Understanding Dovetail Drawers: Ultimate Guide

Many readers have asked us, “What are Dovetail drawers?”. The Dovetail mechanism produces one of the sturdiest joints without using screws. Let’s take a look.

Have you seen antique drawers that have no screws and nails in them? Traditionally drawers did not use pins and nails for their construction, instead, they used something known as Dovetail Joints. 

Dovetail drawers use pins and cuts to fix the side and the front of the drawer. You will not have to worry about heavyweights on the drawer making it break apart. The joints on the Dovetail Drawers are known as Dovetail joints, and these look like jigsaw pieces interlocked to give maximum support to the drawers. 

Finished Dovetail Drawer
A Finished Dovetail Joint
Attribution: CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55236

These drawers are known for their strength and longevity. These kinds of drawers first came into existence in the late 1800s. There are two types of Dovetail Drawers, the French and the English Dovetail drawers. You can determine how old your furniture is from the kind of joint it shows.

What is a French Dovetail?

French Dovetails have two characteristics. One is that the height is shorter, and the other is sliding joints. Generally, any furniture which has a curved front is a French Dovetail. 

French Dovetail Joint
A French Dovetail Joint
Attribution: By [[:en:User:{{{1}}}|{{{1}}}]] at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61546686

What is an English Dovetail?

Locking joints are predominantly present only in English Dovetail drawers. You can identify English Dovetails as they possess the following features.

  • On the adjoining sides, the dovetails are offset.
  • Interlocking takes place when one drawer box is on top of the other.
  • These pieces which help with interlocking are known as Tails and Pins.
English Dovetail Joint
An English Dovetail Joint
Attribution: By [[:en:User:{{{1}}}|{{{1}}}]] at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61546682

If you would like to learn how to make an English Dovetail Joint, this video will help you:

How to make a Dovetail Joint - The Three Joints - | Paul Sellers

English Vs. French Dovetail

Locking Joints are also known as Dovetail joints. There are differences between the English and French types of Dovetails. 

The English type is constructed in such a way so that the storage capacity of the drawer is optimized.

On the other hand, the French Dovetail specializes in features to give it an artistic look. For example, the design would be curved.

What is a Knapp Joint?

When people call a drawer joint Pin & Cove or by another name, Pin & Scallop and Half Moon, you should know they are referring to the Knapp Joint. The Knapp Joint was predominantly drawer joinery from 1870 to the turn of the century in 1900. It became redundant after that as its use-value fell. 

So what is the Knapp Joint? 

The Knapp type joint was the leader in those days as it was considered very strong with durability as a feature. Since Knapp Joints could be developed with machinery, furniture makers found it convenient to produce quality drawers with Knapp Joints. The first product with Knapp Joints was patented in 1867. Here is an interesting video on Knapp Joints:

How to make these Alternative Dovetail Joints (The Knapp Joint)

History of Dovetail Joints

The technique of Dovetail joints is as old as written history. As per olden records, the Egyptians used it to make their furniture, which takes us down to the First Dynasty. The Chinese and the Indians used it to build tombs and temples, respectively. 

The technique came into proper prominence only in the late 17th century. The technique was, however, diluted with time passing by with nails and screws usage. 

Therefore, the origin of dovetail joints was as early as 3000 BC (Egyptian) and perfected in modern times since 1860. 

It was only in 1860 that the joints were machine-cut to achieve uniformity. The introduction of the machine- cuts did not deter the Carpenters or skilled cabinet makers as they persevered with achieving their goals with bare hands even up to the early part of the 1900s, 1930 to be precise. 

It was at this point that factories persisted with machine-cutting. Dovetailing was slowly but surely becoming an art of the past. The reason was that the nails and pins were too thin and tapered off faster.

Dovetail — The advantages and superiority over others

The Dovetail leads by a clear distance when compared with other drawers. The fact is that the front and the sides are held in the most secure manner possible, thus ensuring durability. Damages, wear, and tear due to time do not occur as the wood used is of superior quality. 

One has to compare this with the fact that other wooden drawers use ordinary wood. 

The wood that is used in the Dovetail process is put through various stages. It involves sanding and then buffing before it reaches the last stage known as Finishing. From this stage, it is cut into pieces as per requirements with extreme precision. Then they are fitted into the locking joints. 

