'The Complete Dovetail - Handmade Furniture's Signature Joint' by Ian
Kirby. I'm happy with my cutting although my spacing sometimes annoys
me afterwards. I use an Akeda jig from time to time for speed but the
handmade joints still give a thrill when they turn out right.
The book is $14.95 and from Linden Publishing
On Mon, 23 Feb 2004 17:25:16 GMT, "JOSEPH SHEA, JR."
I use the following for handmade through dovetails:
1) Dovetail saw
2) Chisel Set (1/4" to 1")
3) Coping Saw
4) Right angle
5) Light pencil
6) Right angles 1:6(9.46 degrees), 1:7(8.13 degrees) or 1:8(7.12 degrees) -
these can be home made
7) Flat bastard file, mill file and triangular mill file.
8) Wood Vise.
I started with making the angle templates, 1:6 means a right triangle with a
one unit (inch) base and 6 unit (inch) adjacent. Steeper angles are to
fragile (say 1:5) to be practical. Use 1:6 angle for softwoods and 1:8 for
harder woods. My templates were just right triangle cut-outs. They were the
most flexible and I used them with the right triangle.
Without going any further I can tell you these are a bitch to get good at,
and time consuming. Blind mitered ones are even more fun. You will really
appreciate modern technology after a few of these.
There are also considerations such as grain direction, pre-milling (if your
smart) and pin width. I strongly suggest you use a good quarter-sawn
selection clean at the joint. I plane and joint to 1/64th both sides of
stock (pin and socket side). Done poorly, these may crack or twist if stress
is misjudged, or have gaps and fit loosely.
I'll respond to this thread if your interested in more but a book is better
and working through a few with an experienced craftsman is the best.
So you saw most of the waste out of your dovetails before
chiseling? I've known other folks who use that technique, but I've
never really seen any advantage in it.
If you don't mind me asking, what do you use all of these files
for? I can't think of any part of the process that would call for
And you don't use a marking knife at any point in the process? I
always transfer the marks from tails to pins with a knife.
I "splurged" for the Lee Valley dovetail marking gages. I think
they cost $10 for a set of two. And IIRC, they are 1:6 and 1:8.
Actually, they take an initial investment in time (like anything
else worth doing), but they really come down to properly thicknessing
and squaring your stock, careful marking and being able to saw to a
I have to admit that I haven't made any blind mitered dt's, but I
have to wonder what is the point of them, and how does a machine do
them better than by hand (how does a machine do them at all)?
Absolutely, and as a result, I aim for getting all my stock
*exactly* the same thickness and jointed perfectly square. I can't
say I always get there, as I do it all by hand, but that's my goal.
Anything less is asking for trouble, IMHO.
I'm sure there are plenty of folks who don't have the advantage of
having a craftsman work them through dt's, so feel free. I am fairly
proficient myself, but I only got that way from reading a lot, trial
and error and *practice*.
Oh, and a good dovetail saw helps.
Just say (tmPL) Did I mention *practice*?
A file is good for straightening a tail or pin that isn't square. You can
flaten a whole plane of the tail or pin at once. I've seen Scott Phillips
use a file to loosen a tight fit. It can be quicker than paring with a
chisel. I typically just fix it with a chisel though.
A flat bastard or mill file is useful for smoothing endgrain. It is also
useful for putting the bevel on a through tenon (as on a craftsman chair
I guess I just learned to do it with a chisel, so I never thought
about using a file for it. Maybe I'll give it a try next time I need
just a bit of touching up.
I use a plane on endgrain when I'm prepping the boards for
dovetailing. Or do you mean for cleaning up after assembly if you cut
them so that the pins are slightly proud of the surface?
I cut mine that way and come back with a crank-neck chisel for
final cleanup. That way I can rest the flat of the chisel on the work
and take little slices until I get the pins flush. It leaves a really
pretty surface. (Hint: use some blue painters masking tape to protect
the areas around the pins when you do this. If you use a light touch,
you nick the tape rather than the wood.)
I don't use a file to level the tail and pin ends. In my earlier post, I
jumped from the subject of dovetails to m&t just to mention another use for
the files. It has not been natural for me to consider the use of files in
woodworking, but Frank Klaus does use a rasp in dressing the sides of a
tenon to make them fit.
Most of the time I use a plane (often my apron plane) to clean up endgrain.
However, I have a difficult time planing the end grain on a 1 1/4" square
end (like on the end of a chair post). The file is useful in the cosmetic
clean up of end grain and chamfering through tenons. It leaves a crisp edge
(as does a nicely chiseled chamfer). The file is easier for me to control.
It also goes a long way towards creating the polished end required to make
end grain pop out as a finish is applied. Someone posted some photos
recently showing endgrain and how a polished surface really made it pop out.
I had never consciously put it together what is required to really produce
OBTW, the folks in Waco are talking about a two week class where the Brazos
rocker will be built. They had one made out of tiger maple at the Houston
Woodworking Show. It was spectacular. The finishes on their display pieces
were remarkable at this year's show. Their finishes always have been good,
but I could see a remarkable difference.
