With the first project looming large one joint we will need to get our heads around is the dovetail. For many folks this joint is a real draw to woodworking, it seems to resonate quality even to those who don't understand woodworking or furniture. A word of caution before we get too misty eyed though, it is only a joint! I'm going to be looking at making basic through dovetails suitable for a utility piece. That's not to down play it though, when I use the term basic here it's effectively laying a foundation and making sure we understand context and how to make a sound joint. The image above is an example of through dovetails used in contemporary furniture design, they add beauty and an element of tension. See mine at the bottom of this post from my tool chest and they speak a different language, one of utility and strength above all other factors. You now see why I used the term context, and just as a treat take a look at a hidden compartment dovetail directly below!
I'm going to start simple, once you have the skill mastered you can look to use it in an expressive or hidden way as your project dictates (hidden is good, secret mitre dovetail joint is good fun for sure). So to start simple I'm going to turn to my friendly joiner from history George Ellis and his book "Modern Practical Joinery" 1902. Mr Ellis picks a one size fits all approach, an angle of about 1:7 for both hard and softwood. This angle is always close at hand for Mr Ellis thanks to his simple 'shop made "Dovetail Bevel" on page 66. The Dovetail Bevel is a simple template made from scrap wood that can be kept with the tools to apply the angle when setting out. Now some like steeper or shallower angles, fact is it doesn't matter that much. I think 1:7 is a fine starting point for most projects. That said if working on historical pieces I suggest a trip to the antiques store to examine a piece to see just how they were proportioned at that time in history.