Tapered Sliding Dovetails by Hand – The Slot

In my continuing quest to not be embarrassingly bad at hand tool work I decided to add a learning project to the queue of house projects demanding attention. Now that we have moved everything out of storage and into the new house I realized my collection of woodworking magazines and books are a bit out of control. Eventually I plan on building a version of the Harvey Eliis Bookcase from Robert W. Wang’s book Classic Arts & Crafts Furniture (http://www.shopwoodworking.com/classic-arts-crafts-furniture-u3160) but in the meantime I decided to build a small bookshelf out of dimensional pine from the hardware store but to make it interesting I decided to use tapered sliding dovetails for the construction. I had recently watched Roy Underhill’s episode “The Case for Books” where he demonstrated making tapered sliding dovetails for a multi-part bookcase and used his layout technique.

I was looking for some decent 1X12 boards at the local hardware store but only the 1X10s looked usable so I bought three boards and cut out the side pieces leaving enough wood for one shelf from each cutoff.

First the layout; each dove tail has a 2:1 slope (1/4th inch deep and 1/8th of reduced with) and tapers down in width by 1/8th of an inch on each side. The dovetail is only 8 inches long so this results in a fairly intense slope so not sure how well this will hold up. My two “new” sets of dividers helped out immensely in this process, they were a good buy. Then just like in the stopped dado I chop out a relief are for the end of the saw; the nice thing is that because of the taper, the entire square will be covered by the self so the edges of the hole do not need to be perfect.


Because I am still getting used to hand saws I am cheating by using a cleat that have the 1:2 angle already cut on it and my Bad Axe hybrid saw makes quick work of the cut. You can see how the relief cut makes a room for the end of the saw.


After cutting the other side most of the waste is zipped out using a chisel bevel side down and then a router plane flattens out the bottom at the final depth. Don’t forget to clean out the corners by skewing the router plane so the blade works its way under the top edge.

IMG_0195 IMG_0196

After a bit of cleanup work with a chisel we end up with a nice tapered dovetail slot.


Update: I have since learned that it is better to keep once side of the slot square and to only dovetail/taper the bottom side of the shelf.  It is also worth noting that this a much higher level of taper than you would use on hardwood or even good softwood, this pine was very squishy.

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