American Woodworker

Important Information >>


Q & A: What Kind of Saw for Dovetails?


Q & A: What Kind of Saw for Dovetails?


I’d like to try hand-cutting dovetails for the drawers of a sideboard I’m building.What kind of saw do I need for this job?


Dovetailing can become something of a religion among woodworkers,with passionate true-believers in one approach or another. There are many tools and techniques that work, but when it comes to the saws, there are two types: Japanese and Western.

Japanese-style saws cut on the pull stroke, have fine, thin teeth and produce a very thin kerf.This means less effort, and consequently,more control for many people, especially beginners.Western saws cut on the push stroke and produce a thicker kerf.They have either a pistol-style handle, like the Lie-Nielsen saw we show at right, or a simple straight handle like a chisel. Prices range from $15 up to well over $100.

A good, sharp saw of either type will allow you to cut perfect dovetails. But sharpening can be a problem.The teeth on these saws are very fine, and sharpening them by hand is no picnic, and doesn’t always work. Be sure your local sharpening shop can handle saws like this. Inexpensive Western saws,in particular, are not at their peak right out of the box; they need further sharpening and setting. Japanese saws work right out of the box. There are some very appealing Japanese saws that require no sharpening; they use inexpensive super-hard replaceable blades.

What kind of saw you use is much less important than having your wood flat, and using softer species like pine, and walnut. Then, just practice.Cut a bunch of dovetails before you try them on a project, and even if you’ve done them lots of times before, warm up (and remind yourself how they go together) with a test piece.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker Tool Buyer's Guide 2002.

Tool Buyer's Guide 2002

Purchase this back issue.