Tag Archives: dovetails

Different Blade Connection

6-Dr_Chest_Complete-1Wonder what blades are? It’s simple. In furniture speak, blades are another name for drawer dividers. As you probably know, there are many techniques and joinery methods to attach drawer blades to the case. The technique shown here is one that is not all that common, but it is found in antique furniture, namely the Moses Bayley high chest of drawers from Newberryport, Mass. (There is a fascinating bit of history surrounding the highboy; read more about it here.)

In the first issue of American Woodworker magazine under the complete guidance of F+W with me as the content director, I built a chest of drawers (shown above) using this blade connection technique – the issue should be available sometime in early June. (You and 100,000 of your closet friends should pick up a copy!)

B_SlotThe process is easy. While the connection could be done without plowing an 1/8″-deep groove, it’s easier to do so and the groove adds another detail to your work. Step #1 is to rout the groove – align a straightedge to your project, then run a router and 3/4″ top-mount bearing router bit along its length as the bearing rides your straightedge. The width of the groove has to match the thickness of your drawer blades.

Step #2 is to form the dovetail on the ends of your blades. The length of the dovetail – how high you need to raise your router bit – is equal to the thickness of the material remaining after the groove is cut. A_DovetailIf you’re using 3/4″-thick material, after the 1/8″ groove you have 5/8″ of thickness remaining. For me this is a bit of work completed at the router table. Set the height of the bit then adjust the fence so its aligned with the router bit exactly at the table’s top edge. This takes advantage of the entire thickness of your blade – if you’re slightly thinner after your cut, that’s OK, but do not leave a flat on the edge of the dovetail. (Notice the solid push block used to guide the tall drawer divider through the cut.) After you have the dovetail ends created, cut away the back edge leaving a 1″-wide dovetail – trim the dovetail away flush with the square shoulder on your blade.

C_LayoutStep#3 is to transfer the dovetail profile onto your case side. As you can see in the photo, the blade slips into the groove and the trimmed dovetail sits tight to the case side. Using a sharp pencil, transfer the profile. Nothing fancy here. No special details to share. Simply install the blades into position then draw the lines. Bingo.

Step #4 is to square the layout lines down the case side 1″ (matching the dovetail width), then draw a straight line setting the bottom of the socket. D_SawIt’s time to define the socket. This is where your ability to saw comes into play. Cut the two sides of your layout down to the inch mark. Follow both lines as you saw. After you’ve established the socket’s outer edges, make a few additional saw cuts between the lines – the more kerfs you have, the easier the next couple steps become and the cleaner your socket will be to work.

Step#5 is to break out the thin pieces of wood that fill your socket. E_PareYou can jam a chisel into the slots, or if they’re thin enough, you can break the pieces out with your fingers. The neat things is that when they break – due to the grain orientation – the slivers break flush with the bottom edge of the socket. (Sometimes they do break slightly above the line.) With the pieces out of the way, pare the socket bottom so it’s smooth and level. Make sure the socket is level from outside to inside. And it wouldn’t hurt to slope a bit toward the inside – that guarantees you’ll have a tight fit on the exterior of your case.

The last step is to fit the blade’s dovetail into the socket. F_FitIf you’ve sawn to the layout lines and trimmed the socket even at the bottom, your blades should fit easily. Brush glue onto the dovetail and into the socket (the best glue surface is the flat-grain to flat-grain connection at the bottom of the socket), then drive the workpiece home. By the way, don’t forget to repeat these steps twice for each drawer blade or divider. Test-fits are terrible with only one socket cut.

I’m not going to show you a finished shot of the chest of drawers – for that you’re going to have to wait until the issue is sent – but I will show you a photo of the highboy mentioned above. In fact, if you’re so inclined to want to see this process in action, I have a full-length DVD on building the Moses Bayley chest. You can purchase a copy here.

Build Something Great!

Glen

G_MA High Chest

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Filed under Antique Pieces, Hand Tools, Joinery, Methods of Work, Power Tools, Routers

The Best Dovetails

If you came here looking for the perfect set of dovetails – the best layout, the best ratio of tail width and pin width or the thinnest pins ever cut – you’re going to be disappointed. This post is not about that. It’s about dovetails that are never to be seen. It’s about what I call structural dovetails.

