How to Make a Half-lap Dovetail–A New Video and a New Method

There are different preferences and traditional ways to make hand cut dovetails and then there is a way that adds one extra step but removes all need for the conventional use of marking or cutting gauges; methods normally associated with laying out both through and half-lap dovetails.

Hand cuts always look like hand cuts.

When I first saw the video played back to me, it took me 30 minutes in the presentation to cover the essential and core issues, but when I’m at the bench, working on my own, a four-inch span of say three equally sized dovetails takes me 10-15 minutes per joint corner. I think if you give it a try you may want to use it forever. Whenever you see any of my half-lap dovetails in my work, the chances are I have used this method. If you are one of those that likes the gauge lines across your dovetails to show that they were hand made and not routed, you can run a marking gauge across the shoulder lines after you’ve done.

My method even works with less conventional dovetails as well as common (through) dovetails too.


I might add that in the presentation I do use a router plane but if you don’t have one you can just use a widish chisel for the same work.


Here is the video:

13 thoughts on “How to Make a Half-lap Dovetail–A New Video and a New Method”

  1. I love this technique. I’ve made a few drawers following these steps and came out great. I also did it on the hounds tooth joint when I built the brackets and that was probable one of the best joints I’ve done so far. Keep the knowledge coming. 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. I will try using the shoulder next time I cut dovetails.

  3. mike pentecost

    I would love to be able to watch this as a downloaded video. Streaming videos are a major pain with stuttering and pausing and generally making it impossible to watch. I download all of the Masterclass videos so that I can watch them as they are intended to be seen. I have a high speed internet connection but although I can’t prove it I suspect that my provider like most here in the US deliberately downgrades streaming video priority ( except for their premium content).

    1. Michael Ballinger

      Are the free video’s on masterclasses available to download for paying subscribers mike?

  4. Paul:
    The idea of cutting to the knife line is one that confuses me and has got me in trouble many times leading to gappy dovetails. If the knife line is marked around the perimeter of the tails, isn’t one supposed to cut just inside of it? Of course therein lines the issue for me, since the chisel wants to fall on the knife line rather than just inside of it. Your video also shows that you chop right on the knife line. I’ve got away a couple of times by allowing the swelling of the glue to close the gap, in some cases totally, but this doesn’t seem to be “the way of the craftsman”. Your dovetails appear to be gap free even when dry fitted so I am obviously doing something wrong. Thanks.

    1. Paul Sellers

      You must practice on scraps, over and over. If you pick up a guitar or lift the lid to a piano you don’t play Mozart straight off – you expect to put the time in. This is just the same and yet the over expectation of perfection is something I encounter all the time. I have made at the very minimum 120,000 hand cut dovetails but i still must be in tune with my wood, my tools and my body. I still make five to ten dovetails in any given week for my work on average I am sure, so that keeps me in shape.

      1. The example I like to use in my head is marathon runner…. you are the olympic marathoner running effortlessly mile after mile, whereas some of us are the strugglers at the back of the pack, barely finishing the race if at all. Of course it takes years of training to be an olympic marathoner, plus innate physical attributes, this is understood but frustrating to us strugglers nonetheless.

        1. Michael Ballinger

          You’re right but even Paul had to put the time in I guess. Personally I shoot for perfection but never expect to be perfect. Keeps it fun, my skill is developing all the time and I just love working by hand.

          1. Agreed. Then you get that perfect dovetail…. no gaps….. really tight….. and you think………. what did I just to to do that. 🙂

    1. Paul Sellers

      Blind dovetail is the American name given and it works fine but as it didn’t originate in the US we will continue the correct terminology. It may also not be used throughout the US. Perhaps one of those regional, Southern’ things or ‘Southwestern’ things???

  5. Made my very first half lap dovetails tonight, using this method. They’re not as perfect as Paul’s but it’s a start. Now practicing on more.

    Only unpleasant surprise: my drawer doesn’t fit… When dimensioning the sides if the drawer, I did not take the thicknes of the “lap” in acount, resulting in my drawer being exactly that amount too deep. Guess I’m going to plane that amount off the rear, enough material there.

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