Dovetail joints: Uses, Types, and Tips

Dovetail joints are very common in carpentry and is a popular woodworking joint. In this article, I will go over dovetail uses, pros and cons, types, and how to create a dovetail joint.


What are dovetail joints good for?

Dovetails are most commonly used in cabinetry and when creating drawers.

This is because dovetails have an exceptionally strong tensile strength when being pulled apart. So, a dovetail joint will be more than adequate to withstand the common day to day use of a drawer.

Dovetail joints are also commonly used for aesthetic purposes as well. Dovetail joints can also be seen in jewelry boxes, shelving, and even some instruments.

Tight-fitting dovetails show the skill of the carpenter or woodworker. Additionally, dovetails with very small pins show that the work piece was hand created because cutting small pins are nearly impossible to do with power tools.

Pros and cons of dovetail joints

Creating dovetail joints has its benefits and drawbacks. Depending on your woodworking project, a different type of joint may be more suitable for your needs.

Dovetail Pros

  • Strong pull force
  • Very strong joint
  • Aesthetically pleasing

Dovetail Cons

  • Require more space
  • Loose dovetails not strong
  • Hand cut dovetails require hand tools skills
  • Not many power tool alternatives
  • Difficult to repair
  • Time consuming to make
  • Subpar rotational force strength

When I talk about dovetail joints, I am referring to dovetails with angled pins. I am not referring to box joints, which can be considered a type of dovetail joint but is commonly not referred to as one.

Dovetail joint pros

  • Strong pull force
    • The design of dovetail joints allow for joint to withstand exceptional pull strength.
  • Very strong joint
    • While dovetail joints may not be the strongest joint for rotational force, it is still a very strong joint that will handle many uses.
    • Dovetail joints are considerably stronger than but joints and half lap joints.
  • Aesthetically pleasing
    • Visible dovetails show craftmanship and dovetails with small pins show that the joint was created by hand.

Dovetail joint cons

  • Require more space
    • Dovetail joints are not ideal for wood with a small width because you may not have adequate space.
    • You need space to create at least 2 dovetails.
  • Loose dovetails not strong
    • Poorly made, loose dovetails, are not as strong and can affect the quality of the work piece
  • Hand cut dovetails require hand tools skills
    • Just like any other hand cut joinery, hand-cut dovetails require hand tools skills. You will need to know how to saw, chisel, and mark the wood correctly.
  • Not many power tool alternatives
    • You can only really use a bandsaw or router to cut dovetails by using power tools.
    • Using a circular saw, table saw, or miter saw is not feasible.
  • Difficult to repair
    • If you mess up a dovetail joint, it is difficult to repair.
    • If the pins and tails are not aligned and don’t fit properly, then you will likely need to restart.
    • To prevent this, it is best to create the tails or pins first and then fit the other piece accordingly.
  • Time consuming to make
    • Just like other hand joinery methods, dovetails joints can be very time consuming to make in relation to pocket hole joints and other power tool joinery.
  • Subpar rotational force strength
    • If the joint will need to withstand a great amount of rotational force, like the legs of a table or chair, then you should not use a dovetail joint.
    • Mortise and Tenon along with certain types of dowel assembly will be most suitable for this task.

Pros and Cons conclusion

In all, Dovetail joints are strong joints that are aesthetically pleasing and show the woodworkers skill.

However, Dovetail joints have subpar rotational force strength and should not be used on table legs and chairs.

Most of the cons associated with dovetail joints are do to their difficulty in creating. Dovetail joints should not be your first hand joinery joint. Easier hand joinery for beginners are box joints, half lap joints, and tongue and groove joints.

4 Types of dovetail joints

Now that we went over the different uses of dovetails and the pros and cons, we will not discuss the types of dovetails and their uses

  • Through dovetails
    • In Through dovetails, the pins and tails can be visibly seen.
  • Half blind dovetails
    • In Half-blind dovetails, only the pins can be seen and the tails are not visible.
    • This is commonly used in drawers were you do not want the dovetail joint to show on the face of the drawer.
  • Sliding dovetail
    • Sliding dovetails are commonly used as inside joinery and not edge joinery.
    • Sliding dovetails are commonly used in shelving in cabinetry.
  • Mitered dovetail
    • Dovetail with mitered sides. Mitered dovetails can be through or half-blind dovetails.

How to create a dovetail joint

In this section, I will teach you how to create dovetail joints by hand.

