In the age of power tools, why in the world would you want to hand-cut dovetails? Well, first of all, one can hand-cut dovetails that can’t be made by a router, so there’s a bragging rights reason for doing it… Furthermore, hand-cutting dovetails is fun, relatively quick once you get the hang of it, and can yield amazing results without having to deal with noisy power tools, complicated jig setups and sawdust all over your shop! Finally, hand-cutting dovetails is easier than you may think. I’ve attached photographs of the entire process below (Click on the thumbnails to see a larger version of each photo.) If you take the time to practice, I can guarantee that you will be on your way to cutting great looking dovetails sooner than you think!
The mortise and tenon joint is one of the most fundamental joinery techniques used in woodworking because it is both simple and strong. It is what separates “IKEA-style regurgitated termite barf” from fine furniture. Although there are many variations on that joint, the basic mortise and tenon is comprised of a male piece — the tenon — and a female piece — the mortise. The photos below show how I usually cut a square mortise using a plunge router, a custom made jig and a chisel. The plan for the jig can be found in issue #90 of ShopNotes magazine. (Click on the thumbnails below to see a larger version of each photo.)