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What Is A Dovetail Drawer and Is It Better Than Standard Drawer?

cabinet dovetail drawers

Drawers are an essential element in the home. They are basically everywhere. In the bedroom closet, in the living room credenzas and consoles, and most importantly, in the kitchen and pantry. Drawers are useful for storing supplies, cutlery, household equipment, and other miscellaneous items. They are also all too frequently used to easily dump and hide odd items. Nevertheless, the fact that we can’t live comfortably in a home without the existence of drawers pretty much says a lot about its importance.

All type drawers

Different storage needs demand customized drawer craftsmanship, design, and size. There are a lot of drawers that are available on the market. Knowing which type of drawer will suit your needs is essential. In this blog, we are going to be highlighting cabinet dovetail drawers. What are dovetail drawers? And how is it any better than a standard drawer? Read more to find out.

What are dovetail drawers?

dovetail drawers joints construction

Dovetail drawers or dovetail cabinets refer to drawers that use the dovetail joinery technique to attach pieces of wood together to construct a drawer. A dovetail cabinet is common in kitchens where the drawers need to be stronger than standard drawers to hold heavy household equipment and cutlery. Dovetail kitchen drawers tend to be much more durable and heavy-duty. If you think your drawers are not sturdy, try to check if what you have are dovetail kitchen cabinets. If not, it’s probably time to switch from your typical standard one to a dovetail kitchens drawer.

What is dovetail construction?

Dovetail drawer construction refers to a type of drawer craftsmanship where the tongue-and-groove also known as tail and pin wood joinery method is used to securely attach various pieces of wood. What does dovetail drawers mean? Dovetail construction drawers mean that the cabinet has a tongue in its corner or dovetail corners which is basically a protruding piece of wood, while the groove is the area it occupies on the adjoining board.

Dovetail construction is a popular construction method not just in making drawers but also in floors, doors, paneling, and other architectural construction. The tongues of dovetail drawer joints resemble true dovetails, and the grooves are carved places to take those components. The broadest section of the dovetail is embedded in the other wooden panel. This makes removing the drawer's front very impossible. Typically, dovetail cabinets are not painted to highlight the natural wood grain color of the wood and also make the details seen. However, you can also have dovetail paint cabinets without hiding the details. Designers often paint the tongue portion of the cabinet to contrast the groove. This is a great way to expose the detail of the construction method.

What is a dovetail joint?

dovetail drawers details in progress

Let’s take a more detailed look at the dovetail drawer joints. The dovetail joint drawers are typically used to link the edges of a drawer to the front and are known for their tensile strength to being pushed apart. Pins or tongues cut from one board's end interlock with the groove or tail on the other board's end. The tongue and groove dovetail key joint are shaped like a trapezoid. A hardwood dovetail joint construction demands no mechanical fasteners once it has been joined.

In the drawer construction joints shown in the image above, you can see that the tongue and groove are securely attached making the drawer sturdy and durable. This type of joinery can be used in any type of drawers, kitchen, side tables, pantry, and dovetail joint dresser. It is one of the most popular wood joinery techniques that predates written history.

The Most Popular Dovetail Joint Types

There are various types of dovetail joints and different ways of interlocking pieces to make tongue and groove drawers. Below are the four most common dovetail construction that can be seen in drawers and other types of furniture with storage boxes.

  1. Through or English Dovetail Joinery

english dovetail drawers strong fastening

Through dovetail joint is perhaps the most common among all others. The dovetail grain of both ends of the wood panel can be seen on both sides since they pass through each slice. Refer to the image above. Typically, a veneer would have been used to hide the dovetails. But in today’s modern era, dovetails are left bare to show the detailed craftsmanship of the drawers and cabinets.

  1. Sliding or French Dovetail Joints

sliding french drawer joints

Sliding wood joints also known as French dovetail is basically two pieces of wood panel or board that are attached together by sliding the tongue against the groove. How to make a sliding dovetail joint? In French dovetail drawers, the groove is carved on the adjacent panel where the other panel will interlock. The interlocking stability of a dovetail is provided by this junction. The tail of a sliding dovetail is moved into the socket to complete the assembly. It's typical to taper the socket, keeping it somewhat tighter towards the back of the joint. Due to this, the two sections of the sliding dovetail drawers may be slid together easily but the joint becomes tighter as it completely interlocks with the adjoining board. 

