Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Rabbeted Dovetail Experiment

In "The Joiner and Cabinet Maker", Chris Schwarz writes about making a small rabbet on the inside face of the tail board when laying out for dovetailed drawers.  I wanted to give this a try to see how it might work for me.

I got a piece of pine, straightened and squared an edge, cut the board in two and squared the ends that would be dovetailed together.
Two pieces ready to be dovetailed together
I used the pin board (shown vertically below) to mark the base line on the tail board.
Getting an accurate baseline for the tail board
Then I knifed a line and created a 1/32" rabbet using a router plane.
1/32" rabbet on inside surface of tail board
I also continued the knife line all around the board - should have done that before making the rabbet.  Then I marked out the tails using dividers, dovetail marker and pencil.
Dovetails marked and ready for cutting.  Backer board is used to extend the lines for straighter cuts.
After the cuts were made and the waste sawn and chiseled out, I set the pin board in the vise and used the #4 on its side to set the pin board height.
Tail board getting ready
Then I moved the plane back, set the back end of the tail board on it, and set the front of the tail board on the pin board to transfer the dovetail outlines to the pin board.
Ready to mark tails outlines on pin board
Here is where the shallow rabbet comes in.  You can push the shoulder of the rabbet tight to the edge of the pin board, eliminating any guesswork about whether or not the edges meet exactly.  Here's a side view.  If you look closely, you can see that the tail board's inside (bottom) face is 1/32" down from the pin board end.
Tail board resting on pin board

After cutting the pins I ended up with a pretty nice joint.
A nice joint - if you ignore the errant baseline coping saw cut under the right tail
and the ugly pencil mark to the right of that
But here is the other benefit of the shallow rabbet.  Recently, Ralph the Accidental Woodworker and responder Derek Long mentioned (on the 29-August-2016 blog) how the inside corners of their dovetails look a bit shabby.  I've had this problem, too.  The shallow rabbet completely covers the dovetail's inside corners.
Inside corner of the above dovetailed joint
The inside corner shows just a straight line, unbroken by my sometimes ham-fisted chisel cuts.  I like this method using the shallow rabbet on the tail board.  The rabbet takes only a few minutes to do, makes marking the pins easier, and hides the dovetail on the inside corners.

I'm not sure why, but The Schwarz did not mention this method when cutting the long row of dovetails on the carcase of the chest of drawers.  Maybe there is a flaw in the method when used on that many dovetails.


  1. I like the clean look of the inside. That is something that I am still struggling with. Doesn't appear to be any downsides to the rabbet trick.

    1. Agreed. Not sure if I'll always use this method, but I do like it.

  2. Replies
    1. Hi Derek. This is definitely worth a try. Even if you don't like the look, it's one more trick up the sleeve.

  3. Thanks for the explanation of the idea.