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Woodworking with P. Michael Henderson


Secret Miter Dovetails by P. Michael Henderson

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There are many different varieties of dovetails: through, half-blind, full-blind (AKA double lap), and the secret miter dovetail.


Everyone who has done hand cut dovetails has done the through dovetail and most have done the half-blind. The full-blind dovetail hides the pins and tails and is not used a great deal, probably because it shows some end grain in the completed joint. The secret miter dovetail, the subject of this tutorial, also hides the pins and tails and looks like a miter joint when assembled.

You might ask, "If the pins and tails are hidden, why do a dovetail joint? Why not do some other type of joinery?" The only answer I can give is that all dovetail joints are very strong joints. While you could do a regular miter joint, perhaps with a spline between the two pieces for strength, the secret miter dovetail joint is going to be stronger.

Since no one will ever be able to see that the joint is a secret miter dovetail (it will look like a miter joint), the maker would only choose it for its strength.

This tutorial will show you how to make the secret miter dovetail joint so that you will have this joint in your arsenal when designing your furniture. While it has the reputation as a difficult joint to make, it really isn't that hard to do.

For this tutorial, I'm going to use two pieces of clear pine about six inches wide. I chose clear pine for this tutorial because the grain is straight and the wood is fairly easy to work. When working with your wood, make sure there are no knots in the area where you'll be cutting the pins or tails. It'll be much more difficult to shape the pins and tails if there are knots.

And, as usual, make sure your wood is flat, square and of even thickness. Especially important is that the ends are cut square.

To begin, I'm going to use two wheel marking gauges. I'm setting the first one to the thickness of the wood.

The second marking gauge is set from a scale, and I'm setting it to 3/16 inch. You could use 1/8 inch, if you wish. The 3/16 inch just gives you a bit more safety. BTW, the first marking gauge is made by Taylor Tools and the second is the Tite-Mark by Glen Drake. Both work essentially the same.

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