Dovetail Joinery: Stock Preparation and Marking Out a Dovetail Joint

Careful, thoughtful stock preparation is essential to successful execution of dovetail joinery, so it pays to attend to the critical steps for making a dovetail joint, which we’ll discuss here.

full layout for dovetail joinery

HOW TO MARK OUT A DOVETAIL JOINT

PREPARE WELL

The inside surfaces of the pieces are the reference surfaces because they, not the outsides, will contact their mating pieces. So, they should be flat, free of any winding (twist), and cleaned up enough that any final touch up just before assembly will not substantially change their trueness. The outside surfaces will be cleaned up after assembly. woodworking tips and techniques woodworking woodworking tips and tricks for beginners

Here I’m working with 5/8″ thick curly red oak, a lovely but somewhat cantankerous beast, about 6″ wide. If you are just starting out, I suggest a tamer species such as straight-grained poplar or perhaps soft maple. Very soft or “stringy” species such as cedar are actually more difficult to work because the fibers tend to crush when fitting the joint. woodworking tips and techniques woodworking woodworking tips and tricks for beginners

For a case such as a box, the lengths of opposite sides must match precisely. Now is the time to mark the orientation of the pieces with a triangle on the top edges as shown below. I also like to put a big “O” on the outside face of each piece. woodworking tips and techniques woodworking woodworking tips and tricks for beginners

orientation triangle

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