Time to complete:


  • Marking gauge
  • Marking pencil
  • Sliding bevel
  • Hand saw
  • Coping saw
  • Chisels
  • Mallet


  1. Mark dovetail tails
    • Mark dovetail depth
    • Mark dovetail pin angle
  2. Chisel tails
    • Saw along the line
    • Chisel to perfection
  3. Mark dovetail pins
    • Trace tails on pin board
  4. Chisel the pins
    • Saw along the line
    • Chisel to the dovetail depth
  5. Assemble and fix mistakes

Step 1: Mark dovetail tails

  1. Mark dovetail depth
    • First, you will use a marking gauge to mark the dovetail to the correct depth.
  2. Mark dovetail pin angle
    • Next, you will a sliding bevel to create your dovetail angles. The most common angles are 1:6 and 1:8.
    • You can also use a dovetail guide to mark your dovetail angles.

Step 2: Chisel tails

  1. Saw along the line
    • Use a hand saw to cut slightly away from the line and a coping saw to roughly cut out the dovetail
  2. Chisel to perfection
    • Slowly chisel the sides of the dovetail and to the dovetail depth

Step 3: Mark dovetail pins

  • Trace the dovetails tails along the pin board to create the outline for the dovetail pins.
  • This method ensures that you will have a correct and tight fit.

Step 4: Chisel the pins

  • Repeat step 2 for the pin board to cut and chisel the dovetail pins

Step 5: Assemble and fix mistakes

  • Assemble the joint by fitting the pin and tail board together. Tight fitting dovetails may require a mallet hammer too fit together.

How to fix dovetail that wont join together

If the dovetails will not physically fit together, then it is either because the dovetails are too tight or the pins and tails are not correctly aligned.

When creating dovetails, it is essential to create the sides of the dovetail perpendicular to the board. This is why proper marking and chiseling techniques are important.

The fix:

If your dovetails are too tight, then you should slightly widen the pins to create a tight fit. During this process, you will want to constantly test the fix to ensure you do not make the joint too loose.

Unaligned dovetails are very difficult and almost impossible to fix, which is a downside to creating dovetails. You can try to the correct the pins and tails to create that perpendicular surface, you will get a gap in your dovetail.

Luckily, dovetail gaps can be easily fixed and I will explain how to fix dovetail gaps in the next section.

How to fix gaps in dovetails

Loose-fitting dovetails greatly reduce the strength of the joint. Luckily, there are three ways to fix loose fitting dovetails.

Mallet methodSaw dust methodWooden wedge method
Gap size< 1/32″ wide1/32 – 1/16″ wide>1/16″ wide

Fix dovetail gaps using the mallet method

If you have a very small gap in your dovetail, then you can hammer the end grain to fill in that gap.

The gap size for this method should not be more than 1/32″ wide.

Time to complete: <5 minutes


  • Mallet
  • Small round object (a pin butt)
  • Sander


  1. Mallet the pin butt on the pin end grain
  2. Mallet the pin butt on the tail end grain
  3. Plane/sand the joint

Fix dovetail gaps using the saw dust method

Time to complete: <5 minutes


  • Same colored saw dust
  • Wood glue
  • Sander


  1. Add wood glue to the gap
  2. Push wood glue into the gap
  3. Add the saw dust
  4. Add more wood glue and rub it into the gap.
  5. Wait for glue to dry and then sand

Fix dovetail gaps using the wooden wedge method

Inserting wood wedges are ideal for gaps greater than 1/16″ and will increase the durability of loose fitting dovetail joints.

Wooden wedges will be difficult to insert into very thin gaps and the mallet or saw dust method will be much easier to use.

Time to complete: 10 – 15 minutes


  • 4×4″ wood block
  • Chisel
  • Mallet
  • Wood glue
  • Saw
  • Sander


  1. Cut a shim off the wooden block using a chisel and mallet
  2. Sand the edge until the shim will fit into the gap
  3. Add wood glue to the gap and shim
  4. Insert the shim and mallet it tight
  5. Saw off the excess shim
  6. Allow for the glue to dry and sand


We learned about the dovetail joint and its pros and cons. Dovetail joints have exceptional pull strength but they do not hold well to rotational force. You should not use dovetails for table legs and chair legs.

We also learned how to create a dovetail and fix dovetail problems.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article and I wish you luck on your woodworking journeys!


My name is Rachel Blanding and I am a woodworker. I started woodworking at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I mainly create and refurbish furniture and create art. In this site I will share with you the knowledge I have gained over the years, and what worked for me and what didn't.

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