French Dovetail vs English Dovetail

French and English dovetails are the most common joinery options for furniture and woodwork. However, you might want to know the difference between them. This article will discuss in detail French dovetail vs English dovetail. 

French dovetails differ from English dovetails in their basic structural design, especially how their back corners fit together. In addition, the French dovetail works by sliding one piece over the other at right angles. In contrast, the English dovetail has several more minor interlocking points like jigsaw cutouts that firmly hold the furniture.

While there are other types of dovetail joints in drawer construction, several people misunderstand how to classify dovetail joints. Therefore, this article will help you understand what the terms “French dovetail vs English dovetail” mean, their basic features, and how to spot them when you see one quickly. So read on to learn more!

French Dovetails vs English Dovetails—How To Spot the Difference

Even though there are other dovetail types, only two primary dovetail joints exist— the French and English dovetail. As a result, for your drawer construction, woodwork or furniture, you have to choose either a French dovetail joint or an English dovetail joint. 

It is essential to know that all other types of dovetail joints besides the French dovetail are examples of the English dovetail joinery. The reason is that the French dovetail is the only drawer joint that slides one piece over the other in one direction. 

Whereas all other joineries (English dovetail) have different/ varying designs of finger-like projections that repeatedly interlock to fasten the drawer pieces together— It’s kind of like a giant zip lock, except on wood! 

An excellent way to spot the difference between a French dovetail and an English dovetail is to understand their basic features carefully. In addition, knowing the other kinds of dovetail joinery that make up the variations of the English dovetail serves as a bonus point for you.

What Are the Basic Features of French Dovetails?

Many woodworkers, furniture lovers and buyers loosely refer to the French dovetail joint as the “sliding dovetail joint.” Essentially, the French dovetail is a basic joinery technique in woodwork or craftsmanship for making drawers. 

French dovetails have just one pin and one tail— It’s kind of like a primary lock and key model where you precisely shape one piece to fit into the other. French dovetails are relatively durable, pretty primary and not as aesthetically appealing as traditional dovetail joints. 

Moreover, the durability of the furniture piece depends on thin edges that exist within the path or channel within which the top piece slides. Unfortunately, the French dovetail technique creates narrow drawers that aren’t as deep because of their basic design. 

However, French dovetail joints are not so bad as they are relatively efficient, pretty simple, cheaper, easier to make and do not consume as much material. 

What Are the Basic Features of English Dovetails?

In general, the English dovetail joinery makes up the other lot that people loosely call “traditional dovetail joints.” Moreover, because French dovetails are simple and offer a unidirectional fitting, woodworkers have developed an improved version of this more secure and durable joinery— the English dovetail joint.

The English dovetail joint stands out with its toothed ends that carefully fit into one another to create a more durable and secure joint. Also, English dovetails are pretty conspicuous as you can easily see the pieces that form the joinery at the corners. 

Since English dovetail joints unite only at the adjoining edges, they offer more room and depth. Not to mention the aesthetic appeal they give when you sight the interlocks from the outside.

Types of English Dovetail Joints

As we have earlier established, every other dovetail construction is an English dovetail technique, excluding French dovetails. The reason is that all other dovetail techniques that don’t slide like the French dovetail are pretty conspicuous and have shark-toothed or finger-like interlocking edges. 

Here is a brief rundown of the most common types of English dovetail joints.

Through Dovetails

Through dovetails are the traditional English dovetail construction that most people have in mind when they say “dovetail.” The through dovetails are also loosely known as “plain dovetail” and “English dovetail” when they involve drawer construction. 

You can quickly identify them by their close-fitting edges (pins and tails) visible on all furniture fronts. Previously, dovetails used to be concealed by veneers. But ever since dovetails became trendy, they’re pretty much exposed to boost the aesthetic appeal of drawer woodwork and craftsmanship.

Half-blind Dovetails

The half-blind dovetail is similar to the through dovetail, except their edges (pins and tails) are only visible on one front or angle. Essentially, its restricted visibility is where the dovetail derives its name. As a result, they provide the perfect technique for constructing drawer fronts and sides. 

Fully Blind Dovetails

Fully blind dovetails are the most difficult to construct and recognize. The reason is that their edges (pins and tails) are not visible on both sides, hence the name. They are also referred to as secret mitred dovetails. 

Woodworkers employ this technique in the highest cabinet and box work to conceal the dovetail joints from the exterior while maintaining a 45-degree angle internally from where you can see the dovetail joinery.

General Factors That Influence People’s Choices of French Dovetail vs English Dovetail

In general, people base their dovetail preferences on the nature of the furniture and personal style. Also, pros and cons equally play a significant role in determining people’s dovetail construction technique. 

Here are a few pros and cons of French dovetail vs English dovetail:

Pros and Cons of French Dovetail Joints

Here are a few reasons some people may prefer the French dovetail joinery.

                        Pros                                     Cons

Basic construction model.Not aesthetically appealing.
Fairly durable joinery.Offer a weaker joint that easily comes apart.
Cheaper to make.Create narrow, less roomy drawers.
They do not require much construction material.Exclusive to the luxury and specialty furniture market.
Easy sliding operation.Offers unidirectional joint fitting.

Pros and Cons of English Dovetail Joints

Here are a few reasons why some people prefer the English dovetail joinery.  

                      Pros                                     Cons

Elaborate and sophisticated construction model.Requires more construction material.
Highly secure and durable joinery.Pretty expensive to make.
High aesthetic appeal.Requires more technical know-how and skill.
Creates more roomy and broad drawers.Toothed locks do not offer much room for easy reconstruction.

Now that you know some of the reasons that influence people’s French vs English dovetail choices let’s consider some frequently asked questions about this topic.


What is a holding tool?

A holding tool is a support device, usually in manufacturing. Its function is to keep another tool in place securely. This way, you won’t risk the fixed tool falling out of alignment. Another name for a holding device is a fixture. 

How will you know if a screw is tightened correctly?

Generally, it’s best to use a calibrated torque wrench for checking or inspecting tightened screws and bolt joints. The wrench makes a characteristic click sound to signify that the screw is tightened correctly.

Are dovetail joints strong?

Dovetail joints are one of the most powerful techniques in construction joinery because of the pins and tails. In addition, dovetail joints are tough to come apart and even more if you apply glue to the edges. 

Final Thoughts

Both French and English dovetail joints secure wood pieces together and can prolong the life of your furniture. But you are at an advantage when you know and understand the difference between the two primary dovetail joints. This way, you can always choose the best joinery type that perfectly fits your taste. 

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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