Dovetail Boxes: Episode 3

Small Dovetail Boxes Ep 3

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In the third episode of this dovetail series Paul finishes the simple chisel tray. Watch it carefully. This episode shows quite simple steps but it contains some great, and quite complicated, planing techniques. Enjoy!


  1. JDykes on 16 January 2013 at 2:54 pm

    Ah! Finally Wednesday!

  2. Ken Haygarth on 16 January 2013 at 4:46 pm

    Thanks guys, I look forward to these. Nice job

  3. Michael van Zadelhoff on 16 January 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Great again. It’s not only educational but also fun to watch. Paul always seem to answer questions before I know I have them 🙂

  4. Redtail on 17 January 2013 at 1:43 am

    Thanks Paul. Simple and graceful!

  5. ejpotter on 17 January 2013 at 3:30 am

    To echo John… Hurray! I look forward to the Wednesday Masterclasses release all week long.

  6. STEVE MASSIE on 17 January 2013 at 3:33 pm

    This is a fun little project, my Daughter has all ready put her order in ( She is a Teacher ) as she needs pencil boxes. Thanks Pau and Joseph well done, looking forward to the next installment and doing the top.


  7. constable415 on 17 January 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Wonder what kind of lid will be on this box?

  8. kelly on 19 January 2013 at 2:26 am

    This box does not have a lid. The next two boxes in this series will have a lid. You can see a picture of all the boxes in this series here.

    Dovetail Boxes › Project Info

  9. Jered Jones on 20 January 2013 at 2:50 am

    Wow, just joined and really liked the first project. looking forward for more…

  10. kelly on 24 January 2013 at 7:36 pm

    After applying the Shellac finish, are you supposed to rub it with 0000 steel wool? Fine grit sand paper? Some kind of wax? Or something else?

    • Paul Sellers on 25 January 2013 at 2:39 am

      You can use steel wool alone, this denies the surface first, but I find it best to apply a soft wax furniture polish using the 0000 steel wool as a small pad. This ensures that there in no build up of smeared wax. I then polish with a Kiwi shoeshine brush. This gives the most excellent sheen you can imagine. My favourite furniture polish in the UK is the National Trust furniture polish but you can’t get that in the USA so in the US I go for Beumont Trewax clear paste wax (go to amazon)

      • kelly on 25 January 2013 at 5:07 am

        Thanks for the reply Paul, appreciate it.

  11. Lawrence Underwood on 1 February 2013 at 3:58 am

    We watched our first episodes and really enjoyed them. We will start on our boxes on Sat. We are excited by what we are learning. Thanks! =)

  12. Boyce Burress on 6 March 2013 at 11:07 pm

    I am really feeling the effects of being in the presents of a Master woodworker. My shop was full of a project that had become never-ending when I joined the classes. I watched the episodes and thought, that’s cool, got it. With each week I was rocking along thinking this is sweet it’s making perfect sense. I did my first box yesterday. I’m sorry to say that it was not pretty and I had to revisit the episodes. Today I tried to make another. I was feeling so bad, I felt I had fallen off the turnip wagon. I realized that I had just made two boxes and all eight corners were different. I’m just thankful for only 1 dovetail in each. Today proves to me that I am not ready for show and tell and my tools are not sharp enough. I’m hoping that tomorrow the corners will match. I love this class.

  13. Illipour on 23 September 2013 at 8:58 pm

    Hello Paul
    Thank you for your very informative and excellent videos .
    My question is actually out of this project and it is related in finishing . In some type of boxes there is a very thick layer of finishing material which is very glossy and shiny . What is that ?
    Due to its thickness , it should not be the shellac . I would like to know the detail of everything about that .Can you help me on that ?
    Thank you for your help

    • Paul Sellers on 25 September 2013 at 6:01 pm

      Actually, it is shellac. The only other finish we have used so far has been a water-based varnish and that was a semi-gloss finish and not glossy at all. Shellac does give a high gloss finish on three brushed strokes or two or three sprayed coats. French polishing with shellac builds up a high gloss finish with subsequent layered coats but the art is more complex than spraying or brushing.

  14. rchrismon on 13 November 2013 at 4:42 am

    I’ve been a member for a couple of months and am still in awe of what I see in nearly every episode. On the other hand, when I try some of these things, I just can’t seem to make it work — particularly what looks like it ought to be simple layout. After looking at some episodes several times, I think I figured out part of the problem. I’m guessing that Paul has VERY strong hands! For example, using a simple combo-square, Paul whips a line along a board. Nearly every time I do this, my square inevitably slips or rocks, thus mucking up the line. Boy, I’d hate to be in one of those hand-shaking macho matches with Paul!

    • George Bridgeman on 13 November 2013 at 10:39 am

      Practice, practice, practice! It’s easy to forget that Paul’s been doing this for longer than some of us have been alive so his hands are used to the movements required to perform all these actions. Keep practicing and you’ll get better and better, and wonder how you ever found it so difficult!


    • Thomas Hanson on 5 December 2016 at 10:46 pm

      I’ve been doing dovetails for about 14 years now. Layout was the hardest thing for me to perfect.
      Procedure is 90 percent mental, and there are always clues to what is going wrong. When I butt heads with what should be a simple problem I go inside and have cuppa tea to think it out and soon I have a plan.
      You can push a square into a face to make a mark a lot easier than you can pull one into a face. I’ve been known to use a squeeze clamp to hold the square onto the wood. Now I know it isn’t going to move as I can barely squeeze that clamp.
      One big problem is you always need to mark from the same side as nothing can be perfectly parallel. I always mark from the bottom of the piece. Keep probably more, hence the clamp.

