As most gunsmiths have access to a milling machine, they would normally use that to cut any dovetails. However, for this exercise we have to ours by hand. These are practice pieces intended to teach us how to do the work by hand if we need to. I used a pice of barrel that was cut from one of my projects and used that for this project. The dovetails are standard dovetail blanks that was purchased from Brownells. Here I am getting ready to start the first dovetail.

Blank start

The first step is to cut or file the center portion of the cut down to depth.

Starting cut

Once I reached the required depth, I started the undercuts. These are done with a special triangular file cut to 60º with a “safe” edge. The safe edge is smooth and allows me to do the undercut without deepening the depth of the center cut.

Starting the undercut

This does take some time and eventually you will get to this point. The dovetail blank is now fitted in and checked for clearance. The rule is that there can be no daylight seen in the sides and bottom of the cut. In other words, the dovetail blank needs to fit the cut precisely.

Cut complete

The only step left is to install the blank and check the fitting and repeat it for a second dovetail.In the next picture you can see the completed barrel piece with both dovetails. Yes, I know that one was not installed square on the barrel but that was not a requirement in this project. I only needed to fit the dovetails.

Barrel blank with both dovetails

Close up of a dovetail


2 Responses to “Dovetails”

  • Thomas C. Bogan:

    Good lord, don’t they have been using milling machines for that since Sam Colt’s day.
    In fact it’s one of the requirements that lead to the development of the Bridgeport.

    • Neil:

      Tom, milling machines have indeed been used for a long time. I believe our curriculum has us doing this by hand so that we will be able to do it without access to a milling machine. It also teaches valuable lessons in using files and how to fit metal to metal.