Dovetailing for a hand-cut look

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Advice on getting a hand-cut look when dovetailing by machine, and reasons not to do it. June 13, 2001

I'd like to give my dovetailed drawer boxes a "hand-cut" look but need to keep my methods production oriented. Any ideas?

Forum Responses
Variable dovetail spacing can be achieved with the Leigh jig. You might try irregular spacing and run a scribe line along the tails to imitate the line required to hand cut them.

Keep your pins thin. Quality hand-crafted dovetails always display this feature.

I second the Leigh jig for the situation you describe. The ability to space the dovetails where you want them will definitely give the look of a hand-cut dovetail without sacrificing production that is needed when building several drawers at once.

Why not be honest and let hand-cut dovetails look like hand-cut dovetails and let machine cut dovetails look like machine cut dovetails? If you are trying to get the aesthetic quality of hand-cut dovetails, machine cut dovetails can be very beautiful without imitating hand-cut. Let's be honest in our industry and leave some room for real hand craftsmanship.

No woodworker can dovetail with the precision of a machine. "High-end" and "hand-made look" are seldom compatible goals. Do it right. Build to last. Cabinetmakers of yore cut dovetails by hand because they had no choice. We have better tools -- use them. If it will ease your marketing conscience, you can always faux-finish the drawer sides with cupids and putti. But if the drawer is functioning 200 years from now, it won't end in a landfill, fashion follies notwithstanding.

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Comment from contributor A:
Cut the dovetails with your tablesaw. Have a blade resharpened for the angle you want. I have mine ground for 9, but cut most of mine at 7. The narrower angle leaves a very small amount to pare out. It will look hand cut, because no router bit will let you get beneath 1/4 wide for the base of your pins, and with a sawblade, you can get down to about .071".

I have homemade router gadgets for making the little pins for this. You wouldn't want to cut a million tails or pins like this, but they will look hand cut - every one will have a slight variation in width. Of course, no one will apreciate the difference, unless you take the time to explain it to them.