Through Dovetail Question

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This topic contains 15 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by Joe Bottigliere Joe Bottigliere 1 month, 2 weeks ago.

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  • #8993
    Bill Leonhardt
    Bill Leonhardt
    Participant

    Looking at making a drawer with through dovetail joints, it seems obvious to make the front and back the pin board and the sides the tail board. That way, when you pull or push on the drawer, the joint is resisting in its strongest direction.

    When you make a small box, say a jewelry box, there doesn’t seem to be a need to make the box stronger in one direction over the other. Still, one needs to choose how to layout the joint. So my question is: “When making a small jewelry box, does tradition say put the tails on the sides and pins front and back or vice versa?”

    Now Rich and Mike can debate whether to cut pins or tails first, but where shall I put the tails?

    Bill

    PS: I’m a tails first man (mostly).

  • #8994
    Avatar
    Charlie James
    Participant

    Bill, when you make something as small as a jewelry box there is no need for dovetails, except for decoration. A rabbet joint will work just as well, there’s more than a few other choices of joinery as well. New router bits give you a load of choices although you can make plenty of joints with hand tools. It depends on the time you want to spend making them and what you want it to look like in the end. I use dovetails because, well, it looks good. For me, with a jewelry box, the smaller the pins and tails, the better. Smaller dovetails doesn’t necessarily mean stronger but strength is not what your looking for, it’s the racking you’re trying to prevent. If the bottom of the drawer is nailed to the front, sides and back it prevents racking. It makes the drawer stronger but it looks horrible. Large drawers full of clothes or heavy objects need dovetails or some kind of joinery (dowels, finger joints are 2 other choices) that will put up with the stresses of opening and closing (slamming) full of a heavy weight. Tails first, always!!!

  • #8995
    Bill Leonhardt
    Bill Leonhardt
    Participant

    Thanks Charlie,

    Great to hear your input. Yeah, I’m not looking for strength but to produce a fancy looking box. I’ve built lots of boxes with rabbets and I thought I’d go a little “fancier” this time. Looking at “floating in slot” bottom and top so the anti-racking is important.

  • #8996
    Avatar
    Charlie James
    Participant

    Bill, Fancy is exactly what a jewelry box should be! I usually trap thin ply in a small drawer because it won’t see much expansion or contraction and cutting a groove along all four sides is fast. You just have remember to stop it so it’s not seen. I’ll bring the bottom up almost 1/4″ so I can glue a few 1/4″ strips of wood to the inside underneath as additional support for the bottom. The extra wood also adds an “extra” joint and helps to prevent racking as well.

  • #8997
    Bill Leonhardt
    Bill Leonhardt
    Participant

    Still, we haven’t discussed where to put the pins and tails. Assuming a rectangular box, I’m thinking the tails go on the long side and the pins on the short. My current application isn’t a jewelry box, but it serves as a good example. Traditionally, the catch or lock goes on the long side and the hinges on the opposite long side. We should call this the “show” side”. Then, aesthetically, would we chose to put pins or tails on the show side? I know we could choose to do either, I’m just wondering if there is a “traditional” choice.

  • #8998
    Avatar
    Charlie James
    Participant

    Bill, think of the tail as a hand grabbing the back or front of the box and holding it. The palm of your hand is resting on the side of the board. The tail is your palm and your fingers reach around to grab the back board. It’s not looks that determine the location but physics. Most of the stress when pulling a drawer out is on the front and back, especially when it’s full. There should also be a half pin at the top and bottom. If the tail is at the top and bottom the glue could fail. There’s a good chance it will fail due to the fact that the’s nothing mechanical holding it back from stresses, it will start to pull away and cause problems with the fit. Pins on back and front and tails on the sides. If you have full tails on the front joint you will see the end grain so the front of most boxes are made with half blind dovetails.

  • #8999
    Avatar
    Charlie James
    Participant

    Also there’s an acronym… IDIOT = inside of tree should be outside of drawer. It makes sense and has to do with the cupping of the wood. Not too important for small boxes but bigger boxes it can make a difference.

  • #9000
    Daryl Rosenblatt
    Daryl Rosenblatt
    Participant

    Traditionally, the pins go on the front, or on the top if it’s a top to a chest. Those are done for engineering reasons, but for a small jewelry box or similar, it’s strictly what you prefer. I do think when you “stray” from tradition, the box might not “feel” right in some people’s eyes, even if they don’t know why. If he joints are being cut by hand, it’s a bit more work to make it a box joint, since then every single angle must be square. You miss a degree in a dovetail, it won’t matter if the joint is tight. If using a router, then a box joint is easier.

    And to me, I don’t worry if I do pins first or tails first. I’ve done both, the interesting one is when I do a dovetail within a dovetail (I brought that joint to the last show in the demo I did). Then you are sort of doing both at the same time. It’s something that might be really good for a box, if you want to accentuate the joinery. And also make a two day project last a month.

  • #9002
    Joe Bottigliere
    Joe Bottigliere
    Participant

    All of this is one primary reason I don’t care for dovetails in things like a fully exposed box. Personally, I prefer symmetry in such objects – miters or box joints. Oddly, I find box joints more attractive in boxes since both sides of the corner look the same. Miters can be reinforced for larger boxes if necessary but again, they look the same all around. I find dovetails to be conflicting to the eye. But of course, that’s my taste.

    A technique I’ve been using lately is quite simple and very strong. Similar to Charlie’s drawers, I glue a piece of veneered plywood to the bottom of the box providing exceptional strength. I then trim the outside, bottom edge of the assembly back about 1/4 x 1/4″ all around the perimeter. Then, in that rabbet, I glue in strips of solid wood, mitered at the corners. These are slightly oversized to be trimmed flush and are of a complimentary wood of choice. Very pretty and symmetrical.

    Ditch the dovetails. Keep ’em in your drawers. 🙂

  • #9003
    Daryl Rosenblatt
    Daryl Rosenblatt
    Participant

    Joe, keep it up and you will have to be expelled from the FKDES (the Frank Klausz Dovetail Everything Society).

  • #9004
    Daryl Rosenblatt
    Daryl Rosenblatt
    Participant

    Talk about perfect timing, Strother Purdy just posted on Facebook a wenge box he made, complete with dovetails. In truth, it’s dyed or colored so dark, it could easily have been a box joint. Nice box though, Stother’s work is really nice.

  • #9042
    Bill Leonhardt
    Bill Leonhardt
    Participant

    Thanks everyone for all the insight. In the end, I decided to go with simple miter corners and a glued in plywood bottom. Made it easier for the sliding top and I eliminated the need for hinges and a catch.

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  • #9044

    The project came out great, Bill. Very nice.

  • #9045
    Bill Leonhardt
    Bill Leonhardt
    Participant

    Thanks, Mike. The marquetry is not my best but I’m slowly easing back into it. A special shout of thanks to Rolf who lasered the letters. Here are a couple of additional photos.

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  • #9048

    Love it. Makes me want to rejoin scouting. About 65 years ago, …

  • #9052
    Joe Bottigliere
    Joe Bottigliere
    Participant

    Great job, Bill. I’m sure William will be as proud of it as I am sure you are of him. Eagle is no small accomplishment. Congrats!

    I made a very, very similar square box not too long ago. Of course it doesn’t have the beautiful marquetry you’ve included. But I did inlay a couple of thin banding strips around the perimeter. The upper one falls just at the lid so that the seam is invisible. It makes it very difficult to tell how it opens. One of my favorite features. But I like your artwork more. Nicely done.

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