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10-18-17 | From Tree To Table

A Brief History of Dovetail

What is Dovetail?

Dovetail joinery is a wood working technique used to join two pieces of wood together. The dovetail joint is famous for its tensile strength and organic connection - no nails or screws needed - to form a very strong yet beautiful structure. The name 'dovetail' comes from the appearance of the joint, which resembles the triangle shape of a bird's tail.


What is dovetail joinery - east meets west furniture


The joint consists of two parts: the 'tails' and the 'pins.' When the tails and pins are fitted together they interlock to hold two pieces together strongly -s o strong in fact that pieces made with this technique can and do last for centuries. This technique requires precise measurement and cutting of the tails and pins to achieve its promised stability.


A Brief History

The earliest examples of dovetail joints were made thousands of years ago and were discovered in the burials of ancient Chinese emperors. These early dovetail joints were made by skilled woodworkers using hand saws and chisels. To achieve this joint, tiny angled saw cuts were carefully made, followed by delicate refinement by a sharpened chisel on both sides to avoid splintering. Even today, the mastering of a dovetail joint is a symbol of advanced carpentry skills.

Although dovetail joints represent a meticulous balance of beauty and structure, for centuries in Chinese history, the joints were hidden in furniture pieces. They could be found inside drawers or unseen places on the piece. At the time the aesthetic norm was to conceal beauty. As a result, dovetail was only considered a woodworking technique, rather than an artistic addition to the piece itself.


Modern Times

In 19th century, mass production entered the furniture industry. Standard and interchangeable parts in furniture making grew popular among the affluent and middle class. Handcrafted woodwork was too slow and laborious and one-of-a-kind pieces became unsuitable for the new market. With the invention of steam power, operating saws and carving machines, dovetail joints could now be cut in thousands of pieces with exact measurements. These machine-cut dovetails can be as strong and long lasting as the hand-made joints.

Today, the use of hand tools and hand-cut dovetails is now the province of hobbyists and a few small shops creating authentic replicas of antique furniture. And dovetails are exposed as a design element in more and more furniture pieces.



WE Living is inspired by the beauty and strength of the dovetail and our designs are centered around this beautiful joinery. Our pieces use the dovetail as a structural element to pay homage to Eastern traditions while keeping to a modern, minimalist design. For more examples of minimalist dovetail design, visit WE Living.