A dovetail saw is part of the back saw family (which is, in turn, a subset of the handsaw group), and in the past was primarily used by cabinet makers for creating fine dovetail joints on the furniture they made. Dovetail saws are generally between 8 and 10 inches in length with particularly fine teeth (around 14 to 17 per inch). The blade is narrow and stiff and reinforced with metal at the top. They originally came with three different kinds of handles, in closed, open and turned designs. They can easily be confused with back saws, although they’re actually a little shorter. Although they were made for a specific purpose, a dovetail saw can be used for several different tasks.
The dovetail saw was made to cut dovetail joints and this remains its primary use. It's still possible to use a back saw for dovetail joints, but a genuine dovetail saw will offer a much finer, more exact cut, which is important when you’re making a piece of furniture that has to look just right.
Dovetail saws operate at their best when cutting 7/8 inch dressed lumber, which is ideal for fine furniture, although they can work with other types of wood just as well.
Miter saws tend to be rougher, with fewer teeth per inch than a dovetail saw. Nonetheless, the dovetail saw can still be used for miter work where the cut needs to be exact and smooth, as long as the wood to be cut isn’t too deep. Dovetail saws can be used with a miter box and will offer a very fine cut, which means you’ll only need minimal sanding of the edge afterwards.
As a Panel Saw
Panel saws tend to be used with dressed, seasoned stock using cutting and ripping techniques. If you’re working with this type of wood in small enough pieces, a dovetail saw can be used in place of a panel saw and is perfect for using basic cutting techniques. The dovetail saw provides an ideal finish on wood because the number of teeth per inch gives a smooth, fine cut that requires very little sanding afterwards.
A dovetail saw can be used for most types of joint work and are not restricted to dovetail joints. Although there are specific tenon saws available, they are not a common feature in most tool kits. A dovetail saw can do the work just as well. In many ways, a dovetail saw is really a smaller version of a tenon saw, which makes it a natural choice for this kind of work.
Where many saws have relatively few teeth per inch to make them ideal for ripping work, a dovetail saw is perfect for more exact cutting. If you are working with high quality wood that has a closer grain, the only way to guarantee a good cut is with a fine blade.
Again, much depends on the thickness of the wood, but for furniture work a dovetail saw shouldn’t present any problems, as you won’t be working with such large thicknesses. If you always make a dovetail saw your first choice for finishing work, you can frequently eliminate the need for sanding off edges afterwards.