how to make dovetail joints

How to Make Dovetail Joints – Basic Steps & Guides

One of the most timeless types of joints is the dovetail joint. It’s the choice among woodworkers who want to make strong, steady, and dependable wooden furniture and pieces. Learning how to make dovetail joints is a must if you want to become a good woodworker. Let’s find out in this perfect dovetail joints tutorial.

What do you need for this tutorial

  • Wooden boards – use boards with one to 1 ½ – inch thickness. You can use oak, maple, or cherry wood. Prepare the wood by sanding it lightly to remove dirt, dust, and all other minor imperfections. 
  • Dovetail marker – a dovetail marker is a handy measuring tool that will help you make markings on your dovetail joints. We will make a simple dovetail joint with two tails. 
  • Dovetail saw – a dovetail saw is a type of saw with a small but very sharp blade for intricate cuts. 
  • Marking knife – this knife will mark the cuts you’ll make; it will score the surface of the wood slightly with its sharp tip.
  • Marking gauge – a marking gauge will make sure that both pieces will have identical tail and pin lengths. 
  • Chisel – use a small ½ – inch chisel to slowly and safely remove waste from the pin and tail boards. 
  • Mallet – use a rubber mallet to hammer the chisel lightly on wood. 
  • Clamps – you need clamps to make accurate marks on the wood. Make sure to have at least three or four clamps ready.
  • Pencil – instead of a marking knife, you may use a pencil to mark the areas you will cut and save as you make dovetail joints. 
  • Sandpaper – to finish your tail and pin boards before fastening.


1. Select which board is the tail and which one is the pin.

Use two identical wooden boards of the same size and shape. Decide which board will be the tail and which one will be the pin. Remember, the tail should withstand pulling forces. 

2. Measure the pin board depth

Your marking gauge will help you measure identical depths in both boards. To use the marking gauge, first, use it on the thickness of your pin board and set the depth you want. Adjust the marking gauge wheel to ensure the correct depth is transferred to the gauge. 

3. Mark the depth around your tail board

Now you have the depth of the pin board copied on the marking gauge, apply this on the tail board. Run the marking gauge around the tail board to mark the depth. 

4. Measure and mark the tails with the dovetail marker

Take the dovetail marker and mark the tails on the tail board. First, decide how many tails you will use. We will be using two tails for this project. 

Use a pencil to create marks around a ¼ – inch from the edges of the board. Doing so will leave you around a ¼ – inch along the center of your tail board. 

Use the same dovetail marker to determine the angles. Mark the angle from one side of your tail board. Lightly glide the marking knife to create the correct depth.

5. Cut your tails from the top and then from the sides

Use the dovetail saw to make intricate cuts starting from the top of the board. Remember, don’t pass the line you marked with the marking gauge. Always check before you start cutting the waste wood away. 

6. Remove the wood in between your tails

Use the chisel and your rubber mallet to cut the waste wood in between the tails. Chisel slowly and surely so you won’t hit the tails. Always use the chisel on the front side of the board. Flip the board once you’re at the center to remove the waste from the other side. 

7. Clean your tail board

Remove all uneven edges using sandpaper. 

8. Trace the board edges using your marking knife.

Use the marking gauge to measure the depth of your tail board and then transfer the mark on the pin board. 

9. Place the pin and the tail board to ensure a good fit.

Place the tail along the pin board as if you’re trying to fit the two together. Use clamps to keep the two boards in place as you mark the edge of the tail board on the end of your pin. Use a marking knife to make good impressions. 

10. Cut the pin board from the top and from the sides

Make sure all the marks are correct and will fit before you cut the pin board. Like the tail board, cut from the top and then remove the waste from the sides. You may want to secure the pin board with clamps to make sure that it won’t move as you cut the waste wood. 

11. Chisel the wood in between

Use a chisel and rubber mallet to remove waste wood in between the pins. Unlike the tail board, you will remove two waste wood sections on the board. When you get to the center, flip the wooden board and work your way to the center again. 

12. Clean your pin board

Use sandpaper to clean the pin board. You may also use a file to clean the area between the pins. Make sure that there are no uneven edges. 

13. Attach the pin board to the tail board 

Your tail board and pin board are ready for fastening. See if these fit well; you may need to use a mallet to drive the tail in the pin board. If there is a part that’s too tight, use a file or sandpaper to remove some of the wood. 

Most woodworkers apply wood glue to fasten dovetail joints together. Some may even drive nails or screws on the tail and pin boards to ensure that the joints won’t budge. 

Now that you know how to make dovetail joints, you can apply what you learned in making good quality, durable wooden furniture. Follow these instructions to the T and we guarantee that you’ll be able to make the best wooden furniture pieces for your home. 



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