wood chisels
  • Marking gauge
  • Pocket knife
  • Small Square
  • Dovetail marking gauge
  • Pencil and a ruler
  • Pair of woodworking dividers
Also Read:  How to Create a Home Safety Plan

Step by step guide:

1. Decide the variety of wood which you want to use and make sure that its surface is flat and thick. Cut its ends in square shape.

2. Cut the wood into pieces of the required length that you will need as the pin and tail boards, lay down the pieces and mark them as per their use as to which pieces can be used as pin and tail board.

3. Measure the size of your tail and pin boards, use the marking gauge to mark it equally. Mark a line across the pin board’s face and on the face and outer edge of the tailboard.

4. Mark a point on each of the tail board at a distance of 1/4 inch from each of the ends.

5. Find out how many tails you need to be used across each of the edges of the tailboard. Usually, four tails are required.

6. Use your dividers at a distance of 1/4 inch from the line across each of the edges of the tailboard till you get four steps equally distanced across the boards kept opposite to the 1/4 inch line, marking each of the steps by inserting the divider inside the wood.

7. Insert the dividers into the wood in the opposite direction from the point where you started till you get four evenly spaced steps on the other side, marking each of the steps by inserting the ends of the driver inside the wood.

8. Make a line across the wood edges into the holes.

Also Read:  How to Pick the Right Kitchen Sink and Tapware for Your Home

9. Create an angled line at an angle of 35 degrees from the line you just drew across all the holes to the line you made by marking the gauge on both sides of the wood.

10. Cut out the 35-degree angle in each of the lines.

11. Chisel out the wood between the cuts halfway through the wood on one of the sides, then flip it over going all the way through the wood from another side.

12. You need to cut alongside the lines to remove the extra wood which is missed by your chisel.

13. Remove the extra 1/4 inch areas that are marked on each of the ends of the wood with a saw.

14. Lay down the tail board on each of the ends of the pinboard, keeping the ends at a 90-degree angle.

15. Mark the areas you removed with a chisel from both the tails of the pinboard with the help of a pocket knife.

16. Mark a straight line from the areas you just marked till the line you marked before using a marking gauge on both the sides of the pinboard.

17. Cut along both the ends of the lines and remove the extra wood with the pins.

18. Finish the steps by inserting the tails into the pin using your mallet.


After teaching hundreds of students and cutting more than thousands of joints till date, I have created a simple and easy way to cut dovetail joints.

My approach involves preparing, laying it down, sawing and chiseling the pins and tails.

Leave a Comment