Bandsawn Dovetails | Popular Woodworking Magazine
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Hand-cut appearance with half the fuss.
If you have struggled to cut dovetails by hand, you will be amazed at how quickly they can be cut with the bandsaw. You get all the benefits, including sturdy joints, classic looks, the ability to use boards of any thickness, and the freedom to size and space the pins and tails as you like.
The only limiting factor is the capacity of the band saw throat. My saw allows for joints up to 14 inches. wide. It is wide enough for any drawer, but not for a chest.
As with any woodworking technique, mastering it takes some practice. You will need a sharp blade for your bandsaw (Photo 1) and a mask that you can make in less than half an hour (Photo 2). I also usually keep a chisel handy to fine-tune the fit.
Create The Jig
The mask is an angled sled. The tilt angle you have chosen for the pins determines the angle of the sled. Ratios 1 to 6 and 1 to 8 are commonly used to determine the pitch angles of the pins. To make pins with a slope of 1 to 6, make a sled with a slope of 10 degrees.
Cut the angled sides with your miter saw – you can cut both sides at the same time by centering a wide piece and making a cut. You can also cut the angled sides of the band or table saw, using the guide and a tapered jig. Make sure the corner pieces are identical. Then glue and nail the parts together.
The jig makes it easy to cut both sides of the wedge-shaped pins. After cutting all the sloped sides in one direction, simply rotate the slide and reposition the workpiece to cut the sloped sides in the other direction.
Roll out and cut the pins
Arrange the pins on the end of a card, after tracing the thickness of the card on the ends of all the cards (Photo 3). As with the hand-cut dovetails, the number of pins, their distance and the angle of inclination is up to you. Typically, half pins are used on both ends of the board. Before you start cutting, hit the lines at the end of the board to indicate the cutting angle. These lines are not accurate, they are simply indicators. Use them to make sure the sled is oriented correctly and to make sure you are cutting on the correct lines.
Place the workpiece on the sled, against its fence and make a straight cut at the score line on one side of each pin (Photo 4). I make these cuts freehand, but you can also use the chainsaw fence.
Go back and spread out each cut of the saw (Photo 5).
To cut the other side of the pins, keep the workpiece facing the same direction, but rotate the slide 180 degrees, so that it is tilted in the opposite direction (Photo 6).
To clean up the waste and establish straight shoulders between the pins, remove the workpiece from the sled and turn it over. First, cut a bow to the scribe’s mark between each pin (Photo 7).
Do not cut beyond the score line. Rotate the board to cut the shoulder (Photo 8). Position the guide so that the blade cuts exactly on the score line.
Check the shoulders you just cut to make sure they are straight and smooth. Use a chisel to cut any rough edges that remain from the direct cuts you made to widen the angled cuts (Photo 5).
Cut the tails and try the fit
When the pin cards are complete, transfer the pins to the tail card (Photo 9). Define the pin sockets by making angled cuts on the score line (Photo 10).
Once you have defined the holds, munch the scraps and cut the shoulders of the half pin (Photo 11).
Work slowly, making sure you never cross the line. Press the pieces together (Photo 12). Ideally, they will slide together with light pressure. If you have to use a sledgehammer, they are too tight – when you apply glue, they will not go at all.
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