Cutting the Dovetails on the Workbench Sides

After making the breadboard ends on my workbench top, I had to cut the dovetails on the benchtop sides.  To start, I trimmed one end of each side piece on the crosscut sled at my table saw.  I clamped the two sides together and trimmed the other end to ensure that they were the exact same length.

Some of the tools that I used to layout the dovetails.

Some of the tools that I used to layout the dovetails.

I did some Google image searches for “workbench dovetails” and got some ideas for how I wanted to proceed.   I decided on a 1:7 ratio for the angle of the tails.  I saw many opinions online about whether to use 1:6 or 1:8, and I decided to split the difference.  I drew the dovetails full-sized on a sheet of paper to work out my layout and see if they were aesthetically pleasing.  Once I was happy with the result, I kept the drawing as a guide for setting my dividers.

I drew the dovetails in actual size to see how it would look.

I drew the dovetails in actual size to see how it would look.

I’ve actually never done hand cut dovetails before, so this will be my first attempt.  6/4 thick tails and 12/4 half-blind pins!  Might as well jump in head first, right?  At least I will finally get to use my Lie-Nielsen Dovetail and small cross-cut saws that were Christmas gifts.

My Lie-Nielsen Dovetail Saw.

My Lie-Nielsen Dovetail Saw.

An interesting challenge to this, is cutting tails on the ends of an 8-foot board.  Obviously, you can’t clamp the boards upright unless you want to saw from the top of a step-ladder.  I leaned the board up against my workbench at about a 35° angle and worked on them that way.

I laid out the lines on the boards with dividers, a square, an adjustable bevel, and a marking knife.  I darkened my cut lines with a pencil.

Layout lines done and ready to cut.

Layout lines done and ready to cut.

I started to saw and carefully tried to follow the line across the end of the board while also following the line on the face.  I went very slowly until I was sure that the saw was tracking on both lines.

Attempting to follow the layout lines.

Attempting to follow the layout lines.

Trying to follow the line on the face and on the end.

Trying to follow the line on the face and on the end.

I kept dropping the saw handle down until the teeth reached the baseline at an angle. These tails are quite large and the dovetail saw spine prevented me from cutting all the way down on both sides at once.

The dovetail saw bottomed out.

The dovetail saw bottomed out.

Once I had cut to the baseline at an angle, I turned the board over and cut at an angle to the baseline on the other side.

I angled the saw and cut to the baseline.

I angled the saw and cut to the baseline.

To remove the hill in the middle between the two angled cuts, I switched to my Japanese pull saw.  It’s a cheapy that I bought from grizzly a few years ago, but it has worked well.  I noticed that it seems to be getting dull, so I’ll replace it the next time I get over to Bellingham.

I finished the cut with a Japanese pull saw.

I finished the cut with a Japanese pull saw.

Once the tails were cut, I used my Lie-Nielsen small crosscut saw to cut the shoulder lines.  Now all that was left, was to remove the waste between the tails.

Half the waste removed.

Half the waste removed.

Since these tails are so large, I thought it may be easiest to bore a hole to remove most of the waste, and then finish up with a chisel.  I have a Yankee 2101A “Bell Brace” that I was very lucky to find in a garage sale.  I had given in a thorough cleaning and oiled it, but I had yet to use it.  Wow… this thing is great!  It made short work of the job and with a #13 bit, I was done in no time.

Boring out most of the dovetail waste with a brace and bit.

Boring out most of the dovetail waste with a brace and bit.

I drilled until the lead screw poked through the other side and then turned it over to finish up.

After boring out the majority of the waste it was easy to pare away the rest.

After boring out the majority of the waste it was easy to pare away the rest.

I used a chisel to clean up the shoulders and remove the rest of the waste.

A little paring and this one was done!

A little paring and this one was done!

I also slightly undercut the shoulder area between the tails.

The space between the tails is slightly undercut.

The space between the tails is slightly undercut.

Well, one end done.  Three more to go!

I placed the tails in front of one of the breadboard ends to see how it will look and was quite pleased.

The tails placed next to the breadboard ends.

The tails placed next to the breadboard ends.

The distance between the dovetail shoulders at each end of these side-boards will determine the distance apart that the shoulders of the tongues on each end of the bench need to be cut.  My plan is to cut the tongue on one end of the bench, and then hold the dovetailed side board against the workbench so that the shoulders are flush.  I can then mark the workbench at the other end with the location of the other dovetail shoulder.  This mark will indicate where I will need to cut the shoulder for the other tongue.

The first workbench side done.

The first workbench side done.

Above, you can see the first side board finished.  I repeated the process for the other side. In my next post, I’ll cut the tongues and fit the breadboard ends.

I’ve been collecting and restoring tools for a couple of years now.  It is so nice to finally be putting them to use.  It will be even better when this workbench is built, as it is a little hard to use hand-planes on top of my table saw.

More to come.

About Jonathan

I am a woodworker and hand tool restorer / collector. I buy too many tools and don't build enough - I need help!
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One Response to Cutting the Dovetails on the Workbench Sides

  1. Pingback: Cutting the Tongues on the Workbench Top | The Bench Blog

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