Japanese Techniques Smart WoodWorking Dovetail Joinery

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A dovetail joint or simply dovetail is a joinery technique most commonly used in woodworking joinery (carpentry) including furniture, cabinets. log buildings and traditional timber framing. Noted for its resistance to being pulled apart (tensile strength), the dovetail joint is commonly used to join the sides of a drawer to the front. A series of ‘pins’ cut to extend from the end of one board interlock with a series of ‘tails’ cut into the end of another board. The pins and tails have a trapezoidal shape. Once glued, a wooden dovetail joint requires no mechanical fasteners.

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

The easiest way to identify if a piece of wooden furniture is high quality or mass produced junk is by checking the joints- dovetail, mortise and tenon and dowel joints are all typically considered a sign of quality construction.

There are exceptions to this rule, but there’s one wood joint that’s an unmistakable sign of quality- the precise and difficult to cut Japanese sunrise dovetail joint.

Japanese Dovetail Joint

This is a video of master woodworker Theo Cook of the Robinson House Studio Furniture School demonstrating a properly cut Japanese sunrise dovetail joint. Apparently (and unsurprisingly if you think about it) the style and complexity of joints used in furniture construction are often representative of the overall quality of the piece. *pointing* Take my favorite chair for example. “It looks like it was made out of PVC pipe and duct tape in less than twenty minutes.” Wow, twenty minutes — really? It only took five. Tell you what: a thousand bucks and its yours.

Keep going for the satisfying video.

How to Prepare Sunrise Dovetails (Japanese Dovetails)

It isn’t easy to get your head around at first sight, but once you’ve seen the video it should be a lot clearer.

Use a marking gauge to scribe a line around the end of each joining piece that is the thickness of the mating piece away from the joint end. Learn now.

Japanese Techniques Smart WoodWorking Dovetail Joinery