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Dovetail Tester

There is no substitute for practice before and in the process of actually cutting dovetails. Occasionally someone gets it straight off but mostly not. The exercises early on improve your chances of success and aiming for the bullseye of a good result is definitely a question of ‘getting your eye in’ before the real work begins.

Here’s a project I made years ago when I lived in TexasHill Country, two decades at least, and one I really enjoy having for my small stuff like drill bits, pencils and pens, special-to-me screwdrivers and hand tools and and so on. If you have made my Shaker dovetailed candle box, as have thousands of others who have been on my courses with me, then you will see that this is an alternative, more advanced composition with a dovetailed drawer. I designed it to teach drawer making but the small proportions make it just a little more tricky.

This little box is invaluable. Everyone should make it to advance their dovetailing and box-making skills, but then added to the whole process of box making I have added the complexities of drawer making with both common through- and half-lap dovetails. This will indeed take you on to a whole new level without incurring very much cost at all.

This was never developed as a box to show my best work but just a working box I made as part of my love of box making for keeping the important things of life in.

Replete with both dovetail types uniting the drawer and the main box, the drawer also has hand grooved back, front and sides to house the drawer bottom.


  1. David R on 28 October 2019 at 6:14 pm

    Hello Paul,

    is the bottom of the upper department also done with grooves in the box’s sides? That’s a nice little project that I can see many more uses for than for the candle box. You don’t happen to have rough drawing with dimensions for it?

    Best regards, David

    • Paul Sellers on 28 October 2019 at 6:36 pm

      Planning to draw it up to give out.

      • David R on 28 October 2019 at 7:00 pm

        Thanks, looking forward to it.

      • Joe on 28 October 2019 at 7:08 pm

        Thanks Paul. I’m trying to use wood I have before buying more and smaller projects are good for this. I noticed that the handle on the drawer protrudes the sides which serves as a way to keep the drawer flush to the frame. Very clever detail. Looking forward to it. Could make for a fun YouTube video series as well.

      • Mike on 28 October 2019 at 9:17 pm

        Looking forward to that!

      • Dave R on 29 October 2019 at 1:27 am

        I have made 2 candle boxes and would love to make one of these too. Thanks for this article and look forward to the sketches on this one.

      • Tim B. on 4 November 2019 at 2:27 pm

        Nice! Very nice. I just finished an epic (for me, at least) 7 month Roubo bench project and am now ready for just a project as this. Lots of loose bits, small measuring tools, etc that need a home. I’ve spent a year getting comfortable with hand cut mortises and tenons, thanks in large part to Paul, and am now ready to hone develop confidence in dovetails.

        “Simple”, hand-done functional elegance as this project exemplifies has such appeal.


    • Jack Dempsey on 28 October 2019 at 10:19 pm

      Are there plans available to purchase?

      • Michael Geiger on 29 October 2019 at 6:54 am

        Paul usually makes the plans available along with instruction videos (If he makes them) on, either for free member or in the paid option.

  2. Robert parsons 81 on 28 October 2019 at 7:01 pm

    Great just the sort of box I have been looking for if you are doing plans that will be great thanks Paul take care.

  3. Rob on 28 October 2019 at 7:03 pm

    It’s very lovely, I very much like the drawer handle. I look forward to making it if you can get us the plans

  4. Tad on 28 October 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I type in many variations of “Shaker dovetailed candle box” and the only thing that came up was the dovetail box videos. I am assuming this is what you are referring to?

    • Paul Sellers on 28 October 2019 at 8:11 pm

      Sorry, it’s not a video series anywhere. Just showing everyone that’s all.

  5. Neil on 28 October 2019 at 7:50 pm

    I’m interested in how you can do a stopped groove without an electric router. Plough planes don’t seem to work as the cutter is in front of the blade -unless you do a very short groove and finish off the stopped ends with a chisel. I have thought of using my veritas router plane along the grain using the stringing cutters. What do you think?

    • Bob Easton on 28 October 2019 at 8:30 pm

      Grooves for the floor of the drawer don’t have to be stopped. They can all be through, with only two showing on the very back of the drawer. The others will be hidden inside.

      As for the upper floor, let’s wait for Paul’s drawings. In other box projects, he has used through grooves and then filled visible openings with plugs.

      • Michael Geiger on 29 October 2019 at 6:56 am

        As for stopped housing dados in the wall clock series he makes the dado for the top and bottom using chisel and router plane to finish if I’m not mistaken

    • Johanna Ubben on 28 October 2019 at 8:45 pm

      I’ve done stopped grooves with a combination of a plow plane and a router plane, when doing though dovetails where I did not want the ends of the grooves to show. I’ve also seen them done by chopping out part of the groove with a chisel, much like you would do in making a mortise.

  6. Alec Garner on 28 October 2019 at 8:10 pm

    Very nice, but one of my pet peeves with boxes, is where the lids flip all the way back. There’s a novel method to achieve the lid staying in the upright position without additional hardware, whereby you produce matching chamfers along the back of the box and the lid, and then set the hinges to the inner chamfer lines; the box opens on the meeting chamfers restricting the lid going any further back. Expect a little tweaking of the chamfers to achieve a gap free appearance in the open position, but it’s satisfying when you get it right.

