Did my first dovetail joint tonight. By hand. Followed the article by
Went together on first try with just a little cleaning. Not terrible
considering it was this horrible finger joint pine i had lying around from
some closet demolition. It didn't take to chiseling across the grain very
well. My chisels could probably of been sharper.
It took about 2 hours to do 3 pins and tails but a fair bit of that was
sharpening chisels. Had to do that by hand too as I don't have a sharpening
jig yet. Trying to get my head around this craft before I go spend a
boatload on tools. No dovetail saw either. Had to use a backsaw. All in
all was pretty pleased. Can't wait to try again with some real tools and
On Thu, 12 May 2005 05:54:07 GMT, email@example.com wrote:
Get some decent timber. It's _much_ easier with timber that stays where
you put it. Ash or beech (Europe) maybe soft maple (US) is perhaps
easiest. Oak isn't too bad, you just have to chop harder. If you're
limited to softwoods, then make bigger dovetails.
Saw them accurately, don't chisel (except between the tails). Start out
by sawing them inaccurately, but still making them "straight off the
saw". As your sawing accuracy improves, then so will your dovetails. If
you get into the habit of fiddling at them with a chisel, you'll never
The old exercise of sawing a quick dovetail every morning is a good one.
Use a scrap of timber 1 1/2" across or so, hand mark out a single tail
and cut tail and half-pins as quickly as possible,
Cats have nine lives, which is why they rarely post to Usenet.
On Thu, 12 May 2005 05:54:07 GMT, the inscrutable
Congratulations! Now pick up the video/DVD by Frank Klausz, "Dovetail
a Drawer", and watch how quickly and easily a pro does it.
Pine is nasty stuff, crushing even when using sharp tools. Try it in
hardwood. It's a totally different experience.
Yes, learn how to get a ScarySharp(tm) edge and you'll fall in love
with the tools all over again.
Do get a jig. Trying to keep a precise angle on a chisel is a lot
harder than it looks. A jig takes the guesswork out of it and gives
you a precise edge every time. Look in local garage sales and swap
meets for the jig. I found a large General jig for $10, and it works
for both my plane irons and my chisels.
To check an edge for sharpness, hold it to your thumb- or fingernail
at 90 degrees and slide it. If it feels like it digs in with just its
own weight on the nail, and if it brings up a scraping when moved,
it's sharp. I thought I knew what "sharp" meant until I tried this.
Woodworking by hand is MUCH nicer with really sharp tools.
I haven't tried it yet, but my $25.95 razor (Gyokucho Ryoba) saw from
The Japan Woodworker (as seen in their magazine advertisements) is an
excellent saw and should work well for dovie cuts.
We're born hungry, wet, 'n naked, and it gets worse from there.
- http://diversify.com Website Application Programming -
Mr. Klausz covers a lot of ground in that tape - three times.
When the tape ends it's easy to think "I got it. Now I'll
go do it!" Unless you have an excellent memory you won't
actually "got it" I went through the video twice and started
putting what I'd seen and heard on paper. Went out and
followed what I thought I saw. Missed quite a bit so I watched
again, revised the notes and was sure I'd gotten "it". A few
more revisions and I finally "got it" on paper that I could
take to the shop, put a page on the bench and do what it
said/showed. A few more revisions and the inistructions
worked - at least for me. So here are the instructions
you can download, print at your leasure and take to the
shop to try.
Hope this helps.
ps - half blind dovetails are actually easier than through
dovetails - minor screw ups don't show)
Sharp tools are a big help. There are numerous ways and opinions on
what to use and how for getting a sharp edge. Find whatever you like
and go with that.
As for tools, I know many professional woodworkers that do custom 18th
century work with a set of blue handled Marples chisels. They are
usually good, and reasonably hard. The nice thing is that they sharpen
easy. If you pay attention to how the chisel, or any other edged tool,
is cutting, you'll notice when they start to get dull. This is the best
time to touch them up on a strop. It only takes a minute or so. If you
wait too long, then you'll have to remove more metal then hone/polish
to get the edge back. More time than the quick strop.
As for the saw, I use a cheap gent's saw made by Eberle. I'm not sure
it they are still made. There are ones by Crown and others as well.
Look for one with at least 18 TPI. That's fine enough to get a smooth
cut. Almost all of the saws out there need tuning, even the boutique
saws (Lie-Neilsen, Adria, etc.). The two tasks needed to tune up a saw
is 1) reduce the set, and 2) remove the burr on the teeth.
The easiest way to reduce the set is to squeeze the teeth between two
pieces of flat metal in a vise just enough to reduce the set a bit.
Planer knives work well for this.
Removing the burr on the teeth is necessary because the teeth are
usually stamped out by a press and one side will have a larger burr on
it. This also happens if the saw is hand filed. To remove the burr,
pass an oilstone over the side of blade so that the stone is resting on
the teeth and near the top of the blade near the spine. You only have
to do a couple of passes with the oilstone to remove the burr. If you
get carried away with it, you'll start removing the set in the teeth too
much and the saw will bind in the cut. That's the nice thing with using
the cheap backsaws, if you screw it up during the tuning, you're only
Japanese saws are a different animal. I've used them for dovetails, but
haven't tried one for a while. I use mine for doing trim carpentry
work. Works like a dream in softwood.
Other useful tools are a cutting gauge (marking gauge w/ a blade instead
of a pin), marking knife, and a drafting pencil. Paring to a cut line
is easier than paring to a pencil line. The drafting pencil is used to
scribe the mating half of the joint from the reference half. The pencil
marks will leave "rub marks" where there are high spots on the joinery.
Remember not to pare the reference joint (pins or tails, whichever was
cut first). If you do, then you've destroyed the "reference" part of the
reference surfaces. This is a key concept.
The only other tool I'd recommend for any hand tool woodworking is a
combination square. Get the best you can afford. Starrett is my choice
here, but Brown and Sharpe and a few other machinist tool makers make
good ones at cheaper prices. This tool in indespensible for dovetails
and mortise and tenons. I use it during many parts of the joinery process.
The first part is to guarantee that the reference face, edge, and end
one each board are square to each other. The second is to make sure
that the sides of the pins are 90 degrees to the end of the board all
along their surfaces. Obviously, they are at an angle when looking at
the end of the board. It is easy to pare the pins at this point.
Remember to pare across the grain, from one face to the other, and not
from the end of the pin. You have more control paring across the grain
than with it. Once all of the cut edges of the pins are 90 degrees,
fitting the tails is much easier. Also, the pin board is not the
"reference" board for the joint. Do not ever go back and pare this
board once you've started fitting the mating part. As mentioned before,
this will destroy the "reference" property of the part and undo any
fitting up to that point.
There's a really good article on this, but I don't have the link with
me. I'll post it when I find it.
As for wood, try poplar. It isn't the nicest looking wood, but it is a
hardwood and is easier to work with hand tools than many of the other
hardwoods. It is also cheap and commonly available. Even the "box"
stores have it, at reasonable rates.
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