Dovetail Tools

imageOne thing about living is a small apartment is you lack space. Because of this whenever I start a new project I always have to think what tools do I absolutely need and which are just nice to have. There is almost always some expensive special tool that does one very specific task. It may be great at it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do great work without it.

With that in mind, below is my list of tools that are required and which are nice to have when making dovetails.


  • Dovetail saw – Technically you can get away with any saw, but having a dovetail saw with dramatically improve your work. It has a strong metal spine to keep the blade from flexing, and a high teeth per inch count that will make the cut much smoother.
  • Chisels – These are useful for many reasons, beyond just dovetails so you should probably have them anyway. For dovetails though they help you refine the tail and pins to get a perfect fit, and also remove the waste when cutting them. The chisels don’t have to be anything fancy, but you want a few sizes.
  • Knife – This is just a handy tool in general, but it’s needed for making the tails against the pin board.
  • Handplane – I’m still trying to get my head around all the different types of planes there are so I won’t recommend a specific type just yet. The pins and tails are never perfectly flush with the other board so the handplane is used to smooth everything out.
  • Mallet – Many tutorials and reviews call out having a specific dovetail mallet, or a wooden wallet, or something else as fancy. Really anything will work to tap the joint together, I use a rubber mallet. The only thing to avoid is a hammer since it might damage the wood (if that’s all you have put a towel between the hammer and wood and be gentle)

Nice to Haves

  • Marking gauge – I really debated whether this should be here or in the required section. The tool is used for marking one boards thickness on another. I’ve seen a few tutorials where the carpenter does this by placing on board on another, so I decided while really helpful it’s a nice to have.
  • Dovetail markers – Dovetails don’t actually have to be any specific angle or size, and if you really want a marker you can build on your self.
  • Coping saw – The coping saw is used to quickly remove the waste from the boards. This can also be done using just the chisels, which is how I started. That being said a coping saw will make the process much faster.
  • Square – Handy for transferring the marking lines from the end grain to the face.
  • Wing divider – This is the one tool I haven’t had to use yet, but a lot of tutorials reference it. It’s supposedly super handy to space out dovetail joints evenly. I’ll probably get one eventually, but I’m in no rush.

Although there are a lot of nice to haves, realistically most of those are pretty useful for other carpentry projects so you will acquire them at some point.