The use of a crank-neck chisel is a good tip that I had never considered. I
guess another purchase is coming , sigh. . . . .
Yeah, I tend to use a small file for touching up tenons, and I use a
cabinetmakers rasp some in curved work, but I have a whole bunch of
files that basically sit unused.
Do you not have luck using a plane for that effect? I have found
that (on a good day) I can get an endgrain surface that looks almost
burnished. Of course for boxes that are assembled, that's when I use
the crankneck chisel.
Did you find out what they're using? BTW, one of SWMBO's co-workers
is getting into woodworking and he heard that I did a bit, so he asked
for advice on tools. I went into this long digression about not knowing
what to advise him until I learned more about what type of work he would
do, yadda, yadda.
It turns out he had already registered to take a course at Homestead
Heritage. So it sounds like he has some galootish tendencies, and I
have no doubt that the fine folks in Waco will simply reinforce that. :-)
You say that like it's a bad thing. :-) I think I got mine from
Garrett Wade. It's a "short-bladed" 1/2" crank-neck chisel by Taylor,
and cost about $40. I assume you could also look for old crank-necks.
Some folks are making cheaper versions with skews and such, but they
look to me like specialty tools with limited usefulness. The Taylor
chisel works great for cleaning up plugs, dt's, cleaning the bottom of
I didn't ask because they were busy when I was there, but I will ask them.
They have used blo finishes a lot in the past. The rocking chair
instructions said to sand to 220, I suspect they went further with these
They give you a list of recommended hand tools at the first course. The list
can be purchased for not much money (compared to setting up a power shop). I
wouldn't do without my power tools, but if I had taken their class first, I
wouldn't have as many as I do. He will also be instructed in proper
Tell him to stay away from their pastries in the deli. :-) They typically
have a lemonade and pastry break towards the middle of the afternoon.
Do they use oil or waterstones or Scary Sharp?
As for the power and handtool thing -- I'm assuming they dimension
all the stock they use for their projects with power tools and then do
joinery with handtools. Is that about right?
I'll be sure and pass that info on. :-)
for infrequently used specialty chisels like that here's what I have
get the carbon steel blade, wood handle chisels from harbor freight.
hey, some of them have even turned out to have laminated blades...
via hacksaw, torch, grinder, anvil and vise, adjust the configuration
works for me....
I'm not much of a metalworker. :-) What I *have* done is take
some new Stanley 1/4" chisels and put a skew on them. I just used SS
for that. Having a pair of left/right skews has been handy,
especially for dovetailing.
I use them for cleaning out little crumbs between the tails and
pins, and for getting that last little bit in the corners that can
keep dovetails from closing up properly.
Yes, I've used chisels you could shave with and in some woods have gotten
spliting at the ends and excessive burring. I am aware of people who swear
The flat bastard file takes more wood off and sometimes I need that,
especially if your going to saw out waste. The triangular fill gets at the
base of the pins and the mill file is for final smoothing.
I score the wood with the chisels - where I need to. It's riskier but I've
become accustomed to it and works fine.
If I happen to see these in the store I'll get them. I an electrical
engineer (my real job) and liked figuring the angles versus stress for
varying wood densities. You could make a real science of this.
With the above tools, playing hit/miss and many hours in my basement I came
to the conclusion these just weren't like dado' or mortise/tenon. I would
have loved to work with someone at first, i'm sure they would have save me
much time. Some of the books I read just recommended power tools for
The point of those is to get the strong joint while hiding it. I have seen
them in some cabinet plans. I thought they might sell a router bit for that,
but I haven't checked yet. This is where a good sharp chisel comes in handy.
I always felt if you were at 1/32 or less end to end after letting it sit
overnight you were doing well. Again, I like quarter sawn stock that looks
good at the yard (yea right!). I bought a planer/jointer just to prep the
wood, my schedule won't allow for hand planing or jointing. Maybe some day I
Actually, I think getting good m&t joints is harder than dt's. But
that might just be me.
Yeah, I almost gave up on them before I even started. But I was
lucky enough to run across some galootish types who helped steer me in
the right direction.
I make it fit into my schedule on individual projects. Since it's a
hobby first and foremost, SWMBO is (reasonably) understanding
(sometimes) when I tell her (often) that I won't have this project done
in just a couple of days (weeks) because first I have to thickness,
surface, rip and joint the wood. :-) For me, it's all part of the
I hope that folks who haven't tried them realize that dt's aren't
some sort of mystical, master Zen-woodworker sort of process. If you
can square up a piece of wood, transfer some marks accurately, saw to a
line, and have reasonable chisel skills, you can make fine dovetails.
But many hobbyist woodworkers don't bother to acquire some or all of
those basic skills, and thus the need for practice.
Lie Nielson is selling a video Hand-cut Dovetails With Rob Cosmon. He tells
you how to prepare the saw and the stock. After viewing this video, you
should be well on your way.
If you don't care to prepare a saw properly, they will sell you saw ready to
Try these. They're free I'm afraid. <BSEG> Thanks Alan, Jeff and
and Jeff Gorman's page,
or Charlie B's page,
Dave in Fairfax
reply-to doesn't work
daveldr at att dot net
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