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How-to Woodworking Tips & Tricks

How To Make Hand-Cut Bowties

Make Hand Cut Bowties

Bowties (also called butterflies) provide a great way to stabilize cracks. Creating your bowties from scratch allows you to make them any size you need and, unlike some commercial bowtie templates, you end up with sharp outside corners.


Lay out some samples

Here are some rules of the road for making bowties:

  • The bowtie should be 1/3 as thick as the board you’re cutting it into
  • Make the bowtie twice as long as its width at its widest point
  • Cut the dovetail angle at 12-degrees

Before making wooden bowties, make paper bowties to help you determine what size bowties your project needs, and how many you need.


Cutting scrap of wood

Cut a piece of scrap at 12-degrees to use as an angle template.


Outlining the butterfly

Lay out a rectangle the defines the outside dimension of the bowtie. This one is 2” x 4”.


Formatting the cuts with straight edge

Use the 12-degree cut to draw a line from each corner toward the center of the rectangle. 12-degrees is a time-tested angle that makes a great bowtie/dovetail shape, with the angle being neither too steep or too shallow.


Finishing the bowtie shape

This provides the bowtie shape. Make a bunch of bowties of varying dimensions.


Selecting the layout of the bowties

Lay the paper bowties on your slab to determine how many you need, how large to make them and where to locate them.


Woodworking bowtie suggestion

Keep in mind that you can use more than one bowtie to span a crack, and they don’t have to all be the same size. Some people call this zippered bowties.


Create a bowtie


cutting out the wood with a vertical bandsaw

Lay out the bowtie to the size you need and cut it to shape use a bandsaw, jig saw or handsaw. Cut outside the line.


Chiseling the outer shape

Secure the bowtie in a vise and use a sharp chisel to pare the edges down to the layout lines. Take light passes. Be careful to keep the edges of the bowtie perpendicular to its face. Work downhill from the wide portion of the bowtie to the narrow waist.


checking your chisel work

Use the edge of the chisel or a straight edge to check the bowtie and make sure the edges are straight.


Trace the bowtie


tracing the bowtie on a separate piece of wood

Secure the bowtie in place with double-faced tape.


Creating the inlay for the finished piece

Trace the outline of the bowtie using a marking knife. A marking knife provides the most accurate and distinct line, which is important to achieve a good fit.


sharpening pencil tip

If you do use a pencil to trace the bowtie keep the tip of the pencil needle sharp by rolling it over 220-grit sandpaper.


finishing the bowtie transfer

The bowtie shape has now been transferred to your material.


Rout the pocket


routing the bowtie edges with hand router

Install a 1/4" bit in your router and set the depth of cut to slightly less than the thickness of the bowtie.


drilling your starter hole

Drill a starter hole in the center of the bowtie pocket. The diameter of the drill bit should be slightly more than the diameter of the router bit. Use masking tape to set the depth of the hole on the drill bit.


hand routing the pocket

The pocket is routed freehand. Maintain control of the router by resting the heels of your hands on the work surface and controlling the router’s position with your fingers.


staying within the lines of the trace

Cut as close to the line as you can, without cutting into it or going past it. If you do go outside the line make a slightly larger bowtie, retrace the bowtie and recut the pocket.


ensuring the bottom of pocket is straight

Check your work. Make sure the bottom of the pocket is flat and the cuts are consistently close to the layout lines.


Chisel the pocket



chiselling the pocket

Use a sharp chisel to pare the edges of the pocket to the layout line. Be careful to keep the edges perpendicular to the face of the slab.


rounding out the lines of bowtie

It’ll be easier to slip the bowtie into the pocket if you chamfer the back corners. Because the bowtie was hand cut and pared it probably doesn’t have a uniform shape, so will only fit into the pocket the exact way it was traced. Make sure you’re chamfering only the back corners.


hammering the bowtie in the crack of wood

Test the fit frequently. Tap the bowtie in, but don’t tap it in too far or you won’t be able to remove it.


Install the bowtie


gluing the bottom of the pocket

When you have a good fit brush glue on the bottom of the pocket.


using the mallet to insert bowtie

Tap the bowtie in, using a piece of scrap to protect the bowtie from mallet strikes.


sanding final piece

Sand the bowtie flush after the glue is dry, apply finish and admire your work.

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