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Sliding Dovetail Bench Keene NH

You can build this bench in a weekend or two. And once you’re set up to build one, multiples are no sweat. So don’t worry if you can’t decide whether this bench would look best in your front hall or at the foot of your bed—build two! If you build your bench from white oak, as I did, you’ll even be able to use it outdoors. I spent about $100 on lumber and another $25 for a dovetail router bit.

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Keene, NH
 
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Sliding Dovetail Bench

Sliding Dovetail Bench

Super-strong router joints give it elegant simplicity.

by Tim Johnson

This elegant bench has humble origins: Its forebears have been sat upon, stepped on and dragged about for centuries. Utilitarian ancestry is readily apparent in our bench. It features simple construction and strong interlocking joints. 

The pieces fit together like a puzzle, with sliding dovetails and half-lap joints. Sliding dovetails may sound difficult, but I’ll show you how to master this tricky joint with a simple jig, a router and a router table. 

The bench is sized so you can mill all the pieces with your 12-in. planer. I’ll show you how to cut perfectly fitting half-lap joints and how to make the tapered keys that fill the dovetail sockets.

You can build this bench in a weekend or two. And once you’re set up to build one, multiples are no sweat. So don’t worry if you can’t decide whether this bench would look best in your front hall or at the foot of your bed—build two! If you build your bench from white oak, as I did, you’ll even be able to use it outdoors. I spent about $100 on lumber and another $25 for a dovetail router bit (see Sources, below).

Prepare the Pieces

1. Glue up boards, if necessary, to make stock for the wide top (A, Fig. A, below) and legs (B). Plane this stock to final thickness, along with a piece for the rail (C). Mill extra stock for test cuts and the keys (D) to the same 1-1/8-in. thickness. Your stock must be dead flat when you rout, and also when you assemble the pieces, for the dovetail joints to fit well and slide smoothly. 

2. Rip the top, legs and rail to width; then crosscut the ends to length. Make sure the cuts are square.

Rout the Sliding Dovetails

3. Build the socket-routing jig (Fig. B, below). Use your top (A) to establish the width between the jig’s rails. To make sure the fences are spaced properly during assembly, fit a piece of scrap ripped to the proper width between them. 

4. Establish the dovetail sockets in the jig’s rails by setting the dovetail bit to 3/8 in. exposure and routing a test socket in extra stock. Mark the centers of the sockets in the rails.

5. Mark the socket locations on the edge of the top. Then position the jig by aligning the socket centerlines. Clamp the jig and the top securely to your workbench. Make sure the jig’s rails are flush with the top. If they protrude, the router base will catch on them and cause trouble.

6. Rout the sockets (Fig. A, Detail 1) in a clockwise loop, bearing against the left fence on the way out and the right fence on the way back (Photo 1). A dovetail bit with a 1/2-in. shank produces smooth, chatter-free results. If your dovetail bit has a 1/4-in. shank, rout clearance channels first, with a 1/4-in. straight bit.

7. Rout dovetails in the leg blanks on your router table, with a tall fence installed for support (Photo 2).

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