The dovetail joint. Production and history

The dovetail Joint

The dovetail joint probably pre-dates written history. Some of the earliest known examples of the dovetail joint are in furniture entombed with mummies dating from First Dynasty of ancient Egypt, as well as the tombs of Chinese emperors. The dovetail design is an important method of distinguishing various periods of furniture.

 Dovetails can be cut by hand or by machines, often with a router and using one of a range of commercially available jigs or templates.  Hand tools should be of a high quality and must be kept sharp to produce a clean finish.Although it is technically a straight forward process, hand-cutting dovetails requires a high degree of accuracy to ensure a snug fit and so can be difficult to master. The pins and tails must fit together with no gap between them so that the joint interlocks tightly with no movement. Thus the cutting of dovetails by hand is regarded as a mark of skill on the part of the craftsperson. Even with a router and jig the correct setting and upkeep of the equipment is vital to ensure constant quality time after time.

dovetail joint

dovetail joint produced in oak

Dovetail joints are extremely strong and attractive joints, and are traditionally used on boxes and drawers. Several types of dovetail joints can be created including: through or open dovetail; lapped or half-blind flush; half-blind rabbeted and secret-miter dovetail. The through dovetail joint exposes the dovetails on both sides of the joint. These are commonly used where the joint is not seen, as on the rear joints of drawers. In some cases, this joint is used to show off the workmanship of the dovetail joints. A lapped dovetail, also called a half-blind dovetail, shows only one side of the dovetail joint, the opposite edge overlapping the dovetail. These can also be cut flush or rabbeted. This joint is quite frequently used to secure drawer fronts on quality construction. A double-lapped dovetail conceals both of the dovetails. A secret-miter dovetail conceals the dovetails in a miter joint.

Regardless of the type of construction, the front and rear pieces are called the pin pieces, and the sides are called the tail pieces. The dovetails in the pin pieces are called pins, and those in the tailpiece are called tails.