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The Dovetail Joint: A Traditional Timber Connection

By Margaux Friant on July 03, 2014

A timber frame can seem complicated, but really it’s just like a big 3 dimensional puzzle with different shaped pieces that fit together. In order to better understand the big puzzle (a timber frame), I thought it might be fun to find out more about its specific parts. The first thing I wanted to learn more about was the dovetail joint.

The dovetail joint is one of the most beautiful timber connections and is strong and secure through design. It gets its name from the shape of its mortise and tenon, which resemble the tail of a dove.  Once the connection is made, it becomes very difficult to pull apart, because of its wedge shape.

Dovetail Joint

Dovetail Joint

Dovetail joints, in timber framing, are used to connect roof purlins to rafters, and floor joists to girts.

Just for a refresher, a principal purlin is the horizontal beam that spans the distance between the gable ends of a building, and rafters are the series of timbers that attach to purlins and are used to support roofs.

Rafter PP


Girts are the timbers that support walls, and joists are the timbers that run between girts to support floors and ceilings.

Joist Girt

The dovetail joint is favorable for these connections because its design is stable, long lasting, and beautiful.

Dovetail Connection


The dovetail joint is also commonly used to build handmade wood boxes or cabinets.They are a fundamental traditional joinery connection, because they are simple and incredibly strong. Below, is a picture of one of our crew cutting a dovetail.

Cutting a Dovetail

Cutting a Dovetail

A great insight into the skill and craftsmanship involved in building a timber frame would be trying to cut a dovetail joint. It ain’t easy.

Thanks for stopping by our timber framer’s blog! If you like this post, or have any timber work questions, we invite you to get in contact, ask an expert, or share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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  1. Awesome post Margaux, great job. Happy summertime!

  2. Mario says:

    very interesting Mme Margaux; Great!

  3. John says:

    Trying to make a post and beam headboard out of 5″x8″ pecky cypress.

    I think I would like to do a dovetail and would be interested in any suggestions you have

  4. bruce says:

    what are the dimensions of the dovetail- width at neck and end, distance between?

  5. Steven Anderson says:

    Great stuff…My dream is a timber cabin. I am an avid canoe tripper, bass player and Yukon animal. I love the north. Can Vermont Timber Works build me a shippable frame to reconstruct on site with construction guidelines.

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