Pins First, or Tails First? It Doesn’t Matter.


Want to start a woodworking argument? Start talking about cutting pins first or tails first for dovetails. And the funny thing is, it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying there aren’t reasons for choosing one approach over the other. But that’s not what’s going to determine your success or failure with dovetails. Of course, that’s not what we’re led to believe. “The best method,” “a new method,” or “so-and-so’s method” are supposed to make it easier. And so we try these new methods, or new tools, or whatever, in the hope of finally getting better.

Most of the time, searching around for the best method is just chasing around in circles. It doesn’t address what’s really keeping you from improving. In fact, it’s a serious distraction from working on what’s really important.

So what’s the secret? The same things that are important when cutting mortises and tenons; good saw and chisel technique, which in turn is based on proper body position and movement, and a strong concept of how the tools actually work with the wood. Also important are good layout and a really clear understanding of the lines. Beyond that, it’s just a set of instructions and a fair bit of practice.

These foundations of good work are the subject of my new book, which is currently at the printer, and expected to be out in early November (and first available at Woodworking in America). Or you can pre-order from:

Jeff Miller