I cut these dovetails yesterday from mahogany and oak. Such simple saw cuts split the fibers to separate the waste from the wanted and tails remain. The second I trace, each with the knife’s point, and then, again, the knife, the chisel and the saw cuts define the remaining shape until two unmarried parts become joined inextricably, irrevocably, for life.
No other joint can make the box like this one can, as far as I know. In four hundred years and more this joint has resisted the weight and strain to carry and keep the essentials for life; a man’s working tools, his seeds and the possessions surrounding his family.
Dovetails are common signatures of a man’s trust in future generations. He invests time and energy in making them fit. The tighter they fit, the longer they remain in perfect harmony together.
Joinery comes from the word harmos, the word from which we get our English word harmony. I think a well made woodworking joint looks like harmony when it’s done, but the greater harmony lies with the man in his work of it. His vocation is to hear that which would call him to his task and that the task of a lifetime. Just as the dove symbolizes innocence and peace, so too the dovetail joint in the harmony of its place in the whole.
Who made the first dovetail joint I don’t know. No man does. But it’s really a very fine joint I think.