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Basic Knowledge On Dovetail Building Drawers

October 18, 2018Olen Murriel

Compared to standard kitchen drawers, Dovetail drawers need a different type of construction. They are also regarded as a higher quality drawer option to homeowners. The main difference lies with the type of joint used for dovetail drawers. The Locking Joint is the type of joint formed for dovetail drawers and is created from wedge-shaped channels inserted to the wood that interlocks with another from either side of the drawer thereby creating a box. The Tails and Pins which are the wedge-shaped pieces provide very strong joint that is resistant to force once the two sides are put together. And not only is the locking joint strong in itself, it also provides a large area for gluing. Since glue is stronger that wood, then the bigger the gluing area the stronger the drawer becomes. Dovetail drawers also provide the largest storage space due to the construction of its joint, amazingly strong and long lasting, and is artistically beautiful.

Making dovetail drawers is not exclusive for the professional woodworkers only, rather with careful planning and the right tools and materials, is something an average woodworker can achieve. You just need to have a good quality dovetail jig which can enable you to make all kinds of dovetail joints.


I now take you to the average woodworker’s fundamentals of building dovetail drawers.


First you must have the following items

Dovetail Jig, surface planer, table saw, miter saw, clamps, sanders, plunge router, router bushing and bit set, and supplies for finishing.


Follow these steps

  1. Make the drawer boxes. It is critical to ensure your starting materials are exactly sized and matched. Surface plane the materials between A and 5/8 of an inch. Using the table saw and joiner planer, prepare stock materials that are in exact even inch multiples. You may use a rocker dovetail jig to produce drawers that are at even inch heights. Be very careful to verify the dovetail spacing on your dovetail jig prior to starting with the work. Using half blind dovetails, cut to the exact final width the front and back of the drawer. Also take note to already select your drawer slides prior to starting with the construction to ensure accurate fit.
  2. Load and clamp the front and back drawer unto the horizontal part of the jig. Then, using a cohesive stop that ensures proper. A inch offset alignment, position the side in the vertical portion of the jig. Please take note that you are looking at the eventual side of the box. Also take note that alignment of the teeth bar and the back bar are based on the thickness of your material. Further take note that small changes result to large changes in the final box so minimize if not avoid any changes. It is also highly recommended to test the scrap material prior to moving on to the finished parts. Label each joint as 1,2,3 or 4 after routing. A matched set produced by the jig results to the best fit for joints cut in the same routing step.
  3. Set-up the router with the correct dovetail bit and bushing. Note that the bushing rides along the teeth of the jig. Further take note that the tightness of the fit is determined by the height of the bit. Always use a plunge router with a micro height adjustable stop (not a fixed base router) to dial in the joint. Always take note that a mere 64th of an inch difference can change a joint from too tight to too lose. Be careful also to have your joint not too tight since some wood variety like Maple can crack and damage your dovetail. Apply only a gentle tap of your mallet to the joint.
  4. Carefully set-up and run the router around each of the teeth in the jig to provide the dovetail profile. Notice that the pockets and the tails on the inside of the drawer are actually rounded on a half blind dovetail. Once the drawer is assembled, this part of the joint will be completely invisible. Make sure to take time to properly remove all the materials. Then the drawers can be produced very quickly once the jig is dialed. This process is so efficient that it only takes the same amount of time to build 10 drawers as a single drawer using traditional method.
  5. A inch plywood is recommended for use on bottom drawers while % inch can suffice for smaller drawers. To avoid eventual sag in larger drawers, you can rabbit the edge of the bottom of the A inch plywood to make the thickness approximate 3/8 of an inch. This will allow it to fit in a dado in the drawer sides that is invisible once assembled. Cutting a full A dado on the side would show in the final dovetail joint. And the dado for the bottom have to be carefully aligned with the center of the tail.
  6. Dry fit the drawer with any fine adjustments using a sand paper or a sharp chisel. And to make it invisible in the final drawer, the rabbited portion of the drawer bottom should be towards the bottom of the drawer.
  7. The drawer can be glued and clamped once a suitable fit has been achieved. The entire surface of the dovetails should be covered in glue. Remember always to never glue the bottom of the drawer into the dado. And the bottom should be sized to allow contraction or expansion that could fit in the dado slot. Always clamp the drawers while drying to ensure they are perfectly square and the joint tight. You may use multiple clamps for large drawers.
  8. Finish by sanding the drawer boxes to achieve perfectly smooth joints over the dovetails. You may start with 60 grit to level all surfaces then follow it with 120 and 200 grit sanding discs on random orbit sander. Any imperfections in the joints can be filled-in with high quality wood filler.
  9. To achieve a beautiful looking drawer, use water based satin polyurethane to apply 2-3 coats of finish with hand 220 grit sanding in between coats.
  10. The final step to the process is to install quality ball bearing on the side or undermount slide hardware and drawer fronts where required.
I hope you enjoy this article on the average woodworker’s fundamentals of building dovetail drawers.
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