Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Idske, this post is specially for you :-)

I have long wanted to try my hand at making dovetails and finally plucked up the courage, I basically followed Harry Smith's instructions in his book The Art of Making Furniture in Miniature. He however didn't have a compound table and had to mark the distance between each dovetail by hand. Well, let me show you how I made mine on my drill press that has a compound table. My subject is a tiny 7mm high drawer.

 I made quite a few practice pieces to get the spacing of the pins right, it will depend on the depth of your drawer and the size of the cutter you use. I used a 1/16" inverted cone cutter in my drill press, on this drawer there is only place for the two half pins on each end plus one pin in the center on the drawer front and two tails on the drawer side.

Here I am busy cutting the small little groove where the tails will fit in on the drawer fronts, you will see it doesn't go all the way through the wood thickness, normally one would use blind dovetails for the front of a drawer. I made through dovetails on the back of the drawer but forgot to take a photo.

In his book Harry Smith cuts the tails on the drawer sides by hand, but I decided to try it on my drill press and was quite happy with the results.

My hubby came home and took some of the next photos, of course you need to always hold your wood down very firmly or the cutter will just grab it and send it spinning away or worse into your face or eye. In this photo I have started cutting the tails on the drawer sides, to do this you need to hold the drawer side upright, I used a jig to keep the wood nice and square to the cutter. The wheel on the left moves the compound table from left to right or right to left and the front wheel moves the table backwards and forwards. I found that I had to cut very slowly otherwise the cutter would just break the wood as it is so thin.

Instead of moving the table the whole time, I just flip the wood to cut on each end, it gives you a perfect symmetrical cut-out on each side.

I did move the table for the central cutout between the two tails, once again I had to make a few practice pieces until I had the spacing perfect. When I make more than one drawer that is the same size I will do the first cut on each drawer piece before I move the table for the next cut, it just saves a lot of time.

The drawer isn't glued together yet as I still need to cut rebates on the bottom inside of each drawer for the base. You can see that the back dovetail goes all the way through. Oh, yes, of course the cutter leaves you with a rounded edge on the groove in the drawer front, I just gently file the tails on the drawer side on the inside until the side fits in nice and flush with the drawer front.

The back view of the through dovetails, not quite perfect but not too shabby for a first try at making dovetails on the drill press. One last tip, I always read as much as I can on a new technique in full scale, knowing how they do it in full scale at least helps me visualize how it should look and then to figure out how to do it in miniature.

Enjoy what is left of the week


Catherine said...

Well done Elga! All of this is a mystery to me. I can't wait to see what you will do with your new found skill.

miraclechicken said...

So very interesting:)Wonderful idea to make them this way---

Muriellisa said...

Merci Elga de nous montrer tous ces détails. Il faut absolument que j'essaie.

Giac said...

Hello Elga,
Very well done. It is details like this that make a mini piece solid and will outlast all the rest of them.
Big hug,

Ilona said...

How clever of you!! I have never seen this method in miniature, I'll try this one day :D! Thank you, Elga, for sharing!
Groete, Ilona

Tatiana said...

Такой замечательный блог! Спасибо за урок!

Debora said...

As always an excellent overview on 'how you did it'. You always facilitate all who wonder or want to learn :)

The book you mention by Harry W Smith's (The Art of Making Furniture in Miniature) is indeed an excellent reference and guide. I was so fortunate to find it in a bits and bobs trunk in a shabby dolls house store a few years ago and bought it for next to nothing. Written many years ago i found his approach and techniques to be of extreme use and they haven't lost any of their value. And your drawers show just that.

Idske said...

Hi Elga, I'm honoured! :) The result is quite amazing! I now have a drilling/milling machine (since the DH Show in Apeldoorn, actually), so I can try your method, once I've got to grips with the simpler things :))
The PC will be right next to the milling machine with your post displayed!

Where did you find these small cutters? The ones I have are all bigger than that...

John said...

Great tip! I'll put a compound drill press whatchamacallit on my list.

Diane said...

I would love to have the tools to do such enduring work. It makes all the difference.

Elga said...

Thank you everyone, John, you always manage to make me laugh, a great way to start the day.

Idske, the best source for the cutters that I have found so far is a tool shop in New York, most of these cutters are used for jewelry making, so you might find something close to you if you do a Google search. Here is the link to the New York shop

Fi.P said...

Hi Elga,

I am so amazed.....this is truly incredible work! I can't help thinking of my Grandfather who made beautiful RL pieces of furniture all with dove tail joins, I'm sure he would be nothing short of amazed by your miniature skills.

Ml Fi xx

Josje said...

Very nice to see all the steps explained Elga, thank you! Not that I fully understand it all, but that is just a matter of actually starting to do it (I hope).

I bought a Proxxon milling machine several years ago as it was the only thing available here which resembled the machines used at Castine, but as of yet have to come to grips with it.

elly in amsterdam said...

I am never even gonna try it , so I am happily sinking in a stupor with my jaw fallen on the floor ( did you hera that thump?). It is great !

MelyMel said...

Elga is a great job, how accurately! The result is very nice, congratulations

Tony Watkins said...

Nice work Elga. I don't have the luxury of a drill press so I still have to cut by hand. It's nice to see the step by step that goes into your work.