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Dovetail Joints - Manufacturer and Builder, 1865

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The strongest and most permanent joint made in carpentry and cabinet-making, where pieces of wood are fastened together at right angles, is the dovetail.

When made in some of its most approved and perfected forms, it is equal in neatness and artistic finish to the miter joint. The miter is a comparatively neater method of joining wood at an angle, but the dovetail possesses the greatest possible strength.

It is generally employed in articles made of thin materials, such, for instance, as drawers, boxes, chests, etc. If we examine a dovetailed box, we observe that it consists of six pieces, or sides, four of which arc interlaced, or dovetailed together at the corners, forming a rigid frame-work. This is shown in Fig. 1.

When properly put together, the joint formed by the two pieces A and B is strengthened and braced by these of C and D. The rigidity of the box is of course still further increased by attaching the bottom, which may be done by means of screws, or glue and screws may be both employed.

There is an advantage in the employment of the latter, for if the dovetails should be somewhat loosely fitted, or the glue loses it adhesive power, the screws will prevent any disposition of the four sides "to rack."

When we wish to have the lid of considerable depth, and fastened together by dovetails, the box is made sufficiently deep to form both box and cover. The top and bottom pieces are then added.

The six pieces so joined have the appearance of a rectangular block or cube. A saw is employed to separate the cover, or lid, from the bottom portion.

This method has the advantage of saving some labor in dovetailing. It insures the exact agreement in size and form of box and cover. It would be somewhat difficult to effect this were they separately made.

This would especially be the case in making such articles as desks and writing-cases.


In all boxes where the bottom and lid are made together, the line of division is marked on the four exterior sides. One of the dovetail pins is placed on that line. This pin should be about twice as wide as the others. When divided in forming the cover, either part is then of the size of the others.

In order to have the cover and box show a miter joint, the dovetail and joint pin are made to a miter; whereas, if the pin were left square, or made as usual, the box when cut open would show the rectangular lines of the pin and dovetail. The top and bottom of the box may be fitted in various ways.

They may be glued, or otherwise fastened, on the square edges of its sides. They may be rebated; or, to cause a more finished appearance, they may be both rebated and mitered.

In Fig. 2, the common dovetail joint is shown, in which the dovetails and pins are seen upon both sides.

When the grain of the wood of the parts joined together runs in the same direction, such parts will expand and contract equally, should they be equally moist and dry. This expansion or contraction can then take place without injury to the work.

In order to affect this, it is advisable to make the work from the same board, or from pieces of boards of the same quality of timber, and having come as near as may be from the same relative position in the logs from which they were sawn. This can be very readily ascertained by an examination of the ends of the pieces, the curvature or configuration of the grain furnishing the desired information.

If the pieces of work have the grain running in contrary directions, as seen in Fig. 3, it is evident that the portion D would entirely prevent the expansion of C, and the restraint would cause injury to the joint.

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