A dovetail joint is one of the woodworking techniques that dates back centuries and is still used to this day. Part of its appeal is visual, because a well-constructed dovetail looks beautiful. It also makes one of the strongest connections. Once you know where to look for them, you’ll find the dovetail joint everywhere fine woodworking and craftsmanship is involved. The name comes from its appearance, as the ‘fingers’ in this type of assembly have the shape of a dovetail.
There are two major types of dovetail used: through tails and tails half hidden. The through tails are where the slots of the wood joint come together right where the two pieces are matched. A tail half hidden means that the actual joint is ‘around the corner’ as it were, so that the coming together of the slots in only visible on one side.
A good dovetail is the mark of a craftsman, as they are one of the harder techniques and thus require a lot of practice. The skill needed to make a well-functioning joint makes the dovetail almost an ‘all-or-nothing’ type; a poorly made dovetail just doesn’t work. Because of its strength, the dovetail joint in wooden furniture business is mainly used in drawers, a furniture part that is under a lot of stress.
The first uses of the dovetail joint date back to ancient Egypt, as is shown by various examples found with mummies. For thousands of years since then, most dovetail joints were created by hand. A skilled woodworker would use small saws and chisels to carve out each of the individual fingers. This was a detailed work, because all the pins and tails need to fit each other perfectly. By the end of the 19th century the first dovetail machine was invented. This first machine pretty soon developed into the dovetail joint router that now create most of the dovetails.
In short, there are clear advantages and disadvantages to dovetail joints. The best part of those pros and cons is that all the disadvantages should be for the woodworker: even with a dovetail joint router, making the perfect joint is not an easy task. For the customer who buys quality wooden furniture, there are only the advantages of superior strength and beauty.
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