New to Dovetails

We’ve been building up our Common Woodworking site with more helps guides for new woodworkers to get started or to build their hand skills if they have mostly or only used machine methods. To that end our recently posted how to’s and exercises includes the ever-important dovetail joint. As ever, you have all been so positive about your learning experiences but we want to help you even more.

There was a time in the pre internet days when I could only teach and train in person. The trouble was that that then excluded most of the rest of the world’s emerging woodworkers. Today that’s all changed because of course we have the internet; instead of teaching only a handful of new woodworkers in a class or on a course, we are now able to help hundreds if not thousands At first I was a little leery that such a thing could replace my one-on-one working with students, but that has proven not to be the case at all. Of course I’m not saying that it’s exactly the same as having someone look over your shoulder or standing in front of someone’s workbench, but with modern day videography it’s become an excellent close second. Hundreds of people wanting to master craft are now able to do so and we feel with a little tweaking we can all learn from one another mistakes and successes.

You would be surprised how much I can tell you about what and how you did by just looking at the finished joints you make. I can generally tell you about the saw, the sawing technique and much more by just looking inside the joint. I can tell where you fettled this or that part or where instead of doing this you should or could have done that. How would you like me to critique your early efforts at dovetailing?

If you have been following Common Woodworking’s dovetailing guide and made the single or the double dovetail, I’d be happy to critique it. Remember this is for new woodworkers or those who need help to figure out what they are doing wrong. I doubt I could cope with everyone else’s but if you are new to our guides and want an honest critique you can send in one your first efforts at dovetailing in the post. To find out how to send them in, click here and we will look at what you did and let you know what we found.

An added advantage will be that we hope to put together an image gallery of new woodworker’s dovetails along with pointers for how they could be improved. We hope this will be a great resource for others when they are troubleshooting their dovetail joints.


  1. What an amazing and generous offer! I’ve only done three attempts so far and the first was just practicing. Although it worked better than the second try!

  2. Your generous, selfless service to (aspiring) woodworkers continues to amaze me. I hope it will be well received.

    Is there a time-limit/expiration date to this offer? I intend to make a tool-tote for gardening tools sometime in the next few months using dovetails and would gladly benefit from your critical remarks. My first attempt at a dovetail box (for a pair of Felco pruning scissors) shattered because I was using plywood. Quickly learned the hard way that dovetails are very hard (impossible?) to make in plywood. Had to switch to a box-joint instead. The joints came out nice but the box was terribly out of square. Still, it does the job. But that means I still have never actually made a dovetail joint myself; almost ashamed to admit.

    Peter (nemo)

  3. Paul’s Masterclass is where I learned to cut dovetails. I felt confident enough to build a large tool chest that had around 128 dovetails total. It came out good, but If you look close you can see where I started because the dovetails are just a bit “gappie”. About half way through, they start looking better, and the last 30 or so are quite good.

    I try to keep my skills up by doing at least one or two dovetail projects a month or so. Just little boxes and stuff like that.

  4. I love the idea of having examples of problems and errors.
    The only thing a perfect picture does is let me know I didn’t do something right …. usually already aware of that.

    As opposed to an example and diagnosis of error allows me to identify what I am doing wrong.

  5. Thanks for the offer Paul. Once I have managed to finish my work bench!!!!! I am going to temp trying my hand at making a dove tail joint. The only question is what wood should a beginner use?
    Thanks again for the very informative site.
    P’s I am from South Africa

      1. Thanks will try and get some that does not have to many knots. Will send photos in due course
        Still got to finish my work bench

  6. I would find it interesting and informative to watch a video of a student cutting their first dovetsil. Your talented hands are so experienced that I may never develop the muscle memory you possess.

    1. You know Robert, that’s really not true. Make ten boxes in a row and you will get it. It’s nothing to do with muscle memory, just a made up mind.

      1. Excellent Paul. There’s nothing like “doing” to learn a new skill. I don’t know why, but there seems to be a resistance nowadays to actually practicing a new skill. You can only pick up so much from watching someone else doing something.

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