18 Chests, 144 Dovetails and 0 Clamps


Today we had to assemble 18 dovetailed Dutch tool chests during a two-hour period. We had glue. We had mallets. But we didn’t have any clamps that were long enough.

So we fetched the hammers and the nails.

When you look at lots of old furniture, you’ll come across a fair number of them where the dovetails are nailed. If you are a regular visitor to The Furniture Record, then you have seen this joinery method before.

Sometimes it is obvious that the nails were added later for some reason – waffle-headed roofing nails on an 18th-century piece are a clue. Other times the nails look like they are as old as the piece and were added by the maker.


When I announced we were nailing the dovetails during this class at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks, I saw a few raised eyebrows. But as there were no clamps, so everyone dove in.

To assemble these chests, we used 6d cut hinge nails from Tremont. The hinge nail is a headed nail, so it is ideal for fastening chores such as this. All the chests went together in less than two hours and are all as tight as ticks.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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7 Responses to 18 Chests, 144 Dovetails and 0 Clamps

  1. toolnut says:

    What’s the scoop on the two piece Dutch chest in the background?


  2. Andy in Germany says:

    Good grief, I’d be trown out of my college for suggesting such a heretical idea. I’m pretty close to being trown out as it is because I use hand tools, so I’d better keep quiet…


  3. forbeskm says:

    I am surprised there were no heart attacks in the room…


  4. jonathanszczepanski says:

    Did anyone else try to solve the Sudoku?


  5. Bob Onton says:

    Just wondering why you didn’t use diagonal battens on the sides of the carcass? Two strips of wood, four nails and unblemished dovetails. Saves nails, dovetails, time and getting lynched by traditionalist cabinetmakers.


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