A Dutchman is a technique or devise for joining two pieces of wood
together. Picture a figure-eight with square corners, or two dovetails
set end to end tapering to a waist in the middle. A physical
description might be, a piece of wood one and a half inches long by
three-quarter inches wide with an angle of seven degrees cut from each
corner and meeting in the middle of the length.
The earliest example of Dutchmen in my own experience was a Peruvian
cupboard from the 17th century, brought into my shop for repair. The
sides of the cabinet consisted of three boards joined together, edge to
edge, with Dutchmen...but I would guess the Peruvian craftsman did not
call them Dutchmen.
I think the term, Dutchmen, is meant to denote thrift. A wide board
subject to expansion and contraction by the elements will split.
Rather than replace the board, a Dutchmen would be used to check the
split from widening or opening further. The Peruvian cabinet had
additional Dutchmen in the side boards, installed years later, for just
this purpose; and that is how I repaired the cabinet.
The grain of a Dutchmen is usually set at right angles from the grain
of the two boards being joined. In the case of the handrail, this
would be an exception. You can make a through Dutchmen, showing on
either side of an assembly, or the Dutchmen can be pocketed, like a
one-half inch thick Dutchmen holding together a mass, or the butt ends
of a two inch by three inch handrail.
A Dutchman would have been a devise in common usage prior to the
invention of glue, and the advent of frame and panel construction,
which tends to alleviate the problems of associated with expansion and
My 'interpretation' was always that it was a 'repair'. Could be the
'hourglass' shape, or almost anything else. Most typically these days you
will see it on the surface veneers of sanded plywood.
I have seen the 'joining' type. Many times used as a 'decorative accent' as
well as functional. They can be any size. In fact templates are available
which have maybe 5 or 6 'cutouts' on one sheet of plastic. Contrasting woods
Also known as a "butterfly" -- a nice descriptive name imo.
I don't know where the term originated but I believe the technique is
much older than 17th century (altho I note you only referred to your
experience, not in general), I don't have a good reference on the
oldest known example. (I want to say I've seen it in pictures of
Egyptian stuff, but can't be sure that's true...)
In my neck of the woods, it is also any kind of "patch" in a wood surface
that hides a flaw or mistake.
... and, as you correctly state, it has a definite connotation of admirable
"thrift" on the part of the artisan.
And, while a "bowtie" shape is common and traditional, virtually
any shape, such as a rectangle, that fills the void (mistake, knot,
whatever) fits the definition. There's a router bit, and set of
collars, specifically designed to (1) rout out the defect then (2)
rout the suitable shape from scraps using a simple template for
each cut (one with the collar, one without). Once that shape
has been routed, it's a simple matter to run the scrap thru a
table saw (or maybe a bandsaw) so that it pops out, then "fuss"
with the corners to make for a snug fit. Glue it in place and
sand the patch smooth.
One "beauty" of a dutchman is that it's not supposed to be
"perfect." It's a patch. The bowtie need not be symmetrical, a
rectangle need not be "a rectangle." You can even make them
oval shaped (like the patches you'll see on "D" plywood).
I knew I could count on you gentlemen to help fill in on the various
usages and descriptive nouns. All have made excellent
contributions...there are a lot of ways to work wood.
Once, I made a conference table with twelve sides. The perimeter
surround on the top was three-inch wide oak, with decorative
'butterfly-shaped' dutchmen at each joint.
I would ask if you are the product of an old world apprenticeship?
And if so, could you tell us a little bit about it?
I began my trade with a family of Swedes, who immigrated in 1923.
They believed if you could not build it with only a hammer, a handsaw,
a jack plane, and a jack knife...you weren't much of a carpenter...
And weren't they right?
Sorry to disappoint you. I'm a biochemist by training, University of
Utrecht, even got a PhD there. I'm purely a (bad) hobbyist who can
afford to buy woodworking stuff, but even at 61, still trying to get more
common sense into my head. Just as example, last december I had a little
mishap - a piece of 1/4 inch luan jumped onto the spinning sawblade and
got propelled against my left index finger. ER and sowing up of a frayed
tendon. Still have to get full mobility back. 2 weeks ago, I
succesfully sawed off a halfbroken branch (~3 inch thick) of a dogwood.
Had to stand on a stepladder - not on top, but just one rung lower ~ 5
feet off the ground. Stupid me forgot to ask for spousal assistance,
which is now required and glefully given <smirk>. Branch got back at me
by kicking the ladder out from under me. I fell on my back and broke my
right upper arm. Trying to get doc to let it heal without inserting a
rod or screwing a plate. Will know more late this afternoon.
Guess I need to do much apprenticing yet ...
Im in favor of handtools as well, but won't hesitate to use powertools,
either, though I'm going to be much more careful when I get back to it.
Don't disparage over having a day job. I've heard a hundred stories
from guys that worked forty years at a company just so they could
retire to their wood shop. Woodworking is for everybody and it is
always a pleasure to meet a fellow woodworker...we all have horror
stories. Apprenticeship is a lifelong pursuit...
Thanks for your reply and best of luck at the doctor's office, today.
Prior to the invention of glue...? Exactly how far back in time do you
think that would be - 20,000 years? I'm assuming that people started
using that nifty fire invention pretty much right away to cook food.
You cook meat, you have residue that is glue. So it's probably safe to
assume that there's been a form of hide glue for as long as people have
been taking hides off of animals. The lack of precision edged tools
probably had more to do with why mechanical connections were superior
to a glued connection (assuming edge-to-edge joining).
As far as the word itself, a dutchman is a repair to the surface of the
wood usually to cover damage, knotholes, etc. It is rarely used as a
primary structural repair. The double-dovetail, or butterfly, tie is a
different animal with a few similarities. The butterfly is meant as a
structural item and is commonly used to bridge checking to keep the
check from spreading. It can also be used in new construction to join
pieces together, but it is not a particularly strong, fast or easy
method to achieve long-lasting joinery.
A "Dutchman" is also a technique which wallpaper hangers use.
Overlap two sheets of paper and run a knife through both
papers...doesn't need to be a straight line either. Discard the waste
of both pieces and you will have a perfect 'fit' every time.
...or so Im told.
Hello, this essay was originally posted on a number of sites, and
attracted quite a bit of comment. It became too much to track the
comments and remember what had been said where, so I've relocate to a
central location I have established a new group for the discussion of
the craft trades; woodworking, metalworking, sculpture, glassworks,
pottery, etcetera; and the topic of apprenticeship in the inherent
occupations of man.
If you would like to join this group of professionals, as well as
novices, in the discussion of the craft trades...use the link below.
The site will be moderated to keep the junk out. No off topic
postings, no sales gimmicks, and no trashing the other guy's
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