Dovetails by Hand

The woodworking I do combines machines and hand tools. I have kind of a early 20th century shop–machines for the rough stuff: table saw, band saw, jointer and planer and hand planes and hand saws for the details. I took an excellent hand cut dovetail class taught by Chris Gochnour a few years ago where we learned how to make dovetails with a hand saw, chisel and fret saw. I’ve been practicing the skill ever since. While my dovetails aren’t perfect I’ve gotten to the point where they come together almost right off the saw.

I invested in an expensive Lie Nielsen tapered dovetail saw for this purpose and it’s one of my favorite tools.

I used to use a router jig to cut my dovetails but I now prefer doing it by hand. There’s a lot less dust and noise and that router jig was a real pain to set up. Plus I’m beginning to enjoy accumulating odd, outdated hand skills just for the sake of those skills. You can make perfectly serviceable drawers entirely by machine but if you have the time and are making things for yourself not for work, I think doing it by hand is the way to go.

Leave a comment


  1. Not only are your dovetails things of beauty, so is your saw, with its graceful curves on the handle.

  2. Beautiful! Are you familiar with the Krenov School of Fine Furniture, on the Mendocino coast? People from all over the world attend. You’d be a shoo-in.

  3. Lovely! I would love a post about your woodshop space sometime. I’m getting back into woodworking after many years of not having the room/money for it, and peeking at how others have set up a space that works for their craft is one of my favorite things.

    • My woodshop has gone through three full incarnations at this point. Right now a friend is making two chairs and I just finished the bed and I’ve managed to turn it into a mess. I’m thinking of rearranging things this summer and will post about the process. It’s very small and difficult to do big projects in but I’ve managed to make it work. Good luck with your woodshop!

Comments are closed.