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.

1. Equip your bandsaw with a 1/8 inch. blade with 14 teeth per inch (tpi). Web dovetails require making tight turns in tight spaces. You will also need to replace the metal or ceramic guide blocks on your saw with Cool Blocks. Cool Blocks support the thin blade without damaging its teeth.

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.

2. An angle slide allows pins to be cut without tilting the band saw table. Sleds with different angles cut pins that tilt differently. In this story, I’m going to use the 10 degree sled. Cut the pins that skew at a ratio of about 1 to 6.

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

3. Locate the pins on the end of a card. Then use an adjustable square to transfer the straight lines to the remaining faces of the board. Spreading out ribbon dovetails is easier than cutting by hand, because you don’t have to mark the wedge-shaped pins at the end of each plank.

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.

4. Cut the first side of all pins. Make straight cuts, following the lines of the pencil. Stop at the scribe’s mark of the thickness of the board. Your angled slide automatically tilts the pin. I make angled marks at the ends to avoid cutting the wrong 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.

5. Enlarge each cut by making multiple adjacent passes. Always stop cutting at the score line. This step makes it easier to cut the shoulders.

Go back and spread out each cut of the saw (Photo 5).

6. Rotate the sled, reposition the board and cut the other side of each pin. Again, always stop at the scribe’s line. Enlarge these cuts as well, making adjacent cuts.

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).

7. Turn the card over and lay it down to remove debris between the pins. Flip the board allows you to cut between the wide ends of the pins. Start by making a curved cut through the scrap area to the back corner of each pin. Finish each cut exactly on the score line.

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).

8. Rotate the board to cut the shoulders. Using the fence ensures straight cuts, which are necessary for the joints to fit properly.

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.

9. Transfer the positions of the pins to the tail boards. Hold the bulletin board flush with the edges and end of the tail board and mark with a fine lead pencil. Hold the cable tight against each pin, so that your lines exactly outline the pins.

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

10. Cutting the pin sockets creates the tails. Define the grips by cutting along the inside edges of the pencil lines. Make sure you leave the lines. Remember, they outline the pins.

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).

11. Complete the pin sockets by nibbling the scraps between the two angled cuts. Rotate the workpiece 90 degrees to cut the shoulders of the half pins.

Once you have defined the holds, munch the scraps and cut the shoulders of the half pin (Photo 11).

12. Test the coupling. The parts should slide together with light pressure. If they don’t go, find the points that tie them and cut them to fit with a chisel.

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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