Small Dovetails

I suck at hand cutting dovetails. I can’t saw a straight line and I don’t like doing precise layouts, especially ones that have to match on two parts. So I have a router dovetail jig. While I love the fit and relatively brainless operation, I don’t like the look of the fat pins. And the pins would look like walruses on small parts (maybe pins the same size as tails is a new aesthetic?). A band saw jig would work nicely but as I just made some nice joinery saws, I should learn to use them. I eyeballed the Veritas® Dovetail Saw Guide System but just couldn’t see spending $50 (+ $25 if you don’t have a pull saw). Plus, it has a minimum of 1/4” and I want to use thinner wood. The design is clever so I copied it (the instructions are well worth reading).

– One thing I noticed with jigs that have a centered screw clamp and are wide have trouble on narrow boards. So I want support on both sides of the cut.
– Jig covers the do-not-cut areas so you can only cut into the waste. I can’t help myself, if I can cut the wrong part, I will.
– Self aligning, I want to minimize thinking ahead.

Here is what I came up with:
jigTwo pieces of 1/2” Baltic birch plywood, they are about 3” wide, 4” tall (2 1/2 – 3” would be better) and the hook is 1” x 4”. Everything needs to be square so you can use any edge as a reference during construction. I cut the notches on the table saw. Clamp the jig to a auxiliary fence on your miter gauge and keep your fingers. The notches only need to be wide enough for your finger to hold the saw blade against the edge.
Instructions are printed on the jigs so I don’t have to remember anything.

In Use
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Prep your stock. It needs to have parallel faces since the outside of the pins board will be used as a reference. The two boards can be different thicknesses. Mark the base lines (the thickness of the other board). Mark it a bit oversize. Here, I using a chunk of re-sawn oak flooring (2 1/4” x 3/16”).


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Mark the pins on the tail board: You only need to measure this if you want to. I always use two half pins plus however many pins you want. Here, I’m using two half pins and two pins.


Cut the tails. Again, no need measure. This will determine the width of the thinnest part of the pin. You will be making two cuts (per pin, one for the half pin) so it is easiest just place the edge of the “V” on the line. You can gang cut multiple tail boards if you want.


Chop out the pin holes.
Use the saw hook to cut out the half pins. Make sure the base line is covered so you don’t cut it.
For the pin holes, I use a 1/8” chisel followed by a marking knife to clean out the corners. Use whatever works for you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Ugh. That looks terrible!

Mark the pins (this time for real). Use your favorite marking device to outline the tails. Important! The marks need to be at the very edge of each tail. A pencil tends to leave a little gap.

Cut the pins. This is the most importantest part. The jig is attached to the outside of the pin board so you are cutting into waste. The “V” is positioned to cover the mark (plus a fudge factor for kerf, mismarking, etc). Notice that the pencil lines are entirely visible post cut.

Chop. The tails are a lot bigger than the pins so I’m using a 1/4” chisel and smacking it with a hammer. Start proud of the base line because the chisel will move the line back. Refer to the Veritas instructions for a good how-to.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Assemble. You may need to trim the pins; if so, the jig makes a good chisel guide to shave off a wafer thin slice of pin. If you cut too much, the saw hook works to cut wafer thin pin shims.
Plane down the excess pins and tails and your good to go (no glue has been used here).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA









On my 19” monitor (1280 x 1024), these are life size (the rule is 1” squares):OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA          OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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