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Are hand cut, plywood dove tails feasible?

Assuming you can get "good" plywood, i.e. not the brittle splinter-fest I've seen around, is dovetailing feasible?

I'd like to avoid using glue for the corner joins as I'd like to be able to dismantle it to transport it.

If they are feasible, any recommendations on what specs to look for? My assumptions having had a gander at the interwebs is:

  1. Use thick plywood so there is enough surface area for the dovetail to hold.
  2. Use some kind of backing board when cutting to minimise splintering at the edge of the cut (maybe cheaper plywood or MDF?)
  3. This is an assumption, but a very fine toothed dove tail saw

    This is the structure I am building (minis the horizontal supports, I know is won't hold up as is)

Overview design

It will be used as a computer desk.

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I think we'd have to know what you are building. Bookshelves? A jewelry box? A staircase? –  DA01 Jul 1 '13 at 22:10
    
@DA01 Added the sketch above. Cheers, –  BanksySan Jul 1 '13 at 22:58
    
@mike Do you think? I thought as long as the supports were stable it would hold. Where do you think the weakness would be? –  BanksySan Jul 1 '13 at 23:17
    
I'm not sure how that all would be supported. That said, if the primary goal is disassembly, look into the hardware that flat-pack furniture is put together with (aka Ikea) –  DA01 Jul 1 '13 at 23:38

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Dove tail joints are not a good option for any type of furniture that you would later hope to take back apart. Dove tails are designed to make a strong and attractive joint that is meant to be permanent.

For advice on how to create effective joints that are straight forward to put together and take apart take a study of the techniques used by kit furniture producers.

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The types of fastener hardware illustrated can be purchased from a number of on-line wood worker suppliers (leevalley, mcfeelys, woodcraft, rockler). Search for terms including "cam locks", "counter top connector", and "knock-down fasteners".

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Thanks, that's really helpful. I'm not planning on taking it apart often, maybe once or twice in its lifetime. –  BanksySan Jul 2 '13 at 22:07

Dovetails are frequently cut in plywood, but they are typically done by machine. The resin between the plys will be very hard on the edge of your chisels and to a lesser extent the handsaw.

If you were gluing up this project I would say dovetails cut with a router and jig would be great. However if you need to be able to disassemble/reassemble dovetails are a poor choice. It will be hard to disassemble without damaging the dovetails - either breaking them off or deforming them and making the joints sloppy.

You may look into pocket screws as a possible alternative. Or use regular screws that would be visible and turn them into a design element.

I am assuming you are planning to support the horizontal surfaces by attaching them to the wall behind them. If not, you need to reconsider your overall design as there isn't any joint that will support the full weight on the unsupported end.

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I looked at those as an alternative, would there be any downsides, I might be using thick plywood now? I'm wondering about the screws splitting the plywood and so not holding. –  BanksySan Jul 1 '13 at 23:24
    
Screws will work fine as long as you predrill the holes. –  JayL Jul 1 '13 at 23:28
    
sounds like a very feasible option then. Thanks. –  BanksySan Jul 1 '13 at 23:30

Definitely a option but if you are dismantling it, I would use something like box joints. If you are planning on gluing it at some point and want more strength than box joints, I would do dovetail joints.

What you are trying to build would provide insight into what you should use.

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