First thing after milling the stock to size is to cut the tails. There are two ways of starting the dovetail prosses, cutting the tails first or pins. I chose to cut the tails first because it seems a more natural place to start.
I mark out the tail spacing and then lay one on top of the other, registerd exactly with each other and clamp them in place. I use a dovetail saw to cut the tail profile on the two boards at the same time being sure to stop at my depth line. I am not too woried about staying on the line marked for the tails because I will be using this as my template later.
Pretty self explanitory. Use a chisel that is smaller than the space beween the tails, being careful not to chop past the depth line. I make my first chop about an 1/8th of an inch from the line and then chop on the line.
This is what it should look like when done.
I am using a lipped drawer, so I placed the drawer side on the drawer front and made sure that the bottom of the side was exactly even with the bottom of the drawer front. I also made sure that it was up against the lip. I then used an X-acto knife to mark the tails onto the front. Make sure the line is deep enough so that it is easily seen. Don't use a pencil, a pencil line is way too thick to be accurate. At this point accuracy is all-important. When you are cutting the tails you can use a pencil, because the line is just a suggestion anyway. If you stray from the line, it is no big deal because the tail is a template for cutting the pins. These little discrepancies authenticate that these are hand cut dovetails anyway. I always try for perfection but little diffrences are nice to see. The alternative is the monotony of machine-cut dovetails, and I definitely want to stay away from that. I would be really bummed out if someone thought I used a machine.
There, enough of my soap box
After scribing my tail marks and transfering them straight down to my depth mark, I step over to the drill press. I use the drill press to quickly hog out the waste between the pins. I use a 1/4" fostner bit being sure to set the depth stop. It would be a bad thing to drill completly through the board.
After removing most of the waste between the pins, I carefully pare to the line. The grain in tiger maple can be very wavy and a nightmare to dovetail. I have found it easier to pare across grain instead of chopping down. If you are using wood that is not so wavy, chopping down can speed up the process. Be careful. I once got a bit too carried away and chopped too hard. The board split and I drove the chisel into my thumb. I thought I really hurt myself and I didn't want to look at it, so I taped a paper towel to it and decided to ignore it. Three days later I finally worked up the nerve to have a look and was pleased it wasn't as bad as I thought. It was a big nasty cut, but not too serious. I have found that most of my accidents have come from chisels. I am too familiar with them and so I am not so careful. However, I am still leary of the tablesaw and so I tend to be very careful using it.
Moral of the story. Be careful with chisels.
Again, self explanitory. Be sure to angle the chisel a bit so that the side will fit all the way in.
Test the fit and make any necessary adjustments. Better to sneak up to a good fit, than to end up having a sloppy fit with big gaps.
Dovetails are not hard to do, they look like it but they really aren't. It takes patience and an ability to sharpen and use a chisel. You have to have a very sharp chisel to make clean dovetails. When I sharpen, I end at 1.5 micron dimond paste. This is extremly fine, probably somewhere around 15,000 grit. It gives a mirrior polish, which is what you want. The sharper the chisel is the better it will cut and the longer it will stay sharp.
I hope you enjoyed this little tutorial. Drop me a line if you have any comments.