Here is an overview of the dovetailing process that serves as an addendum to Max Hunter’s article, “Build a Deluxe Tool Storage Cabinet.”
For the complete “Deluxe Tool Storage Cabinet” story, click HERE.
Dovetail joinery has been around for thousands of years and can be found throughout the world. The exact origin of the dovetail joint remains a mystery, however, dovetail joinery has been found in Egyptian tombs, treasure chests from medieval times, and ancient Chinese and Japanese boxes and furniture. Some of the oldest known furniture from around the world has dovetailed drawers. The dovetail joint gets its name because the shape is similar to that of a dove’s tail. What makes a dovetail so strong is the wedged shape that causes the joint to hold itself together. A properly fitting dovetail joint does not usually require any clamps to hold it in position while the glue dries. The wedge causes a compression fit which is extremely strong and does not require any nails or screws to hold it together.
Throughout history dovetails were cut by hand with chisels and handsaws until the late 19th century when the furniture industry became industrialized during the Industrial Revolution. Alexander Dodds Company in Michigan developed a machine that could cut multiple dovetails simultaneously and cycle automatically. The first Dodds dovetailer was made in 1882, and to this day, Dodds still makes automatic dovetail machines. Western Dovetail has several of these machines, including one that is 100 years old and another that was just made last year.
The Dodds machine uses multiple cutters set at 1” on center to standardize drawer layouts on furniture in heights that fall on 1” increments.
The first dovetail jig for a router to make through dovetails was developed by David Keller in the 1970’s. The Keller Jig is solid aluminum with fixed spacing through dovetails.
Various templates are available that make “through” dovetails from 1-1/8” on center to 3” centers. The Keller jig is excellent for making through dovetails, unfortunately, this plan calls for half blind dovetails on 1” centers, so it was not used for this project. David Keller still makes the Keller jig system in Petaluma, California.
A few years later around 1980, the Leigh Jig entered the marketplace. The Leigh jig was the first variable spacing dovetail jig for a router and is capable of producing both through dovetails and half blind dovetails of various different sizes.
Leigh has made many improvements to its system over the years, and has developed a number of new templates and options. This device is capable of producing half blind dovetails 1” on center, similar to the Dodds machines. The 24” model can be used to produce both the drawers and the cabinet, but I will use the Leigh to dovetail only the cabinet.
The new Leigh DR4-Pro model can do “single pass” dovetails at 1-1/16” on center.
Porter Cable has offered a fixed spacing template jig for many years. The original model came standard with 7/8” on-center dovetails and was the first device to incorporate the “single pass” process where the side and back can be dovetailed at the same time.
The new Porter Cable jigs have variable spacing as well as fixed spacing options.
The new Porter Cable OmniJig that I will be using for the drawers comes with variable spacing fingers that can also do half blind dovetails on 1” centers with a single pass. In order to dovetail the cabinet with the OmniJig, we would have to spread the fingers and do fewer tails, or use a fixed template that is available separately.
Leigh Jig Procedure
- Set the fingers up on the left side of the jig with a symmetrical pattern that will work on the 20 ¼” width cabinet parts
- Place the cabinet side in the Leigh Jig vertically and slide it up to the bottom of the fingers with the straight side of the fingers facing out and the back edge of the side against the left side stop.
- Slide a back up piece the same thickness horizontally up against the side piece so that it contacts the entire width of the piece.
- Adjust the side piece so that it is tight and flush to the backup piece across the entire width.
- Make sure all of the clamps are tight and the parts are secure
- Place the router in the jig and run a scoring cut all the way along the inside of the side piece.
- Proceed to cut the dovetails slowly and carefully while keeping the cutter rotation in mind.
- Dovetail one end of the other side in the same manner
- Remove the back up piece and place the top or bottom with the inside facing up in its place tight against the side piece and the left fence.
- remove the side
- Flip the template to the pins side and set depth of pins
- Cut the pins on one end of each top and bottom piece
- Now, flip the template back to the tails, slide the pins to the opposite side and repeat the previous steps to dovetail the other end of each part.
I would like to thank Leigh for providing the Leigh DR4-Pro for this project.–Max Hunter
Single Pass dovetailing on the Porter Cable Jig
- Place the drawer side in the jig vertically with the inside facing out and the bottom edge against the left side fence.
- Place the drawer back in the jig horizontally with the inside of the drawer facing up and the bottom edge to the fence.
- Slide the back up tight to the side and tighten the clamp on the jig.
- Loosen the side and slide it up flush with the inside of the back.
- Make sure both parts are tight to the stops and to each other and the clamps are tight enough that you can’t move the parts.
- Begin by running the router across the side about a 1/16” deep to make a score cut so the plywood doesn’t blow out on the inside.
- Then proceed to cut the tails and pins at the same time slowly and carefully.
- Carefully cut the tails so that the plywood doesn’t chip out.
- Repeat the process on one end of each of the sides and backs.
- Since there are twice as many sides as backs, you will only have enough backs to run one end of half the sides, so a back up piece will be required to run the rest of the sides.
- To cut the pins on the fronts you will need to set the position of the fronts by placing a piece that is rabbeted 3/8” deep in place of the sides to set the depth of the pins.
- Cut the pins in one end of each of the fronts.
- When you have done all of the fronts sides and backs on one end, you will have to slide all of the fingers to the opposite side of the jig and repeat the previous steps to do the other end of the parts.
I would like to thank CB TOOL Group and Porter Cable for providing the Porter Cable OmniJig for this project. —M.H.