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Tip #186
Preventing Dovetail Joint Breakage

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So, you’ve spent the past half-hour or more cutting a perfect dovetail joint for the corner of a drawer, chest or other project and you’re ready to put it together.

You clamp one of your pieces in a bench vise, grab the other, slather a bunch of glue on them, mate them up, and whack them together with the heel of your hand or (worse yet) a 2-1/2-lb dead-blow mallet.

The question here is not…“Did you break off any pins?”. Nope. The question is…’So, how many pins did you break off?”

A tight-fitting joint, combined with excess glue and way too much force spells “trouble”, and that’s the real truth.

So, how do you sidestep this problem? Easy. First, align your two mating pieces and gently tap them together with the heel of your hand until they’re barely engaged (about 1/16” will be fine).

Next, use a disposable, metal acid brush to apply a light to medium coat of glue to the exposed pins and tails. If the joint fits really tightly, you may want to thin your glue a bit to help prevent excess pressure build-up.

Finally, reach for a bar clamp or pipe clamp (NOT your dead-blow mallet) and use it to draw the joint slowly and cautiously together.

If your joint is wider than 3” or so, you may need to use two or more clamps and alternate tightening them to be sure you’re applying consistent clamping pressure across the full width of the joint.

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