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Thread: Cutting box joints by hand

  1. #1

    Cutting box joints by hand

    Has anyone ever cut box joints without a table saw. A dovetail takes a saw and a chisel, and it seems that's the only way to go by hand with a basic box joint.

  2. #2
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    I've cut some bigger ones by hand, not many though 7/8"x 7/8", to make beehive parts. These were kinda crude though.
    In absence of a table saw my next choice would be a band saw, or a router with a box joint making jig.
    It sounds as if you want a 'neander solution, so I think the dovetail saw and chisels should work fine.
    Last edited by Mike Cutler; 06-09-2015 at 10:02 AM.
    "The first thing you need to know, will likely be the last thing you learn." (Unknown)

  3. #3
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    Dovetails are actually more forgiving of little errors than box joints. Cutting them by hand would be a very difficult proposition, IMO. Maybe some big monster ones would go OK, but for the size you typically see I would find a power solution - or cut DT's by hand.

    John

  4. #4
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    What John said; box and finger joints leave little room to hide inaccuracies unless they will be covered by trim pieces or drawer fronts.
    Take me to the hotel - Baggage gone, oh well . . .

  5. #5
    I would try it if I

    1) Just wanted to prove how crappy looking a joint I could make.
    or
    2) Just wanted to drive my self insane.

    I got better ways to spend my time, though.

  6. #6
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    Box joints were never intended to be cut by hand. They pretty much didn't exist until machines to make them were developed in the 19th century for mass producing small to medium boxes and cases. That being said it isn't too difficult to cut really big box joints on a bandsaw, just tedious and fussy. My dad made some toy boxes and blanket chests that way 15 or so years ago, mostly just to see if he could do it, I suppose. He didn't ever cut dovetails either by hand or with a router.

  7. #7
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    I recently built a tray to hold some paring chisels, using hand cut box joints. They required a little more work than dovetails. Fingers were sawn fat from the pencil line and pared to size. Each finger turned out between 3/16" and 1/4".

    Some of the joints came out ok...
    IMG_1348 (1).jpg

    Some did not...
    IMG_1350.jpg

    Someday, I'll clean up the gap with a patch. I used a relatively soft wood (Port Orford Cedar). I think results would have been better using a fine grain harder wood, like soft maple.

  8. #8

    Thank you all for the information.

    I'm going to give it a try. I'll post if and when I get it right.

    The Neanderthals didn't quite get the hang of using hand tools, which is maybe one of the reasons that we, Homo Sapiens, are here and they are not. please note that I'm not referring to the very small percentage of Neanderthal genes that it turns out that many of us have. Just because they could not make fine tools (better spears) doesn't mean they couldn't go out on a date now and again.

  9. #9
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    I seem to be a bit late to this thread, but...
    front view.jpg
    Hand cut. Saw the lines, chop the waste out. Use the first to lay out the next one. Saw on the waste side of the new lines.
    chop1.jpg
    Spacing and size of the fingers was set to the width of the chisel I was going to use to chop with. Split the lines on the first set of fingers, use those to lay out the matching set, saw on the waste side. Doesn't take all that long to do, either. I also pair up the sides and then the ends. Sides get done at both ends. Then the ends of the box is marked out .

  10. #10
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    Box joints ,as mentioned,were designed for machines to cut. To cut them by hand is not the best way to expend your effort: They are much more trouble to cut (unless you make them huge! Then they don't look as nice.),and they do not resist coming apart,at least in one direction,like dovetails do. Where is their advantage?

  11. #11
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    Box joints were used in Asia long before machines became available. Granted, they tend to be large and not as fine as machine made joints. It is easy to lock them in place in both directions with a dowel or pin as in the picture below.

    They are very quick and easy to make. Indeed, I have made a lot of these joints by hand, and seen hundreds of them on antique pieces, but I have never seen one that failed catastrophically. It is a solid, useful, and easily-made joint. It is not as attractive as a dovetail joint, IMO, and is considered nothing more than a utilitarian joint for connecting the corners of carcasework. But when locked with pins, I believe it to be as strong as a dovetail in all directions, and significantly stronger in tension in the direction the dovetails are inserted.

    2 drachma.

    Tsugite1.jpeg
    Last edited by Stanley Covington; 10-13-2016 at 12:10 PM.

  12. #12
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    That is a beautiful joint.

  13. #13
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    Sooo, without a MACHINE to do these, they can't be done?

    Wasting time in the Dungeon again...
    two sides.jpg
    My Machine is just those items sitting there, behind the two sides I made today, got the "ends" done, using those fingers to mark things out. I then cut on the waste side of the lines, one test fit..
    finger joints.jpg
    There is a square back there, just to see how all four sides turned out..
    four sides.jpg
    Waste of time? It is my time to waste, after all. If I can't afford a new, high tech camera, I sure'n can't afford the "machine" and then have to build a jig......after I can even find the room for the machine in the first place.

  14. #14
    I love POC. It smells awesome! I've used it for arrows.

    Quote Originally Posted by David Wong View Post
    I recently built a tray to hold some paring chisels, using hand cut box joints. They required a little more work than dovetails. Fingers were sawn fat from the pencil line and pared to size. Each finger turned out between 3/16" and 1/4".

    Some of the joints came out ok...
    IMG_1348 (1).jpg

    Some did not...
    IMG_1350.jpg

    Someday, I'll clean up the gap with a patch. I used a relatively soft wood (Port Orford Cedar). I think results would have been better using a fine grain harder wood, like soft maple.

  15. #15
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    Steven: It won't do any good to tell you this,but others may benefit: You don't have to build a "MACHINE!!!" I wouldn't either,though I have a machine shop. A wooden cross member screwed to your miter gauge,and a carefully placed nail,and a blade that cuts a square topped cut are all you need. And,that blade can be a small blade. Then,you,too,can make nice box joints composed of approx. 1/8" wide fingers CAN ACTUALLY BE YOURS!!!!! I have made them 1/16" just fooling around,when I was still a teenager.

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