  15. STEVE MASSIE on 13 November 2013 at 3:09 pm

    George is right on or “spot on” as the Brits refer to it. No truer word than practice, practice, practice and then more practice. I have been working wood for over 40 years with machines up until about 2 – 3 years ago, now I am trying to do wood working with Hand Tools only. I get good results using my old Stanley’s, Keen Kutter K series and a few wooden planes.

    However in as much as I hate to admit I made a chisel box this weekend and I was not impressed with my Dove Tails. I am not sure what happened other than I need more practice.

    Also learn to sharpen, if you can’t do that you will have difficulties.


  16. STEVE MASSIE on 13 November 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Now I have made several projects with Hand cut Dove Tails and they came out fine, but this past week end was very frustrating for me.


  17. wdelliott on 15 January 2014 at 12:02 pm

    I am impressed with the effectiveness of your saws. My saws do not seem to have the same sound when cutting, suggesting your sharpness. Also, when you first commence sawing, your initial bites convey the sharpness.

    Perhaps you could comments on the saw sharpness. I’m interested in knowing when this issue needs attention. I believe you have raised my conscience on chisel sharpening in this work. Now, I have an instinct with the chisels need further sharpening. But the saw is a mystery. I cannot easily tell when I need to sharpen them.

  18. BondiMacF on 31 December 2014 at 6:31 pm

    Hi Paul,
    I’m looking forward to getting stuck into one of these boxes soon.
    I’m a bit baffled by one thing – I’m sure there’s a simple answer.

    Why, after spending so much time and effort at making beautiful dovetails do we then simply go and glue a bottom on? It just seems a little bit of an anti-climax to end the build that way after all the craftsmanship of the corners.

    Thank you

  19. jeffpolaski on 15 May 2016 at 3:14 pm

    In Episode 3, you used a bench hook to saw a small portion off the short end of the bottom. You did not use the stop on top of the bench hook to guide the saw. I’m primarily interested in keeping the tenon saw vertical to the work surface. Can that top block of wood be used as a vertical guide? Would an extra piece of squared wood be added, perhaps in the middle of the length to ensure a vertical/squared cut?
    Or, am I asking too much of bench hook and some other type of jig to guarantee a square cut be pressed into service.
    I realize that constant practice can eventually result in constant results, but time is not on my side for constant practice and long experience. Thank you.

    • RoyR on 15 May 2016 at 5:07 pm

      you could try the poor mans miter box instead. in the video Paul shows making it with 45 deg. angles but you could just as well make a guide slot for a 90 deg. cut. also the shooting board might help correct any mis-cuts with the saw.

      • jeffpolaski on 16 May 2016 at 5:45 am

        Roy, thank you for you prompt reply. I have a couple miter boxes left from my father, well worn and sort of approximate. I probably would make a one angle 90 degree shooting board, try to develop the sawing skills and as you tactfully described it would be something to correct mis-cuts with the saw.
        Have a great week. and thanks again.

        • Michael Ostrander on 12 July 2017 at 2:09 am

          Hey Jeff. You’re on the right track here, although by now you’ve probably figured it out. I’ve been doing this for a long time now and I’m pretty good with all my saws but I rarely get a perfectly square edge, in both planes, off the saw. My combination bench hook/ shooting board is always on my bench top somewhere. 2 or 3 quick passes after the cut and you’re right where you want to be.

  20. larryl49 on 7 December 2016 at 10:10 pm

    Hi small project loaded with tit bits of skills and knowledge,once again many thanks. Can’t wait for it to get warmer and get back into my workshop and have a wood Fix.
    Regards Larry.

  21. Thomas Hanson on 17 December 2016 at 12:31 am

    I’m surprised at the saw cut on the bottom end being a different height that the knife wall, requiring planing. Since you chiseled down to the knife wall at the end of the cut to start the saw, why is there a different height on the end of the bottom? I thought this was part of the inherent precision of the technique.

    • Philip Adams on 19 December 2016 at 2:33 pm

      Hello Thomas,
      Whenever you use the saw to cut, you usually plane afterwards to clean up the surface. Are you referring to the point where Paul places his knife in the line left by the knifewall after cutting the first end? This is a very small amount, and it is vital to make sure not to saw into the knifewall, only up to it or slightly away from it and plane to the line. Does that makes sense?
      Thanks, Phil

  22. Alejandro Alvarado on 20 September 2022 at 6:19 am


    What is the work for the bottom part of the box regarding squareness and flattening?, or since it is a narrow, it will get adjusted to the base of the box by the applied force when gluing it up?

    Thanks for the answer.


    Alejandro Alvarado

  23. Benoît Van Noten on 20 September 2022 at 9:47 am

    The process shown on the first 5′ should ensure a flat bottom. It relies on the plane length being longer than the box width.
    Although, if the box is really twisted, one should first plane the two opposite high corners to come nearer to flatness.

    Looking at the glue up, one can see that the thin bottom panel wasn’t perfectly flat but the box sides are strong enough to counteract this.

    • Alejandro Alvarado on 20 September 2022 at 7:13 pm

      Thanks for your reply!

      I often neglect the fact that as wood movement could be used to our advantage also.

      Thin pieces are difficult to flatten for me, in this case, as Paul did is better than trying to flatten the thin piece in my opinion.

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