Fitting supremely gloat-worthy dovetails starts with having the right tools and proper board preparation.
Each of these tools will be discussed as they are used in the process, but the first step is board prep.
I’m making a sample joint so I have two relatively small boards. If you’re making a drawer, box, or casework of some sort you’re typically going to have four sides and four corner joints to deal with. Begin by planing each board to the desired thickness with parallel edges. If you’re using a powered planer, make sure to at least plane off the machine marks before starting the joint. The ends are critical and must be square to the face and edge of the board. This probably means you can’t just cut your board to length on a chop saw and call it “good enough”. I always square up the ends on a shooting board before dovetailing.
For clarification, I’m using cherry as the tail board (which I cut first) and the poplar will be the pin board.
I don’t care if you prefer the tails-first or pins-first method, whatever gets you the best results. I go tails first for three reasons listed in order of their significance:
1) It’s how I learned to do it.
2) I think it’s easier to cut the pin angle by skewing the saw to the face of the board and cutting straight down, but I’ll go into more detail on this when I get to cutting the joint itself.
3) I can gang-cut two tail boards at once which saves time.
Before actually laying out the tails there is one more step, cutting a small shoulder on the tail board. First, use your marking gauge to scribe the baseline of the joint. Measure the thickness of the pin board, then run the line around the entire tail board.
Now add the shoulder on the inside face of the tail board. This is often known as the “140 trick” because you can use a #140 block plane to cut the shoulder. For larger work I use a rabbet plane, but for narrow boards like this I’ve become fond of using a router plane. Check out my blog post covering this technique here.
The point of adding this shoulder will become clear when we transfer the tail locations to the pin board. For now just add it to the inside face of the tail board and you’re ready for laying out the dovetails which will be the focus of the next blog entry… stay tuned.