This isn’t a tutorial on dovetails. The world needs another one of those like we need another portal to hell below an abandoned Chi-Chi’s.
Instead, this blog entry is about some of the details that are specific to making a tool chest. So not all these bullet points apply to drawers or other casework.
Gang Cut Your Tails
I’m indifferent as to which part of the joint I cut first. It really depends on the type of dovetail joint. When I cut massive dovetails for a tool chest, I cut my tails first because I can gang-cut the tails. When I introduced this idea to my classes on building tool chests, we saved almost a day.
The only downside to dovetailing through 2” of pine is that the sawdust can pack into the gullets of your saw and stop the cutting action. Here’s how to avoid this problem with the flick of the wrist. Once you are about 1/8” deep into the kerf, begin lifting the saw a smidge on your return stroke. This allows the sawdust to fall from the teeth and clears your gullets.
Also, here’s a tip when gang cutting: Clamp the boards together as shown above when inserting and removing the boards in your vise. This makes it effortless to keep the boards aligned throughout the cutting.
A Joint in the Tails
Many old books on building tool chests recommend you stagger any glue lines in your panels for a tool chest so that the entire chest doesn’t split in the middle if/when your glue fails.
I have seen many pieces of messed-up old furniture, but I have never seen a glue-line failure on four panels. So I generally don’t worry about this advice.
I do, however, try to bury the glue line in the middle of a tail. If your glue is sub-optimal you don’t want it running through the sloping wall of a tail. A piece of your tail could break off during assembly. This I have seen.
Chop to the Side of Your Chisel
If you stand at the end of your panel while chopping then you have no clue if your chisel is 90° to the surface of the panel. You need to stand or sit to the side so you can see if the chisel is 90° or some other angle if you are undercutting the floor of the joint.
Finally, I recommend you use traditional marriage marks on the edges of your panels. By looking at these marks you can instantly see if you have your panels messed up. I have watched hundreds of students ignore my advice and use their own A-A, B-B, C-D system and mess things up royally at glue-up. No marking system is perfect, but marriage marks are the best method I’ve found.
Plus, it’s a universal language. I can see if someone is screwing things up from across a room and attempt to save them if they are using marriage marks. If your marking system involves emojis, Pokemon and the compass rose, only Squirtle can save your butt.
— Christopher Schwarz