Routed Tails Hand Cut Pins

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In the Rodale shop, Fred and Phil Gehret often start dovetails with the router, then finish them by hand. Most of the projects they do are one-of, special, even oddball ones that don't lend themselves well to mass-production-type jigs. They'll start by cutting either the pins or the

BIT DRAWER

The basic dovetail bit, the one that's in the sets of basic bits, the one that's used with the basic dovetail jigs, is the 14-degree, '/2-inch-diameter, '/i-inch-cutting-length variety.

Now, the traditional cabinetmaker's wisdom is that the optimum slope for a dovetail in softwoods is 1 in 6, and in hardwoods 1 in 8. (The difference in slope stems from the fact that softwood cells compress more easily, and so require a steeper slope.) Let's convert those traditional slope ratios to the bit maker's angles: 1 in 8 is 7 degrees, and 1 in 6 is 9 degrees. The standard 14-degree bit works out to a 1 in 4 slope. Pretty steep.

The 14-degree angle is one of the reasons machine-cut dovetails look different than hand-cut ones. If you have a fixed-template dovetail jig, it's likely to require the use of a 14-degree bit. (An 8-degrec dovetail bit used with the jig, even one of the same cutting diameter and used with the same guide bushing, won't cut dovetails that will assemble.)

MLCS 1" 14- BIT

MLCS 1" 14- BIT

Router Bit Slope

By the traditional wisdom, the 14-degree bit should produce an unsatisfactory dovetail. Too steep a slope is supposed to yield a dovetail with weak short grain at the comers. That doesn't appear to be a problem in pracrice. Fred points out that in the context of adjusting a router bit, the 14-degree dovetail isn't as demanding to fit.

tails with the router. Sometimes they'll use a simple T-square type of guide, other times a box-joint jig. (See the chapter "Box Joint.") They've even been known to work freehand. With one element of a joint cut, they'll trace it onto die mating piece and cut the second clement to fit with saw and chisel, the old-fashioned way. For a single, oddball job. that's usually quicker than setting up a jig.

"Dovetail Splice" on page 328 for jigs for cutting dovetail and box joints on the router table.

A dovetail-splice jig can aid you in cutting tails, preparatory to hand rutting the pins. If you use the key with it, you can evenly space the tails. But you can also lay out oddly-spaced or sized tails and, as here, use the jig only to hold and guide the workpiece while you eyeball the positions of the cuts.

Dovetail Router Bit

comparing dovetail bit cuts

comparing dovetail bit cuts

A 7-degree dovetail that's a 32nd off will be a lot poorer fit than a 14-degree dovetail that's ofT the same fraction.

As it works out, you can buy bits with 7-degrec tapers, as well as with TV*, 8-, and 9-degrec tapers. The reason these arc available, it seems, is because of the Leigh and Incra jigs. To give their dovetails more of a hand-cut look, the jigs' designers had bits custom-made in the 7- to 9-degree tapers they wanted. An increasing number of bit manufacturers now include 7- to 9-degrcc dovetail bits in their catalogs.

A benefit of the more gende taper is that it allows a deeper cut. Check out the comparative bit dimensions in the drawing. A

'/j-inch-diameter bit with a 14-degree taper can cut only Vi inch deep because, at that point, the bit has tapered to a '/i-inch diameter. The girth at the same spot on an B-degree bit is about uAi inch. If the bit can safely taper down to a Winch diameter,, then the 8-degrec bit can cut inch deep. This is enough to make a through dovetail in dressed 4/4 stock.

Regardless of what's available, using a commercial dovetail jig means you need whatever size and taper dovetail bit the jig is designed around. If, however, you are using your router to reduce the work in hand-cutting dovetails, you can use a variety of bit sizes and angles to your design advantage.

The moment of truth comes when you try assembling the joint for the first time. You should get to this point a lot quicker, thanks to the router. Yet the handwork you've done should enhance the apfrearance of the joint and make the achievement of a good fit more satisfying to you.

After the tails are cut, use the tail hoard to lay out the pins. Clamp the tail board at the edge of the bench, and position and clamp the pin board, as shown. Scribe along the edges of the tails with a knife to lay out all the pins. Mark each piece with the joint number so you don't get them mixed up.

After the tails are cut, use the tail hoard to lay out the pins. Clamp the tail board at the edge of the bench, and position and clamp the pin board, as shown. Scribe along the edges of the tails with a knife to lay out all the pins. Mark each piece with the joint number so you don't get them mixed up.

The moment of truth comes when you try assembling the joint for the first time. You should get to this point a lot quicker, thanks to the router. Yet the handwork you've done should enhance the apfrearance of the joint and make the achievement of a good fit more satisfying to you.

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  • danyl
    How to make a dovetail jig for a router?
    8 years ago

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