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I'm building a hope chest for my daughter out of cherry, and wanted to use dovetails to join the panels. My hand-cutting skills aren't quite up to snuff for a fine detail like through dovetails, so I've been looking for appropriate alternatives.

I recently built a sled for cutting splines on a table saw, including a slot for dovetails cut on a router table. I've used it on small pieces and the splines do a fine job.

But my real question is whether a dovetail key would add enough strength to the miter joint overall, and is it a good alternative to a through dovetail joint?

  • "My hand-cutting skills aren't quite up to .... through dovetails" Since a chest is just a box, had you thought about using box joints instead? With modern glues they're nearly as strong as dovetails and much easier to cut without making a <doh> mistake :-) "[would] a dovetail key would add enough strength to the miter joint overall" Maybe. Like with a lot of things it depends on the specifics (e.g. size and number of the keys, how accurately everything is cut, and not least the stress placed on the chest). As good as a through-dovetail? Unlikely. Good enough though? Quite possibly. – Graphus Apr 12 at 15:58
  • On splines/keys, it seems the terms are used almost interchangeably these days but actually we should do our best to keep them distinct. Splines run along a joint, keys — or the older term, feathers when they were typically very thin (veneer thickness) — across it. – Graphus Apr 12 at 15:59
  • Thank you! I'm considering adding biscuits to increase the strength. The edges are 14" x 3/4" and will be mitered, and I'm considering whether to alternate space between keys and biscuit slots or just let the keys lap them. – Gary Apr 13 at 1:46
  • Make sure you put details like dimensions in the question itself, which you can do with an edit. – jdv Apr 15 at 17:51

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