A recent visitor was examining some dovetails I had made in the back of a small mahogany drawer and (knowing I don’t possess a great variety of saws) asked which saw I had employed to make the dovetails. I replied I had not used a saw at all.
Years ago, as a financially embarrassed and naïve, would-be woodworker growing up in rural Northern Ireland, I didn’t believe a saw was essential for cutting dovetails (a view I still hold today). At the time, I wanted to make a dovetailed blanket box which obviously necessitated forming some interlocking trapezoidal slots in adjoining pieces of wood and the blade of one of the chisels I had to hand was approximately trapezoidal; nothing could be simpler!
I had previously purchased a 1/4″ sash mortise chisel from the local newsagent-cum-hardware shop (it was the only wood chisel in their tool display) and I borrowed my mother’s 1/2″ bevel-edged can-opening-chisel from the odds-and-ends drawer in the kitchen.
After meticulously marking out the dovetail angles in pencil, I chopped out the centre of the waste between the dovetails with the sash mortise chisel and that done; I cleaned up the internal corners with the bevel-edged chisel – ditto with the sockets on the other boards. I became quite adept at it and could knock them out fairly quickly; eventually using only the sash mortise chisel.
Despite having owned a couple of dovetail saws for some years now, I still, on occasion, chop drawer-back dovetails using just a mortise chisel.