  1. Half-Blind Dovetail

half-blind dovetail drawer

The half-blind dovetail is often used by craftsmen to conceal the end grain from the front joint. The tails are hidden by mortises in the ends of the board that serves as the item's front. This is the joinery that is used when the cabinet design is meant to have a drawer front. The dovetail details can be seen only on the side of the drawer rather than on the front.

  1. Secret Mitred Dovetail

craftsman work on dovetail drawer

The secret dovetail joint is called such because no dovetail is visible on both the front and side of the drawer. It is only utilized in the most exclusive cabinet and box construction. By shaping the outside surface to connect at a 45-degree angle and burying the dovetails internally inside the joint, it provides the strength of a dovetail junction while being completely hidden from both exterior faces.

Pros and Cons of Dovetail Joints

Like any other method of woodworking dovetail joints have their pros and cons:

Pros

Cons

They make durable and sturdy drawers.

The tight fit of the tongue cuts into the groove makes dovetail cabinetry just as sturdy and durable as cabinets that are attached with screws or nails.

Difficult to mark and cut.

The dovetail joint is quite meticulous to make. You need to precisely mark and cut the wood in order to produce two wood board with dovetails that fits accurately.

No need for screws, nails, and other fastening equipment.

Because dovetail joints make a tight and strong fit, you don’t need to buy nails and screws to attach wood panels together. If you think about it, it will save you money on buying hardware and equipment.

The tongue may not fit due to a minor cutting error.

A tiny millimeter error can cause the whole dovetail joinery to fail. Carpenters and craftsmen are thorough when it comes to woodworks. Whether it’s dovetail drawers or not, wood joinery has to be a hundred percent accurate.

They showcase beautiful craftsmanship.

There are interior design styles that showcase the intricate details of woodworking. Japanese, Scandinavian, and industrial designs are among them.

Only solid wood and lumber can be dovetailed.

Wood such as plywood, fiberboard, and other types of synthetic or engineered wood is not ideal for making dovetail joinery.

You can take dovetail joints apart if you wish to disassemble

Furniture or dovetailed kitchens cabinetry can be disassembled whenever you wish to do a dovetail renovation. Being able to smoothly disassemble something keeps the wood from getting damaged.

A loose fit would make the drawer unstable.

When the tongue doesn’t interlock accurately on the groove regardless of whether you put glue to make it stick or not, there is a huge chance that the front of the drawer will come off when frequently pulled open.

Don’t easily get pulled apart.

Due to the shape of the dovetail which is trapezoidal, it is interlocked securely making it hard to pull apart. You won’t have a problem with drawers breaking apart when you pull them forcefully. (although it’s something that you don’t do normally unless the drawer is stuck.)

Not DIY friendly if you’re not skilled in carpentry.

Dovetail joinery requires meticulous skills in carpentry and woodworking. But if you already have dovetail drawers and are planning to do a simple renovation like paint dovetail grey cabinets or transform your drawers into dovetail gray kitchen cabinets, that’s definitely something that you can DIY. However, creating a dovetail from scratch would be a lot more difficult.

 

Has a large gluing area.

The large gluing surface of the interlocking dovetail connection adds to the strength of the joint.

Time-consuming and requires complex work.

Since making the dovetail needs to be specific, smooth, and flawless, it requires a lot of time and effort. If you just want a quick renovation and especially if you’re meeting a deadline, keep in mind that dovetail joinery is not something you can do in a day.

Article by:

Valentina Melnikova - Lead Designer at Cut2Size

valentina@cut2size.ca

Office 403.366.7411

Hi there! I’m a millwork designer and an owner of a kitchen cabinet manufacturing company. With a team of professionals, I work on designing and manufacturing high-end millwork. Combining professional designing and manufacturing skills is what allows us to develop and translate our plans into a reality through our uniqueness and exclusive ideas. Our employees are highly skilled and creative thinkers that also utilize their professionalism and experience to take millwork to the next level. I’m very familiar with the industry and I take on each project from the design to the final product. With that said, if you’re looking for design advice or technician help, you’re in the right place.