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Dovetailed Bookcase

No screws, no nails—tapered sliding dovetails hold it all together.

By Luke Hartle

Simple, beautiful, strong. This bookcase is just six boards held together using one elegant joint: the tapered sliding dovetail. Dovetails join the shelves to the sides and the sides to the top. This joint has a well-deserved reputation for being fussy to cut and fit, but I’ve devised two jigs so easy to use that you can’t go wrong.

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Cut the shelves, sides and top to length using a crosscut sled. The ends must be absolutely straight and square to make tight-fitting dovetail joints. Clamp a long stop arm to the sled to ensure similar pieces are cut to the same length.

Click any image to view a larger version

Rout tapered dovetails on the ends of the shelves and sides. I’ve devised a shop-made jig that makes this complicated joint virtually foolproof (see “Tapered Sliding Dovetails”).

Rout sockets in the sides. This jig has a tapered opening that exactly mirrors the dovetail’s taper. Line up the jig’s alignment mark with each shelf’s centerline (see inset).

Assemble the shelves and sides. Glue all three shelves to one side; then add the other side before the glue sets. Tapered sliding dovetails don’t become tight until they’re almost home, so you can work at a comfortable pace.

Rout stopped sockets in the top. Place a block in the jig to stop the cut. These sockets don’t go all the way across, because the top’s front overhangs the sides. Here, the dovetail joint is “blind,” or hidden.

Trim the front end of each side’s dovetail. This is much easier to do with a handsaw than by machine. The shoulder you create will sit under the uncut portion of the top’s socket.

Slide the top into place. Dovetail joinery makes this bookcase extremely rigid, even without a back panel. You can load it with heavy books and never worry about it sagging or falling apart.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker October 2005, issue #117.

October 2005, issue #117

Purchase this back issue.

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