The most critical joint of the DTC


The most critical joint of the Dutch Tool Chest may surprise you.  It’s not the dovetails on the bottom corners.  It’s the shelf and the dado on the sides.  That shelf controls the squareness of the chest.  Why?  The width of the case is set by the length bottom board which is joined to the sides by dovetails.  Make the bottom length whatever you want, because as long as the shelf matches the bottom, the case will be square.  Use you imagination and you should see that small changes in the shelf length make larger changes in the case width at the top (aka squareness).  See it?  I suggest you take the advice given in the article and trial fit the shelf before glue-up.  The process of fitting the shelf wasn’t discussed much in the article so I thought a post was in order.

DTC Shelf Installation

dado-1  dado-2

Join the bottom of the case to the sides with dovetails.  I covered that process already.  Next clamp your shelf on top of the bottom board on your bench making sure to position them as they will be in the final product (match up/down and left/right).  Next we are about to get “precise”.

dado-3  dado-4

In the picture on the left I hope you see the line that marks the depth of the dovetail joint on the bottom board.  This line marks the inside of the case.  Transfer that layout line to the self board with a square and marking knife.  If you have no marking knife, here is a suggestion for a cheap alternative.


With the dovetail depth line transferred, decide the appropriate depth of the shelf dado.  Mine is about 1/4inch.  Mark that line toward the outside of the dovetail depth line, then wrap that line around the shelf board.


Cut the shelf to length using the new lines (one on each end).  I cut the board leaving the line then planed the end grain just to the line.  No need for an XL shooting board for this, a Moxon vise works great.  If your feeling brave feel free to save the fuss and just saw to the line.  Careful – this length is critical.

dado-7 dado-8

Shelf board (left pic) and Case Side (right pic)

Now that the shelf is cut to length, use the marking gauge to transfer the depth of the dado from the shelf board to the side board.  FYI – I like a wheel gauge better than any other kind I have tried.


With the dado depth marked, finish marking and making your dados as I described in the Simple Shelf project.  Pre-assemble the case to ensure it is square.  If the case is not square, plane the shelf as needed.  Of course, that will only work if your shelf is too long.  If your shelf is too short, make a new shelf and know you learned a lesson.  It is easier to remove wood than to put it back.

Bob Jones

3 thoughts on “The most critical joint of the DTC

  1. rwyoung

    I did the center shelf a bit differently. Since I recently rehab’d a 1/2″ dado plane, I made the dado’s with that — an excuse to play with a new toy. To make sure they line up, the marks for the planing batten were made with both boards aligned using the dovetail base lines. This throws any vertical error to the top which has not yet be bevel cut. After creating the dados, I dry fit and clamped the case square to rough measure for the width of the shelf. Dry-fit and marking on a story stick minimizes error introduced in the depth of the dado. Clamping the case square was done by two cabinet clamps at the bottom and a 3rd set as a spreader above the dado. A couple of small F-clamps held the spreader in place while adjusting.

    Then it was cut, shoot and rabbet to fit. Two test fits with a little trimming and it was fine. The shouldered 1/2″ dado/rabbet should be more than strong enough in the long run.

    FYI, to mark and cut for the bevel, I clamped the boards together so that both the dovetail baseline and the bottom of the dado align. Then mark, saw and plane square. Easy-peasy

  2. billlattpa

    I agree 100%. The dado joint is the most important in the chest. It’s often overlooked in casework, but nice fitting dadoes are much more important than tight fitting dovetails much of the time. Nice post.


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