Dovetail construction which sides for tails and pins

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    I was just wondering if there are any rules / guidelines for which side of a box should be the tails and which the pins.

    I can see that on drawers the tails go on the sides so that they can be blind dovetailed to the front but what about for cases or other boxes? Are they any guidelines e.g. tails go on the longest side? Or is it just a matter of asthetics and just choosing what looks best of the sides that will be seen the most?

    Just as an aside – I have been using hand tools on and off for the last 9 months or so since I started using this web site. I have been using glue in its various forms since I was a kid (45 years ish). So why is it that I think the hand tools stuff is going OK and I’m getting better at it but when it comes to using glue I feel like I’m still in primary school. Talk about gluing-up being the point of no return!


    Hi Bill,
    Just my take on the subject buddy, but on cases and boxes I have the tails on the longest side I think it looks best. On bigger projects I would have them to give the best mechanical strength.

    Cheers 😉


    I think the tail should be oriented to face you as you look at the box. That could be the short boards if the box is wider than it is length…


    On drawers, the tails should always be on the sides. It is not for aesthetic reasons. When you open a drawer the tails resist the force of the drawer being opened. If the tails were on the front, over time the drawer front could become detached from the sides if the glue fails.

    Even when the dovetails are half-blind, the same rule applies. Alan Peters often used full dovetails on drawers and still put the tails on the sides.

    On carcases, the tails are traditionally on the top and bottom of the carcase. If the top is visible, then mitred dovetails are more elegant.

    There are structural reasons why the dovetails are laid out so. In a chest of drawers, for example, having the tails on the top and bottom help keep the carcase sides from moving apart which can cause problems with the smooth fitting of the drawers.

    On chests and boxes where the layout of the pins and tails is merely down to aesthetic choice, I like to have to have my tails on the front and back and my pins on the sides. Typically these will also be the long sides.


    Thanks for the info everyone.

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