The Classic Look of Routed Dovetails. Oops, Meant Hand-cut!!!

I recently posted about the advert where a jig maker, Leigh Industries, used a phrase that said, “The Classic Look of Hand-cut Dovetails”, which I thought seemed somewhat deceptive but there again, this is the age of fake news so why expect more of the advertising media? It seems all the more that everyone assents to the acceptance that the practice of machine cuts mattered very little as long as it looked hand cut and indeed had the same look as a hand cut dovetail too. No matter how you slice it, if a machine cut it, it ain’t hand cut. Just sayin’. This is one of those rattle snake barbecue moments. You know, where someone fries up some barbecued rattle snake and everyone walks away saying ‘Wow! Tastes just like chicken!” So why not just eat chicken?

These are my classic hand cuts. We just finished a lovely series on making the keepsake box,

In some people’s minds of course it will always be that the end justifies the means, but then there are those of us who just simply enjoy woodworking with the mechanics of hand work rather than relying on machines and the baggage that comes with that. You know, the stuff that’s left out of the expressed image here—face shields and eye protection, hearing defence and dust masks, dust extraction etc. To say nothing of lengthy setups and noise from machines, safety risks and the risk of damaging materials if things do go wrong.


I wasn’t sure how this looked any more like a classic hand-cut look than their machine-cut. Perhaps someone else can see it and explain.

Where some tried to counter what I was saying about disingenuous advertising, pointing out the fallacy and missing out on doing the whole process yourself, I think the majority got it and get it. Rather than being distanced from the process of developing real skill, or indeed postponing this development of your ability, accepting the lie in my experience often means never developing hand skills that really work and work pretty much throughout a lifetime. At the end of the day, when someone asks if the dovetails are hand cut and you say ‘Yes!‘ I personally think that you will feel, well, just a teensy weeny bit dishonest. Whereas I do accept in some woodworking businesses, making drawers all day long to the same spec, machines like routers combined with jigs, though it gets very old fast,  will give you the competitive edge. The problem comes when everyone has the same equipment and the price is brought so low no one makes any money. Most so-called ‘professionals’ never really discuss this issue.

Remember, this box took me 48 minutes from beginning to end including the finish and no machines were used beyond dimensioning the wood. It’s a bit beaten up now after years on display and being dropped twice on concrete.

The reality for me is showing that for a single project people trying something like dovetailing by hand often discover the very thing they started woodworking to achieve. They begin to better understand the real meaning and fulfilment in doing as much of the work by hand themselves. They often discover that it’s certainly quicker for single units when you have developed the skill. But the point was never comparing machines to hand methods but the deceitfulness of ad-spin. No one considers the moral dilemma of the disingenuous ad. Just that it was, well, cute!

Whereas I do accept that 1 in 20 of my students do struggle to cut the perfect dovetail first time, by the time they have cut just a few practice ones they’ve usually got it. Above are totally Hannah’s dovetails. It’s her third dovetailed project and the first two were every bit as good.

Oh! Don’t click on the red, ‘See Video’ button in the image, that’s not real either!

21 comments on “The Classic Look of Routed Dovetails. Oops, Meant Hand-cut!!!

  1. Good post.

    I don’t know if this “this is the age of fake news” should make us who are ordinary sensible folks laugh or cry, if you know what I mean.

    Should we classify the Leigh Jigs ad as an alternative fact? Sigh!

  2. When you have thick pins they look like machine cut dovetails i.e. The thick shank of the router bit. When you have 6mm or less pins or even cut thru the same saw-cut then everyone would know that they are hand-cut..

  3. What they are trying to suggest makes it look more hand-cut is that the spacing and size of the dovetails are adjustable, as opposed to the jigs which use a single piece of metal as a template and thus have the fixed size and spacing which strongly suggest machine-made.

    It’s a valid point. If you want to use a motor assist but want some artistic control rather than just the strength of dovetails, the more adjustable jigs may be an interesting option.

    The best tool for any task is the one that produces the results you want while letting you work the way you want to work, without breaking your budget or schedule. The best craftsman is the one who can do good work even when the tools, materials or conditions are suboptimal. Do whatever makes sense for you and lets you be pleased with your work.

    “… And every single one of them is right!”

  4. It states….makes it easy. I must be pretty dumb. All the manufactured jigs (and shop built) I’ve tried sends me to a level of frustration that I can’t put into words.

    • Nailed it,I’ve been a woodmachinist the better part of 18 years,and I find it baffling the complexity they put into some of these jig nowerdays.

  5. I have been doing your master classes for about two years. I probably have about 200-300 hours at the bench (7 weeks worth of work if I were a full time apprentice so not that much time really). There is lots of room for improvement. Having said that, my dad is amazed at what I produce. I think, despite you and others working to dispel incorrect perceptions, many still think it takes some super special talent to be able to be able to use hand tools. those that sells tools that run off of electrons instead of sweat have done a good job of convincing folks of this (much in the same way a diamond is the only possible stone for an engagement ring). As such most won’t even try hand tools. Hence power routers for dove tails, etc. Little by little Paul, you and others are getting the word out. Thank you for what you do. Yo saved me from a shop full of machines that I wouldn’t dare let my daughter use.

  6. I was going to buy one of these jigs when I sat down to listen to this crazy Englishman at a woodworking show.
    He made a set of dovetails in 15 minutes with simple tools I already had at home. The line that got me was how many of these are you going to make to justify doing them by machine?
    Once you do something just to make a living it’s not fun anymore.