  7. nemo on 28 October 2019 at 8:22 pm

    Beautiful box and something I’d like to have sitting on the electronics bench to keep various small gadgetry in. But for the moment I’ll have to make a few more regular boxes with normal dovetails. Hidden dovetails are probably a little too hard, yet. Actually, I was disappointed by the results of my first real dovetail box. It came out ok-ish, but still a few gaps here and there. I expect better from myself. So, more practice is needed. But I’m still amazed by the progress I’ve made over the past few years, so have confidence that dovetails will become much better.

    The drawer handle is a nice, tasteful and stylish little touch as well. Gives the box that little something extra.

  8. Dave Gallaher on 28 October 2019 at 8:58 pm

    Thank you for introducing this box. Have put it on the to do list.
    Curious to ask why you appear to have used hard board or possibly MDF for the drawer bottoms. Is it because they run truer to 1/4” than the nominal plywood does?

  9. gerald ansnia on 28 October 2019 at 11:57 pm

    Reminds me of the tool box organizer
    same shape without a second drawer top drawer replaced by through dovetail upper piece
    obvious with out top drawer a hinged top
    do really like the drawer pull
    loved making the tool box organizer and planned on making a second with new dimensions to hold slightly larger items
    this will be interesting to make
    i believe i can use the tool box organizer to develop the plans and will be interested in how my plans cl compare with paul’s when he publishes them on the site
    as always thank pail and his team for the great work
    enjoy all the videos, blogs and the comments
    i have read most of the blogs from previous years always interesting

    • Joe on 31 October 2019 at 2:29 pm

      Plan to make one for my wife for her desk* at home to put pens, pencils, post it notes, etc in.

      * on the list of projects is to make my wife a proper desk (she works from home). For the past decade she has been using some MDF skinned item she bought at IKEA before we married. Though it has worked well and survived a few moves, I want to make her a nice proper desk. So many projects, so little free time.

  10. Samuel on 29 October 2019 at 12:47 am

    I like the soft creamy curved edges, 50’s drawer pulls.

  11. Keith on 29 October 2019 at 3:08 am

    I love how the exposed surfaces have aged. I have been in a bit of a rut and for some reason this simple box inspired me. I’ll start building it as soon as the plans are out

  12. Tassos on 29 October 2019 at 6:12 am

    Thanks Paul

  13. Sylvain on 29 October 2019 at 9:11 am

    If the groove is just above the lower pin, it will only show at the back of the drawer. So the challenge is making narrow pins to avoid loosing drawer depth.

    I have made a few candle boxes of various size. I have made one with a lid obtained by cutting the box after gluing the top and bottom with a housed internal partition. I have made a drawer for the workbench. I have made a chisel tray.
    I am pretty confident, after the above Paul tutorials, one can make this with his/her own plans.

    One difficult thing is … finding good hinges.

    • Tom on 29 October 2019 at 3:57 pm

      I agree. In fact, I think you learn even more by figuring out how to do it instead of blindly following a plan. To each his own though…

      • Paul Sellers on 29 October 2019 at 5:22 pm

        That seems perhaps a little hard, especially on new woodworkers??? When I was an apprentice in my first two or three years I found patterns, methods of work, techniques and plans and planning passed to me as guides etc saved me much work (blindly following those who paved the way for me) once they were established in my life and that’s what I tend to pass on to others mostly in the making of projects; in the absence of good, craftsman teaching it’s a kindness to take out some of the guesswork until skill is established.

        • Sylvain on 30 October 2019 at 10:43 am

          I must admit not everybody is equally at ease in making a spatial representation. The good news is: woodworking practice should improve on this.

          As for patterns, methods of work and techniques I am very grateful to You, Paul.

        • Ken on 30 October 2019 at 3:11 pm

          I may not follow plans precisely as far as dimensions go but it is very helpful to have clear guidance on certain construction details.

          • nemo on 30 October 2019 at 5:18 pm

            A lack of plans has never stopped me from building something.

            Different ways of working, I suppose. I consider the projects and building details more as ideas, parts of which I may or not incorporate in my own projects. A few good pictures, showing details, are just as useful to me as a full set of drawings. It always surprizes me when people ask for plans, as if one needs a blueprint that you can copy one-on-one. I can’t recall *ever* having built something according to someone else’s plans. But I have stolen many ideas from others!

            Then again, a good set of plans never harmed me either. But it’s not a pre-requisite, for me.

  14. Keith on 31 October 2019 at 12:43 pm

    The only pine I have on hand at the moment is 3/8 but I’m going to the lumber yard today. What thicknesses are used here Paul?

  15. James R Light on 4 November 2019 at 12:57 pm

    Wow, I love that design. My brain is churning on how to put the bottom in the top compartment. Both my wife and daughter-in-law want me to make a dovetail box for them for Christmas. This looks perfect. Hope you make a video project on this one. Thanks for sharing.
    Jim Light

  16. Jason M. on 4 November 2019 at 6:27 pm

    I would love to see this as a video series.

  17. David L. on 5 November 2019 at 12:17 am

    I too would like to see a video series on this dovetail tester.

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