Here’s a sentence on dovetails:

“A dovetail is a single saw stroke away from becoming. I lift the saw, push the teeth into the wood and cut to the line stroke by stroke. Sawn granules fall from a hundred cutting teeth and the kerf parts off the waste as a dovetail emerges to receive its partnering pin. It’s a matching of exact opposites, opposed shapes, angles juxtaposed with flat grain against end grain; light reflecting, light absorbed, dull versus bright shine, rough texture to fineness, open pores nestle beside closed pores. The contrast attracts gaze.

An enquiry begins in a textured mind of wondering how such a thing is made by human hand and eye. What coordinated this thing called a dovetail? What drew man to make such a thing the first time it became? Who was the man who pulled the saw, severed the wood and formed the first dovetail from a mere thought? When did such an act lay down a standard of such exactitude that all carpenters followed the pattern unquestioningly through the centuries and never replaced it?”

12 Comments

  1. Jeremy on 2 April 2018 at 10:23 pm

    I often wonder such things. Who ate the first hot pepper and deemed it edible? Who was the first to try this or that? Why did they even bother? I suppose iron was too expensive, butt joints too weak; so the dovetail was developed. I wonder, did it happen first in building construction or furniture and boxes?



  2. P.R. Gaffney on 3 April 2018 at 5:58 am

    Perhaps it was the first person who saw that a wedge shaped stone didn’t get pulled down but could be pulled sideways to be removed and thought, “why not in wood?” Shape first then negative space to fit it. Art happens sometimes entirely by accident, but is no less beautiful for it.



    • Paul Sellers on 3 April 2018 at 10:35 am

      I suspect this could be Egyptian in origin.



      • Joel Cress on 3 April 2018 at 11:45 am

        According to Wikipedia…
        “The dovetail joint…probably pre-dates written history. Some of the earliest known examples of the dovetail joint are in ancient Egyptian architecture entombed with mummies dating from First Dynasty, as well the tombs of Chinese emperors.”
        I suppose both Egyptian and Chinese in origin; but no doubt much older still. The more we study ancient civilizations, the more we find that they were far more advanced than we would have ever thought.



        • Paul Sellers on 3 April 2018 at 2:24 pm

          Oh ye with such faith in Wikipedia…



    • Bill Nenna on 3 May 2018 at 8:11 pm

      Though maybe not likely the dovetail may have come about from a guy who couldn’t cut a straight line and stumbled his way to a stronger joint. Just a thought. lol



  3. Wayne on 3 April 2018 at 1:02 pm

    Is it true that the first guy to eat a hot pepper also invented ice cream the next day?



  4. Tom Dowling on 3 April 2018 at 2:25 pm

    Hi Paul, I have two Diston dovetail saws and one of them has printed on the side 68, Danville,Va.
    Was this a popular saw at one time?



  5. Thom on 3 April 2018 at 4:02 pm

    There is a interesting information on the dovetail joints on Loughborough University of some of the history. It’s a great read



  6. Richard Noonan on 3 April 2018 at 5:35 pm

    Loved your latest post. You make dovetails appear easy watching you cut dovetails makes it look even easier. But, I’m really struggling to produce an acceptable dovetail. For me this is what it’s all about. The challenge of mastering a new skill. I will prevail.



  7. Ed Baedke on 3 April 2018 at 8:15 pm

    I find the joint is as visually appealing as is the name itself. Interesting how it came to be known as a ‘dove’tail. Perhaps coined back to a time when birds (dove’s) were much more abundant in the communities and villages that began using them. A woodworking joint that is pure yet strong and everlasting.

    Nothing like hand-cut dovetails on a piece a craftwork to say here is a mark of craftsmanship, and someone who has learned the skill of using hand tools to bring together a timeless joint.



  8. Michael Benoit on 4 April 2018 at 5:11 pm

    Dovetails were probably invented by cavemen who wanted arrow and spear heads to stay on the shaft.



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