The exact reason why Dovetail Joint has remained a standard to be compared against is the process mentioned above. Here are a few more benefits.


The perfect fit for the drawers as they slide into their space without the slightest disruption cannot be matched by particle boards. You will not have to worry about how much weight you put on the drawer as the construction is enough to hold on to optimal weight.


The longevity of the Dovetail can be experienced by the user as the glides found under the drawer box help in the smooth movement. There is no rusting of nails or such issues to take care of when it comes to Dovetail drawers.


It is the detailing and precision of the craftsman that helps in the finished product being so perfect. The finished look should look nothing less than stunning, and you would appreciate the craftsmanship.

You can determine the age of your antique furniture just by looking into the kind of joint it comes with. 

What are the different types of joints for drawers?

Different projects necessitate different forms of joints and wood. Read on as we discuss the different kinds of joints and the pros and cons of each one of them.

Butt Joint 

Butt Joints are the simplest form of joints to construct drawers. These can be weak joints that need to be fastened with glue during construction.


  • The best and simplest way of joining two wooden pieces is the Butt Joint method.
  • It only involves gluing.
  • The end grains can be used to join long grains.
  • Plates and pins can further strengthen the connection and can withstand pressure.


  • The joint can be broken easily with two hands unless the butt joint gets stabilized. 

Learn more about Butt Joints:

10 Best Butt Joint Methods | Woodworking Tips & Tricks

Dovetail Joint

As already mentioned, these joints are the ones that do not require nails and screws. It came into the limelight in the late 1800s.


  • There are no nails used.
  • Options are both visible and blind.
  • They cannot be pulled apart.
  • The end look is aesthetic.
  • Interlocks are used to join pieces of wood.
  • Glue application over a large surface.
  • Absence of screws and fasteners.  


  • It is not easy to mark them and cut them perfectly.
  • The joints are poorly marked and cut.
  • Tenon joints and the Mortise joints warrant more time to complete.
  • As beginners would find it difficult, as dowelling has to be used.
  • Weak joints may surface earlier than expected as the grains are not face-to-face. 
  • Perfect Alignment is not possible as drilling machines are not allowed.

Dowel Joints

These are strong joints that can take care of weak woodwork.


  • It is the fastest process among all.
  • One can be sure of an immaculate finish.
  • Nails or screws do not appear to be a rule here.
  • Joints are stronger. 


  • Due to negligence, the joints can get misaligned.
  • Contact between grains face to face is ruled out.

More on Dowel Joints:

How to Make a Dowel Joint - Part 1 | Woodworking

Finger Joints

As the name suggests, these joints are made to look like finger-like projections that fit in between each other to secure the joint.


  • The joints are much straighter.
  • The utility of wood is greater, and there is minimal wastage.
  • If the load is vertically stacked, finger joints come in handy. 
  • Usage of adhesives permitted with the result being better.


  • You cannot rule out the chances of misalignment.

How To make Finger Joints:

How to Make Finger Joints on the Table Saw // Box Joint // Joinery // Woodworking How To

Bridle Joints

Used in frames and fastened rails, Stiles the Bridle joints are easy to construct.


  • Very simple to cut joints.
  • Narrow frames are easy to make.
  • Rules out the use of mortising machines


  • The end grains can be spotted easily, and the finished look is not appealing.

Learn how to make a Bridle Joint here:

How to cut a BRIDLE JOINT by HAND

Rebate Joint

They are similar to butt joints. Rebate joints are used in carpentry projects, including cabinet making.


  • Rules out timber blocks allow for nails, dowels, and even screws for further strengthening.


  • It is not suitable for big blocks of wood.

Learn how to make a Through Rebate joint here:

How to Construct a Through Rebate Joint

Dovetail Drawers Are The Pinnacle Of WoodWorking!

Antique drawers and woodwork that talk volumes about craftsmanship use Dovetail joints and other similar forms of joints instead of pins, nails, or other fasteners. We have tried to bring you information related to different joints for drawers. These are valuable tips for differentiating joints that are bound to come in handy.

We have tried to bring you the best information to help you in differentiating between French and English Dovetail Drawers and choose the best one depending on your purpose. Do share your thoughts on the above, and share the information with others who could benefit from this information.