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Bandsawn Dovetails


Bandsawn Dovetails

Hand-cut appearance with half the fuss.

By Seth Keller

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If you’ve labored over handcut through dovetails, you’ll be amazed how much faster they can be cut on the bandsaw. You get all the benefits, including strong joints, classic appearance, the ability to use boards of any thickness and the freedom to size and space the pins and tails however you want. The only limiting factor to this technique is your bandsaw’s throat capacity. My saw allows making joints up to 14" wide. That’s wide enough for any drawer, but not for a blanket chest.

As with any woodworking technique, mastering this one takes a little practice. You’ll need a sharp blade and Cool Blocks for your bandsaw (Photo 1 and Sources, page 4) and a jig that you can make in less than half an hour (Photo 2). I usually keep a chisel handy, too, for fine-tuning the fit.

1. Bandsawn dovetails require making sharp turns in confined spaces, so outfit your bandsaw with a 1/8" blade with 14 teeth per inch (14tpi). You’ll also have to replace your saw’s metal or ceramic guide blocks with Cool Blocks. Cool Blocks support the thin blade without damaging its teeth.

Click any image to view a larger version.

3. Locate the pins on the end of one board. Then use an adjustable square to transfer the straight lines to the remaining pin board faces. Laying out bandsawn dovetails is faster than hand-cut, because you don’t have to mark the wedge-shaped pins on the end of every board.

4. Cut the first side of all the pins. Make straight cuts, following your pencil lines. Stop at the board-thickness scribe mark. Your angled sled automatically slopes the pin. I strike angled marks on the ends to avoid cutting the wrong lines.

8. Rotate the board and use the fence to cut the shoulders. Start from the back corners you’ve just cut.

10. Cut the pin sockets. Define the sockets by cutting along the inside edges of the pencil lines. Be sure to leave the pencil lines. Cutting the pin sockets creates the tails.

12. Test-fit the joint. The parts should slide together with light pressure. If they won’t go, locate the spots that bind and pare them to fit with a chisel.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker November 2007, issue #132.

November 2007, issue #132

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