Tag Archives: Dovetail saw

Dovetail Evolution

If you have ever attended one of my woodworking classes or a seminar on joinery, you probably have been bored to tears by my dovetail story. Or you laughed out loud. Just as my mind has, my dovetail work has evolved. As I began building furniture, I knew that I would have to dovetail if I had any hope of selling my work.

My first dovetail chapter included an old Sears template guide that produced perfectly sized, perfectly shaped dovetails with identically sized pins and tails – the kind used on kitchen cabinets. Ugh! Phase two brought about a better dovetail jig. With it, I decided that half-blind pins and tails were too difficult to set up, so I built drawer fronts from 1/2″-thick  stock then applied a 1/4″-thick shaped drawer front (kitchen cabinet construction was still in my blood). That process worked until a customer noticed the half-ass technique and verbally chastised me during the delivery. After a bit more trouble with fingers moving, I gave up jigs and succumbed to hand-cut pins and tails. I defined each pin and tail with a dovetail saw cut, then chop out waste with a chisel.

After some considerable hand-cut experience, I remembered that I was in business to make a profit. Hand-cut dovetails are period correct, but the process is slow when every minute has to earn dollars. As I discovered a way to cut the pins using my band saw and an angled platform as shown the photo above, my dovetails evolved again. I could power-cut the pins, but continued to chop away waste using my chisels. My tail boards were produced using the same techniques, but without an angled platform.

This method of dovetails produced perfect angled cuts that detracted, at least to my eye, from the hand-cut look I wanted. It was time for another evolution. This time I decided to hand-cut the pins and tails, but use a power tool to hog away the waste as depicted in the opening photo. This provides a hand-cut look – I am sawing the actual pins and tails – as the angles and the width of pins and tails different. It also provides a time savings due to the quick removal of waste when creating pins – waste between the tails is either nibbled away while at my band saw, or it is chopped out using chisels and a mallet.

If you’re not quite clear on this technique, below is a short video. You tell me, is this still a hand-cut dovetail joint, or is this a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Leave a comment below.

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Filed under Joinery, Power Tools, Routers, Shop Tips

Sometimes Power is the Best Answer

Editor’s note – last week on Sunday as I prepared my blog, my computer crapped out. A new hard drive was installed this week. Of course, all my files were lost. (No, I didn’t have a back up! Lesson learned) My apologies if you stopped by to nothing new.

When you study desk interiors, one of the interesting aspects is the varied shapes. Undulating curves make the interiors more appealing – that and the many compartments and small drawers. Combined, these two attributes bring about curious curves that lead to a dovetailing puzzle.

Take a look at the lower drawer in the opening photo. The end of the drawer front toward the side of the desk is straight up. There is no mystery in these dovetails due to the square end. However, the opposite end of the drawer front is more complex. As shown to the right, curves cause the front to bend off the bench top as the front sits flat. It would be nearly impossible to chop dovetail sockets into this piece without building support under the edge. You would splinter or break the drawer front as you pound out waste. And support is difficult because there is no flat surface at the edge to rest against. What to do.

This is where it’s best to add a little power to your hand work and bring out a trim router. With a small diameter router bit loaded, you nibble away the waste to clear your socket, then it’s back to chisels to clean the socket and true up its sides. The obvious concern is how to balance a router on the drawer front’s edge as you hog out waste.

When routing waste on flat panels simply clamp a scrap along the back of your workpiece just even with the edge. The added thickness provides support for your router as you work. (To see this setup and how it works, check out this video, click here.) Here again the curved front presents a problem because there is no surface to which to clamp. This is where you need to put on a thinking cap.

Cut a bevel into an 8/4 piece of stock – a 4/4 scrap would have worked just as well – so the bevel cut somewhat matches the drawer front bend as the workpiece was clamped into a bench vise. Position the scrap so it extends over the vise, then clamp the scrap to the bench. Use a small square to set the drawer front flush to the top edge of the scrap and level with the scrap as shown in the photo. With this setup, the scrap provides support for a trim router as waste is routed from the sockets.

Before I began any routing I scribed my base line, laid out my socket areas, then cut the sides with my dovetail saw. This defines the sockets and provides a bumper when you route as you do not want to nick the sides of your sockets. Also, remember to set the depth of cut on your router.

Trim away most of the excess as shown in the photo below, then use chisels to pare your sockets to finished shape.

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Filed under Jigs, Power Tools, Routers, Shop Tips

Workshop Heartbreak

Whether it’s an automobile accident, a severe whip-out while skiing or other catastrophic event, bad things happen in slow motion. My devastating, catastrophic, bad event happened this week in the shop.

I was in full work mode, which means that most of my tools were spread over my bench like a bad game of 52-card pickup. Each time I returned to the bench with a new part ready to work, I would have to clear a portion of real estate. To do so, I would slide the tools, project parts and scraps across the bench. That worked a couple times before disaster jumped up and bit my butt.

With drawer parts in hand, I returned to the bench then waved my arm across the bench with a mighty sling. Right then, as I watched in disbelief, my Klaus & Pedder dovetail saw tipped off the side of my bench. It must have taken three minutes for the saw to reach the concrete floor, but I had absolutely no chance to get there before impact. (Bad things happen in slow motion.) What a terrible noise as my dovetail saw hit the floor.

I peered over the bench edge to see that my saw handle had snapped. I guess I should be glad it was only the handle that was damaged, but seeing the broken wenge brought a proverbial tear to my eye.

I immediately thought repair, but how many saw handles have you seen that were misaligned or unsightly when fixed. Next I wondered if I could get the makers to produce another that would fit my hand as well as the original or what wood I would use to make a new handle. I stared at the broken pieces. As near as I can figure, the handle hit directly on the fishtail or bottom horn. The break was across the long-grain, as I assume most are. Long-grain glue-ups can be successful if you get the parts properly aligned. An attempt at glue-up would be worth a try.

I applied glue to both pieces then pushed the handle back together. Regular shop clamps were out of the question, so I turned to my favorite clamping method for inlay, rubber-bands. Once twisted around the parts, it seemed as though the piece were aligned and tight. After I wiped as much glue off the assembly as I could, off the saw went to heal overnight.

The next day I sacrificed the rubber-bands and checked the results. Not bad. I lightly sanded the glue off the handle, then, because I don’t think I sanded through the original finish, I added a thin coating of wax, thanked my lucky stars and returned my saw to action.

I know there is a lesson to be learned – put tools away as you work. That’s a lesson I’ve been trying to learn for a long time.

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Filed under Hand Tools