Dovetails

Ladies and gentlemen, As one of my first projects, I'm chopping dovetails by hand in white oak to make a small Shaker-like bench . Of course, they are embarassingly f***ed up and I probably wasted both time and wood in this endeavor. I'm wondering, though, if even a moderately experienced woodworker would have trouble chopping dovetails in 7/8 thick white oak.
What say you,
Kevin
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Oak, white or otherwise, is not the recommended wood to try one's hand at hand cut dovetails. Most experts recommend mahagony or poplar to practice with. A carving teacher I know says white oak is the hardest wood he has ever tried to carve.
-- Bill Rittner R & B ENTERPRISES Manchester, CT
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Don't get discouraged Kevin. White oak is extremely hard to cut dovetails in, and the 7/8 " thickness increases the difficulty. I practiced on poplar a lot before I was able to make decent dovetails in hardwood. A few years ago I threw a bunch of the poplar "test" dovetails in the woodstove and rushed to get them in before anyone saw how bad they were!
I suggest that you practice on small boxes, of a softer wood, before you try on a special piece in hardwood. The small box pieces are quicker to cut to size so if you mess it up you don't already have hours invested. I also practiced on thick dovetails before I graduated to trying joints with very narrow pins.
Good luck - Bob McBreen
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Try coping sawing first then paring with chisels Check this out
www.wood-workers.com/users/charlieb/DovetailDrawer9A.html
charlie b
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Greetings....
White oak is tough to work with hand tools...many days I will walk back into the house grumbling about having to sharpen the plane every five minutes....I cut dovetails in a clock case made of ash and thought the ash was too hard....I think white oak could be chopped in little bites....maybe you could try sawing out most of the waste with a coping saw and the paring back to the line....when I started reading about hand cut dovetails, most all the books recomended mahogany, since it works so well....
You could make small thin wedges to fix the gaps in the dovetails...then there is sawdust and glue...hope this helps....
DCH
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My personal favorite for working with hand-tools is walnut. Of course, my experience so far has been oak, maple, rosewood, and the walnut. The oak likes splintering, it seems. The maple requires very sharp tools, and frequent sharpenings. The rosewood wasn't bad, but I'm not a big fan of the dust. And the walnut makes beautiful curly chocolate shavings with my plane. I could just do that all afternoon, but when SWMBO asks me what I'm making, I need a better answer than "Shavings!". :) She just doesn't understand me!
Of course, I haven't tried cutting dovetails in any of them. But I did just hack some mortices in a walnut Christmas project I'm working on. 1/8" deep by 3.5" by 1.5". All done by hand (no hammer, just a sharp chisel).
Clint

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Not to step in on Kevin's post, but this is good stuff - I'm getting better at making them - still not great. But what I'm trying to figure out is how do you decide how may pins/tails?
I think I'm missing something very basic, but none of the sources I've found tell you how to measure and decide how may pins/tails. Doing a Google search, I found someone posted some complicated mathematical formula which was way beyond my newbie brain.
Anyone have a simple method for deciding? Or is there some formula based on the width and thickness of the wood?
Thanks for your help -
Nick B

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Nick Bozovich wrote:

Initially keep it simple - two half pins, one on either end, two full pins for a total equivalent of three pins and three tails
For heights of four inches or less put a ruler on one corner and rotate the other end until the 4 inch mark hits the other side. Mark "2" and "3". Draw lines through these two points to both ends. These will be the centerlines of the full pins. How wide the "inside" and the "outside" of the pins is often a function of the chisels you'll use to remove waste between the pins and later the tails, along with the type of wood you're using. Hard woods can use a 1:8 ratio while soft woods may require a 1:6 ratio. +--+--+--+ |\ | | | | \| | | | + | | | \ | | | \| | | + | | \ | | \| | +
And remember, IDIOT (Inside of Drawer Is Outside of the Tree). Orient the grain of all the boards this way and the doevtails will keep them from cupping.
Hope this helps
charlie b
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Thanks Charlie - I think I can follow this - I'm just going to keep trying. I have a LOT of scraps to practice on :-))
Nick

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Maybe some "training wheels" would help:
http://www.leevalley.com/wood/page.asp?pageA718&category=1,42884&ccurrency=2&SID Kevin wrote:

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English or American oak ? You guys have it easy - our oaks are even harder.
I have no trouble cutting through dovetails in this sort of oak, but then I can do much of it by sawing. Blinds are hard going though. Doing the half-blind double dovetails for the frame of my last workbench in 3"x4" oak was a hell of a job.
My trick is to use Japanese chisels, and to have duplicates of my common sizes, to reduce sharpening downtime. The right size of hammer helps too. -- Klein bottle for rent. Apply within.
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