Dovetail Sawing for Non-professionals

After requests from several readers, here is a short video showing how I teach beginning sawyers how to cut pins.

Some things to understand before watching this video.

1. We gang-cut the tails first and then transferred the shape of the tails onto the pin boards.

2. The joint shown is a single tail and pin, which is used to join an upper skirt at the top of a tool chest.

3. If you think a single tail/pin is easy, I would argue the opposite. I’d rather cut a row of 10 dovetails than a joint with just one.

4. This joint was cut the first thing in the morning after drinking five beers at the Dogfish Head Alehouse in Gaithersburg, Md. In other words, my head hurts, I’m not warmed up and the joint still came out perfect.

I did not develop this sawing technique, obviously. It’s pretty similar to how you saw a tenon. First you focus on the end grain. Then you focus on the face grain, dropping the saw handle. Then you use the established kerf to guide the rest of the cut.

I think this technique works. It’s slower than some methods, but it builds good sawing habits and doesn’t involve any extra jigs or doo-dads. It just makes the sawing a little more deliberate.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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13 Responses to Dovetail Sawing for Non-professionals

  1. sablebadger says:

    Dogfish head beer…. Mmmm…. Sorry, I went to my happy place for a bit. You were saying?

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  2. woodgeek says:

    I greatly miss that Dogfish ale house in Gaithersburg. Also, being an east coast beer and one of my favorites, it’s more expensive here in Nevada. It’s harder to find good lumber too. On the plus side, it’s easier to find New Belgium and Lagunitas brews out here. I’m rather fond of the new Rye PA.

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  3. Good advise. Making quick mistakes eats up much more time than doing it right slowly. I’ve been using your method of cutting on most of my projects for quite a while. It started as a self defense move. Due to the deplorable state of my saws cutting a straight line was a happy random act rather than a planned event.
    Setting up the kerfs to guide the saw on the straight path let me at least cut a straight line.
    With advances in sharpening, straight lines are easier but your example is still my preferred method. Thanks for confirming my method isn’t a damnable offense against the woodworking credo.

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  4. rondennis303 says:

    Chris – ” . . . first thing in the morning after drinking five beers . . .”? I sincerely hope you are taking a bit of poetic license here.

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  5. Just five? Glad to see you’ve started exercising restraint. Not an official “step” but a start nonetheless.

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  6. Cant get video to work after multiple tries…

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  7. jimendo says:

    I see you take the most important meal of the day seriously! I myself have to drink the beers after I spend time in the shop……

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  8. Lost Art Press at it’s best! Instead of the craft dying by a thousand cuts, Chris perpetuates it by words and deeds!!!!!!

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  9. I will start by saying that I’ve a complete beginner when it comes to pins and tails. However, I’ve found that this method is very easy and produces good results. I have started combining the last two steps to make things a little faster.

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  10. simpleinthecityfamilyblog says:

    Thanks for the video. It helped clarify the description. I thought it was interesting that the dovetail method was very similar to the Wearing method of cutting tenons.

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  11. yazoonian says:

    As one of the requestors, thanks.

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