Making Dovetails The Fast And Easy Way Homemade Machines & Jigs
There’s a real sense of accomplishment when you make real, hand cut dovetails. They are probably the top mark of craftsmanship in woodworking, so that why so many expect to see them in places where they were traditionally used. Like drawers.
But, if you have a lot of drawers to make and want that classic look, it can really add up to a lot of time. Even to cut them with the typical jig can significantly increase how long it takes, and when you are trying to get a big project done (like a new kitchen…), a faster alternative is always welcome.
One good approach is to make a simple jig that clamps onto the finished drawer box and then cuts a dovetail slot to receive a “loose” dovetail. This will have the look you want, plus it will add strength to the joint, just like a “real” dovetail joint.
To get started, I cut some 1/4″ plywood to the right size. The larger piece is 12″ long and 9″ deep. The strips are 1-1/2″ wide and two of those are 9″ long. The third is the same length as that diameter of my router base:
First step is to glue and screw the plywood base to a piece of 3/4″ thick plywood that is 16″ long and 3″ deep. I kept the screws at the ends and just clamped the middle until the glue dried.
Next, I glued and clamped on the strips so that they stick out 1-1/2″ on the front. These are spaced to fit the base plate on my router snuggly:
The depth of cut is adjusted next. I’m working with drawers that have 1/2″ plywood sides, so I moved the bit down so that it would cut just less than that, around 7/16″:
Please note that that’s 7/16″ below the 1/4″ plywood base of the jig.
Lining up the jig is easy, I just made a mark in the centre of the dovetail that will line up with a mark on the drawer:
After the jig is clamped in place on the drawer box (and the drawer itself clamped to the workbench), I ran the router in to make the cut. Important to keep the router base tight to the base of the jig, but that’s not difficult with such a large area:
I didn’t go in very far, just a little over an inch.
The dovetail is made from maple (or whatever wood you choose) and cut on the table saw to match the dovetail angles. I can cut a long strip, then cut of short pieces to put into the slot:
These are glued in and planed / sanded flush with the front and side of the drawer.
There’s no problem putting these in evenly spaced, or you can get creative with some variable spacing. From the side, no one will know these aren’t the real deal!
Another possibility is to cut the slots to a uniform depth and round the ends of the dovetails to fit snuggly in to fill the slot. This could be used on an open box and would look very neat indeed. Similar to my original dovetail splines that I used on my small parts trays.
I made a short video showing the jig in action: