The Dovetails Do It!

Each piece of studio furniture produced by members of the Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers is one of a kind. Whether a handcrafted table, a custom desk or a display piece, each bears the mark of the craftsman. Each is distinguished by the tone, grain and surface shimmer of the chosen wood. But every piece has in common the favored elements of time-tested construction; the traditional joinery techniques that enhance the aesthetic of a piece while guaranteeing it works, and lasts beautifully, for more than one lifetime.

Shaker Nightstand from Erin Hanley

Furniture makers and collectors agree that dovetails are the simplest, strongest and most beautiful joint. Their interlocking pins and tails fit together perfectly. When masterfully executed, they add to the presentation in true Craftsman tradition… achieving absolute function with an artistic note. Dovetail construction is a favorite for drawers, withstanding the push and pull over time without change, and you’ll see them in varying widths and thickness from piece to piece.

Guild member Richard Bissell Fine Woodworking tells us that every drawer he builds is dovetailed on all four corners and has solid ½” thick bottoms, standing up to use and time. Following are a couple of shots from his shop…

Handcut Dovetails For Long Lasting Furniture

Vermont Furniture Tradition of Excellence

It sounds like the handwork and rhythm of the dovetail process is a highly satisfactory one. From an Interview with maker Jim Becker…

How would you characterize your work? Jim kind of shrugged. “I’m better than some, as good as any.” And then he paused. “I always do hand cut dovetails. I’d make more money if it did them with a jig. But I like doing it. It’s kind of Zen thing. I make a conscious decision to do it and I enjoy it.”

Doing the work.. a fun, time lapse video from Putney…

After roughing out the sockets for half blind dovetail joints with a router, Bissell cleans up the corners and back edges by hand with a chisel for a perfect fitting joint. In record time, yeah?

When we asked a ShackletonThomas craftsman to choose a single, distinguishing quality about their furniture style, we heard … you guessed it – dovetails! “Ultra-thin, beautifully cut sliding dovetails. Our pieces last forever,” he replied.

For those of you that are really interested, another video. This one from Guild member Timothy Clark, working out drawer backs for a wardrobe project.

You can see the labor involved, and appreciate the importance of the joint. Dovetails do it. One of the hallmarks of fine, handcrafted furniture.

Dovetail accents on a custom lingerie chest, Dan Mosheim & Dorset Custom Furniture

Now when you’re shopping for furniture or admiring an antique, you’ll know what to look for when you open the drawers. If you choose a piece from a master craftsman and studio maker, you’ll find beautiful dovetails inside. These carefully made little hints can assure you that you’ve selected the best!

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