Cutting Dovetails with Shaper Origin
Popular Woodworking|June 2021
It's all about precisely removing waste.
By Andrew Zoellner

1 I used Shaper's dovetail generator for Fusion 360. Though the image looks complicated, it's really just generating two SVG files used for cutting the dovetails. Input the details of your stock and router bit, number of pins, and the file is updated to your specific joint, with equally spaced pins and tails.

Shaper Origin and Workstation are still pretty new to our woodworking world, but I’ve gotten to spend lots of time with the system over the last year. And it’s really quite incredible. Using a series of domino-looking shapes on a flat surface, the Origin is able to tell precisely where the machine is. As you cut, the router inside the Origin moves within the base, allowing it to precisely track a line (even if you aren’t able to do it with just your body). It will cut precisely to the line, inside or outside the line, and even offset from the line by a fixed amount.

Woodworking really boils down to being able to cut precisely to layout lines, and that’s what the Origin excels at. It’s a handheld CNC router that you can use on almost any flat surface, whether that’s an inlay on the lid of a tool chest, a medallion on a hardwood floor, or the edge of a board (as we’ll explore here).

Making Tails and Pins

Dovetail joinery comes down to accurately removing waste between tails and pins. If you know the size and angle of your tails, you can make pins to match. With a clear image of those dimensions, it’s simply a matter of cutting to those lines. Shaper has developed a Fusion 360 file that automatically generates the SVG files needed to cut dovetails with Origin. You input the width and thickness of your stock, the angle and diameter of your dovetail bit, the diameter of your straight bit, and export two files: one for the tails and one for the pins.

Shaper’s Workstation is what makes the cutting process simple and repeatable. There are registration pins that allow you to accurately place each board every time, in relation to your digital workspace. Two clamps firmly hold the board in place. The replaceable MDF wasteboard provides a firm backer (and minimizes the risk of cutting into an aluminum Workstation). And outboard support for the base of the Origin so you can safely route end and edge grain.

2 The cutting height of the dovetail bit needs to be equal to or taller than the thickness of the material you're cutting. The bit on the left is suitable for 1/2 thick material but wouldn't work with 3/4 material. The bit on the right has a cutting height of just over 3/4 and is the one I used for my 3/4 thick case materials.

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