Japanese dovetails

Some time ago, I made a dovetailed chest with the remainder of my brown oak. The chest was built (oddly) for myself, and was originally going to be my regular, bog standard dovetails. Since the chest was for myself, I decided to stray away from a regular dovetail. I mean, if I screwed them up who cares? As long as the chest was functional, it was only me that would see them. Ironically, I know it would have made my brain itch, if they where really bad.

From start to finish, the dovetails were task intensive, meaning there was a lot of repetitive tasks, basically there was pretty much double of everything. The marking out, saw cuts and the time in general, to make these joints grew exponentially. This is not evident on a first glance of a joint like this, or at least not for me it's not. I'm usually in Orr for some time, admiring the joint, then I dissect the joint, and then, only sometimes, I'll consider the time it will take me to make the joint.

So for me, I treated these dovetails like regular dovetail, in the way/process I make dovetails. I started with the tail portion first. The layout and cutting was pretty straight forward, other than there was a lot of cuts. The shoulders got removed as per usual.

The pin section was difficult to mark out, because there was only a saw kerf thickness at the entrance, and the material was 1" thick which posed problems. Even a pencil with a lengthened, slimmed down tip was awkward, which is my usual go to. The Stanley blade on my marking knife was a struggle, and I'm not a fan of this method, so I stuck with the pencil.

The joint (corner 1) didn't turn out to bad, considering I struggled to mark out the pins accurately, and it was my first attempt at the joint. It was pointed out to me, that cutting the pins first would be the way to go, more so with this joint. Even though I'm a tails first guy, I agreed with the statement, which made sense since I was struggling transferring pencil lines. Ironically, the corner with the pins first turned out the worst. Yes, it was way easier to mark out, but I ended up going to the tails first approach. Could this have been a placebo, bad luck, bad craftsmanship, lack of experience with the joint? It could've been one, all or none! I do however think there was at least two at play.

When I finished all the corner, it was made very evident how much more stronger, the joint was compared to a regular dovetail. I even balanced my weight on one corner (not advisable), while only two pieces were connected, and it never budged. This is a seriously strong joint, and doesn't come apart easily when unglued. I did originally decided to leave the joints unglued but, at the last minute, I changed my mind, and I really wish I had left them unglued, just as an experiment. I've no doubt I will carry out the experiment, with a similar structure to satisfy my curiosity.

The chest now sits in my bedroom heavy and stout, this thing would survive a fallout. It is however a shame that the joints never get shown off, and pictures just never seem to do it justice!



  1. Looks amazing. A cut (literally) above the usual dovetails.


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