Hand Tools Archive

Housed dovetails for case construction *PIC*

Bill Tindall, E.Tn.

"Housed dovetails" is a name Will Neptune uses for what others may call sliding dovetails. It does seem to be a more accurate descriptive term.

Whatever you call them, they are a preferred means for holding case goods together, for example a chest of drawers. Unlike a mortise and tenon for the drawer divider(blade) the dovetail can't separate over time as the case moves with age.

But they can be intimidating to consider until one is shown a reliable way to execute this joint. When I was in the Headley shop learning case goods construction techniques we were confronted with making this joint. Jeff went about setting up a router to make the dovetail cut in the case side. Steve was available and we asked him how it was done with hand tools. He rummaged in his bench drawer and produced a guide block as shown in the picture. In less time than was taken setting up the router we had the female part of the joint chopped out of the case sides for the single drawer divider. I like quick and reliable and became smitten with this joint and its use in case goods.

As one learns to judge the optimum shaving depth to cut with the chisel it becomes at most a 2 minute task to make the female part of this joint. I have a way of precisely making the male joint in seconds. It is so easy to make these joints that I even use them on the back drawer dividers where mortise and tenon might more conventionally be used.

I am dashing out a bedside night stand with three drawers for my granddaughter. It is a break between some more challenging projects. The details of how to do this joint can vary. I used to saw the perpendicular side, then rough saw the sloped side, add the guide block and pare to fit the dovetail of the divider. I am experimenting with plowing a dado across the case side which establishes the flat side of the dovetail joint and provides a housing for the drawer runner which is simply nailed in later.

It will be noted that I use a half tail with the flat side of the dovetail at the bottom of the drawer opening. . It makes fitting the joint trivial. I position the guide black to ensure any error paring is on the too tight side. If the dovetail is too tight it is a trivial task to just plane a whisker off the flat side of the dovetail.

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