  7. I enjoy woodworking using handtools.
    I don’t enjoy the noise of power tools.
    But at the end of the day, if someone enjoys it… And its butiful… Who cares.

    I bet when the handplane was invented people used to admire those lovely small chisel marks which were found on quality furniture that were the mark of a true woodworker. Mass producers on the other hand used a plane.

  8. I am looking at the image in the the advertisement. I kinda wonder why that toolbox with the ‘hand cut looking ‘dovetails is filled with hand tools (?) Or are they just power tools made to look like hand tools? By the way, I have eaten rattlesnake and it tasted to me like…well…rattlesnake.

  9. I made my first dovetail the other day,it was just a test piece nothing special,but after being anwoodmachinist by trade for 18 yrs,I felt an fulfilment I had never experienced.

    The dovetail met the pins perfectly,and I was rushing it too,this just shows how good Paul’s methods and teachings are.

    I feel content knowing if there’s ever an power cut,it won’t effect my woodworking.

  10. Fake news & machine cut dovetails have two things in common……
    1) Each has been around longer than most want to acknowledge.
    2) “Regular” people are starting to notice and question the quality of both.

    If I had to cut 500 dovetails for a large project I could see the attraction in using a jig, but why would anyone prefer to spend an hour tinkering with a jig and router when in that time you could just get on with it, and be done before the power cord gets plugged in?

  11. Great post Paul!! I have used plenty of the jigs for dovetails thinking that I could possibly make them look good. It always seems to take a couple of hours just to set it all up to get them tight. I either end up putting it back on the shelf or give it back to the friend I borrowed a new one from. Back to the old tried and true. I do not do to much hand tool work with the type of stuff we build. I do however love when a project comes alone that the hand tools get brought out!

  12. Paul stated that it took him 48 minutes to make one of the above boxes. That is just amazing. It takes me about 12 hours to make a custom fitted pen display box and I don’t have a single dovetail joint. True, I do include hand carved fitment mounting blocks, plexiglass cover and brass hardware, but the time difference is staggering. My friend and I refer to Paul Sellars as “Pope Paul” for the amazing work he does and the way he seems to pull it off with little effort.

  13. You and your shop and school are a haven of sanity and traditional values. It is where I go when (may I use German?) the “Weltschmertz” of what is happening to my nation starts to overwhelm me. I “ducked and covered”, spent three years at less than minimum wage fighting in the Cold War, dedicated myself to the welfare and good of my city and neighbors for — for this?
    I’d like it, and it’s a modest request, if the language of this mental and moral Armageddon — like, “fake news” — did not infiltrate the haven of your work.
    Usually, I can almost smell the aroma of freshly sawn wood, and the intrusion of the lexicon of today’s ethical collapse is a jolting intrusion.
    Thank you for everything else you do, and thank you for for the gift of being able to go to my hands to defend against the attacks on my mind and sensibilities.

  14. I recently went to the Working with Wood show in Sydney looking for second-hand tools (found a battered Marples chisel which I’ve brought back to healthy life), and saw a fellow in a full-body protective suit, mask, air supply, standing in a tiny booth, speaking to the assembled group of people, through microphone and speaker, about the wonders of this marvellous machine he was using to do something to wood. I was laughing so much I couldn’t see what he was doing through my tears.

  15. “…by the time they have cut just a few practice ones they’ve usually got it.”

    Yeah, about that.

    I’ve got about 30 failures so far, I keep them in a box at the end of my bench. Every couple of failures I watch your dovetail videos again.

    The funny thing is that at this point, I’m terrible at making dovetails but I’ve become good at sharpening and very good at preparing perfectly square and flat stock to use for dovetail practicing. This always means a scrub plane then a jack plane and finally a smoother. I inherited a large collection of hardwoods but they’re mostly all in billets, cants, or rough boards. I also figured out that if I used a router plane with a narrow blade I could cut a groove lengthwise around a board and use it as a guide for resawing.

    On the upside, I’m learning about working different kinds of woods. Cypress is almost too soft, hard maple takes a long time to resaw an 8 inch wide piece. Redwood is nice to work but it’s splintery. My saws and chisel/plane blades really seem to like stripped ebony which is sort of surprising because its so hard. The stuff called bubinga is no, just no. There’s no pine in the collection but I figure it’s about the same as cypress. I won’t cut up the nice pieces for practice but I figure I have enough small stuff for a while, and then I’ll buy pine.

    Your videos have shown me how to do things but more so they’ve given me a desire to do hand woodworking. Bad eyes and shaking hands make things difficult but I’m not going to stop trying. When I get good at dovetails I’m going to keep that box of failures on the end of my bench. It will be an inspiration if you can understand what I mean.

    Thanks for the videos and the master woodworking website.

  16. Spent nearly $1400 some years ago buying the Leigh DR4 I think, along with a big suite of router bits.

    Made a few things but oh the pain of the setups. What they don’t tell you is that the setting up, test cuts, etc all make using the jog for a one off TOTALLY useless. They are suitable for pumping out dozens of drawers at a time, as Paul says.

    Sold it a few years ago for half the price, bought a dovetail and crosscut saw, and some chisels – SO HAPPY, SO< SO HAPPY now 🙂

  17. Having been the “former” owner of a Leigh D4R and an FMT jig, I ca assure you that more time is spent foth fiddling and fettling than cutting good joinery – glad I abandoned almost all power tools, andf went back to “real” woodworking!

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