Hand Router Dovetail Joints

As an introduction to working with various 3-axis milling/routing machines, our first assignment in “Subtraction” was to get our hands dirty with the hand router. There’s a lot that can be done with the hand router using jigs and templates, but I decided to try to do one of the hardest tasks without using either: to make a dovetail joint.

Four equally sized pieces of oak

I first got my hands a piece of oak that I would be working with for this assignment. Our router table was still out of commission, so I thought I could just free hand it. I had an 1/2” router bit, so I measured 1/2″ fingers with 1/2″ gaps.

My best friends: clamps

After a few different setups, I finally landed on this situation pictured above. In order to keep the hand router facing down for the best control, I had to figure out how to keep my wooden pieces upright securely while also providing a bit of extra surface to support the hand router. I ended up clamping the four wooden pieces together with two of them offset by half an inch, allowing me to make both my “A” sides and “B” sides with the same cuts. I then clamped those pieces to a scrap piece of dimensional lumber that I had clamped to the underside of a table. Above the table, I clamped a 1″ piece of plywood that I found to provide that extra support and keep my wooden ends offset from the table surface. Finally, I used another piece of scrap as my guide to keep my cuts straight.

Another view of my amazing setup
Pieces cut, ready for assembly

I always knew that dovetail joints are hard to make, but this exercise helped me understand why. There really is no opportunity to test one’s progress. The joint has to be fully cut and only then can one see if it fits or not. You probably can see where I’m going with this.

Worst dovetail ever

I started to hammer the pieces together, but it became clear that the fingers and the gaps just weren’t the same size. I wanted to get at least one of the joints to fit, so I tried using the chisel I could find. It was a shop chisel, so I didn’t have much in terms of expectations. As a result, I was pleasantly surprised!

I was able to actually peel off some vary thin layers

In the end, I was able to squash the pieces of wood together, but it really wasn’t what I would call a successful execution of a dovetail. There are better, easier ways to do this.

Daylight abounds in this joint

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