How to Make a Dovetail Joint by Hand – 9 Easy Steps

Dovetail joints are an essential part of woodworking, especially if you are making furniture, cabinets, etc. Sometimes, making a dovetail joint can be quite complicated if you are using only machines. But if you use your hands to make the dovetail joints, it can be much easier to accomplish.

Making dovetail joints by hand doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t have to use any tools. Despite using your hands, you will need to use tools such as a dovetail saw, crosscut saw, coping saw, etc.

Let us take a look at how to make a dovetail joint by hand and what tools you should use to do so.

How to Make A Dovetail Joint by Hand: Simple Procedure

Making a Dovetail Joint by Hand

The easiest way to make dovetail joints is to do it by hand. All you need to do is to have a few tools and follow a few steps.

Tools to Make Dovetail Joints

Making dovetail joints by hand needs the following tools to be used :

  1. Dovetail Saw
  2. Crosscut saw
  3. Coping saw
  4. Dividers
  5. Chisel set
  6. Vintage sliding bevel square
  7. 6″ combination square
  8. Marking Knives
  9. Brass wheel marking gauge
  10. Fine Tip pencil
  11. Shop made Joiner’s Mallet
  12. Moxon Vise

If you want to make a dovetail joint very easily then you can also use these dovetail markers.

Making A Dovetail Joint by Hand: Step by Step

Making A Dovetail Joint by Hand

As mentioned earlier, cutting dovetail joints by hand needs you to follow a few steps. These steps are given below :

1. Marking the Baselines of the Dovetail

The very first thing you need to do before cutting dovetails is to mark the baselines. You need a marking tool to do this. Set your marking gauge in such a way that it just hangs out over the board’s edge, allowing the tails and pins of the joint to protrude just a little.

Also, make sure that the boards you are working with are all square so that the lines you are drawing are equal. Now use a fine tip pencil to darken the gauge lines to be able to see them better.

2. Laying Out the Dovetail Joint’s Tail

After marking the baseline, place the boars on your workbench to lay out the tails. Although there aren’t any specific rules to measuring the half pins, one common method is to focus on the thickness which is half of that of your board by using both combination squares and dividers. Then put a tick mark at each of the ends of the board.

After that, use a square for marking a line on all the tick marks and use a divider so that you can lay the tails out evenly.

Although, this method is not the only one for laying out the tails. But if you are going for two or more tails, adjust the dividers until you can take a couple of steps between the marked lines.

Next, taking the square, draw a line across both the divider points. Then taking a sliding bevel square, extend the angled lines. This angle doesn’t need to be anything specific, just go with the one you feel good about. Mark the lines with the pencil while also marking the waste so that you don’t see into the tails.

3. Sawing the Tails

Now take a dovetail saw and start sawing the tails up to the marked line. If you are just starting and are not confident about sawing right up to the marking, you can cut a bit into the waste and chisel your way up to the marking. Although this will mean you will take more time, it will be much easier to do. What line you cut first doesn’t matter, but it will be easier if you cut the lines that have similar angles.

4. Removing the Waste

Use a chisel set and start from one-sixteenth of an inch from the depth line. Stroke quickly downwards along the depth line and then start coming in at a 30° angle and then go back to the stop cut that was made earlier.

Until you are halfway down, repeat the same process. After that, flip over the board and go through the same process until you can break through. Then clean the wood by undercutting the joint so that you can get a better fit.

5. Marking the Pins

Use a Moxon vise to set up the pinboard. You should remember to put the board a little bit above the vise’s top. To do that you need a block that has the same height as the vise. Then line the tailboard and pinboard and mark the boards using a marking knife. Make sure that you are keeping pressure on the board while doing it. Mark out the parts that you want to remove with an ‘X’ sign.

6. Cutting the Pins

You can either use a square or just see the reflection on the surface of the saw to make a perfectly vertical cut. Cut the pins down to the depth line by making sure the reflection is kept flat to the workpiece.

7. Removing the Waste from the Pin

Rotate the board 90° keeping it in the vise. Then clean the outside edge by cutting down the depth line and then use a chisel the same way you cleaned the tails.

8. Final Fitting

Most of the time, the joints will not fit right away. When you put the two parts together, you will see that there are a few places where the joints are too tight or even overlapping with one another. Then take a chisel and remove the wood from the pins and tails where the joints are too tight. Never take material from the show edges and never take too much wood off as it will leave large gaps.

9. Fitting the Joint

The final step is to fit the joints. As I said earlier, you won’t be able to fit the joints right away. Try a few times and eventually you will get a perfectly working fit. You will need a bit of force to fit the joint and take it apart, which is a good thing. Keep in mind that you can’t do this perfectly in the first go, so don’t worry if you don’t get it right immediately.

Hand Cutting Dovetail Joints with a Simple Jig


What tools do I need to make a dovetail joint by hand?

You will need a handsaw, a chisel, a hammer, a marking gauge, a dovetail saw, a sliding bevel, and some marking tools such as a pencil, a ruler, and a square.

How do I mark the dovetails?

Start by setting the marking gauge to the depth of the dovetails you wish to cut. Mark the sides of each board with the gauge, creating a line that will be the basis for your dovetails. From there, use the dovetail saw to cut along the lines, stopping just at the edges of the wood.

How do I cut the tails?

The tails are the two longer pieces of wood that join together at the end of the dovetail joint. Use the dovetail saw to cut along the lines you have marked out, stopping just at the edges of the wood. This will create a V-shaped cut on each piece of wood.

How do I fit the pins into the tails?

Use a chisel to carefully whittle away wood in between the two cutouts on the tails, creating a gap that will allow the pins to fit snugly. Make sure the gap is wide enough to accommodate the pins but not so wide that they will be loose.

How do I finish the joint?

Once the pins have been fitted into the tails, use a hammer and chisel to tap them in place. Use a file to smooth out any rough edges and sandpaper to finish the job. Finally, apply a finish of your choice to protect the joint from moisture.

Final Words

Once you know how to make a dovetail joint by hand and perfect it,  you will never need another method of making the joint. But it would help if you had patience and the correct tools to perfect your skills over time. So, follow these steps properly and you will be able to make perfect dovetail joints by hand in no time.

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