Dovetailing

Rapid developments in woodworking-machine techniques have evolved distinctive jointing procedures which are often as good as, and in some instances superior to, the traditional handcut joints they have replaced. An outstanding exception, however, is the dovetail, for here the handmade joint still equals and in some respects surpasses the machine-made copy. Nevertheless, even the machine joint with all its compromises dictated by the simple mechanics of power-operated tools is still a very good joint indeed, with ample reserves of strength. In short, the dovetail, whether hand- or machine-cut, is still the best method of jointing two pieces of wood together in their width and at right angles to each other.

Before describing the actual dovetailing joints and their many variations it is necessary to define precisely the various terms used, for the nomenclature as between hand- and machine-work differs radically. Thus in handwork (15:1) where (A) is the drawer front and (B) the drawer side, (C) is the actual dovetail and (D) the pin; but in machine dovetails (153:2) the drawer front (A) becomes the female part and the drawer side (B) the male part, while 153:3D in the male part is the pin with its corresponding socket in the female part. Again, the angle or slope of the dovetail which constitutes its holding power against lateral strain is known as the 'rake', 'bevel' or 'pitch' in

153 Dovetails hand dovetails, and is measured in terms of proportionate rise, i.e. rise of 1 in 5,1 in 6, 1 in 7. etc.. whereas the slope of a machine-cut dovetail is usually standardized at 20°, and the term 'pitch' refers to the spacing of the pins, i. e. 1/2 in (12.5 mm),3/4 in (19 mm), 1 in (25 mm), etc. measured from the centre of one pin to the centre of the next (153:3, 4). Other terms with different values are described under the appropriate headings, but the main structural difference between the two types is that hand dovetails can be spaced at random, whereas the spacing of machine dovetails is arbitrarily set by the machine, with the pins (male) and the sockets (female) equal in width; therefore any spacing out to fit a predetermined width of drawer side can only be done by varying the pitch.

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