IMG_0084Structural dovetails are the best dovetails because these joints can have over-sized tails and pins, and this is where you get the opportunity to either bang out a set without regard to the above mentioned conditions, use alternative methods to cut and fit your joints or practice in an area that will not see the light of day – why practice on a scrap when you can contribute to your project while building your skills. For me, alternative methods of work is my focus.

This is a point where I can pull out tools that are seldom considered when cutting dovetails. Tools such as my jigsaw and router. This is where I experiment to determine if there are better ways to work – and I still move ahead on my project.

49If  you’re scratching your head at the mention of my jigsaw, or if you’ve never considered using your jigsaw to cut intricate joinery, you’re in for a treat. I often use my jigsaw to cut dovetail pins and tails. (It’s best if you turn down the variable speed setting to gain additional control of the cut.) And I’ll bet you a dollar to a doughnut that you couldn’t tell which joints were cut using the jigsaw and which joints were sawn by hand.

Let’s being with pins, or wasting away the tail waste. Jigsaw blades can be angled in either direction, and set to most any degree of angle; I use 12° for my dovetails. The photo above shows how you can make the cuts to define the pins. Set the angle to the right or left, then cut all the pins on that particular side. Switch the angle to cut the pin sides in the opposite direction. Done.

51To pull the remaining waste from the socket, it’s the jigsaw again. Set the blade back to 90°. With the show face down, swoop in from one side of the waste as you cut toward the baseline. As you reach the baseline, swing the jigsaw to cut parallel to the line but about an 1/8″ away. As you reach the end of the waste, slowly kick your saw back on its heal to increase the angle of cut until the portion of waste falls away. It takes getting used to, but you’ll pick it up in a hurry. Besides, if you nick the pin, who cares because it will never be seen. After you finish working in one direction, turn around and use the same technique to trim away the remaining waste. That 1/8″ that’s left is easily peeled away using a sharp chisel. You also can cut the pin waste using you jigsaw; I sometimes do that when the panel I’m dovetailing is too large to hoist up to my band saw.

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Fooling around with structural dovetails is also when I began using my router to waste away tail socket waste. If you haven’t s seen this technique as of yet, you owe to yourself to take a look. The results are dead-flat bottoms that dam near guarantee square boxes when you’re done with assembly. (Watch a short video here.)

Next time you’re working on structural dovetails – the best dovetails – try your hand at a few unconventional woodworking ideas. You may find something that works beyond your wildest expectations.

Build Something Great!

Glen

 

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Filed under Joinery, Methods of Work, Power Tools

Different Dovetailed Drawers

IMG_0622The drawers on the Connecticut lowboy that Bob Van Dyke and I found in the back room of the Connecticut Historical Society are tapered from bottom to top. I’ve mentioned in blogs (either here on my blog or on the Popular Woodworking Magazine (PWM) editor’s blog) that I’ve seen this treatment of drawers only one other place, and that was on Grove Wright’s Shaker work, including the Shaker Counter I copied and built in the June 2012 issue (#197) of Popular Woodworking Magazine.

The process of making these drawers is a bit different from regular hand-cut dovetailed drawers. To begin, the material for the drawers sides and back are tapered. Because there are two drawer depths on the one lowboy, there are two different tapers needed on the drawer parts. IMG_1280I set up my band saw to just leave the bottom of the parts uncut, and the top edge to cut leaving a 1/4″.

Off the band saw, the cut faces need to be smoothed. That could be a pass over the jointer. But with the narrow edge being only a 1/4″ in thickness, I think it was best to use a jointer plane. It’s from here that things get twisted. I used my marking gauges, but not in a way that is customary when dovetailing drawer parts. I set on gauge to 1/2″ and a second to 1/4″. I used the two gauges to place tick marks at the top (1/4″) and bottom (1/2″) to use as layout lines. IMG_1282The next step – where you would normally use a marking gauge – I used a straightedge and utility knife to score the baselines.

The trick to marking off the pins and tails is to use the square or outside face as a register. (If you use the inside face, your marks can be all kind of funky angles.) After the layout is complete, it’s a matter of sawing to the lines then chopping out the waste. Because I work pins first, I began with the pins in the drawer backs. To transfer the pins to my tail board, I set the completed back in position, making sure the orientation is correct. To cut the tails, I go back to the band saw and cut just off the layout lines, inside the pin waste area. Ordinarily, I would chop the waste at my bench, but because the parts are angled – and the waste area is so narrow – I stay at the band saw and trim the waste using power. Nibble. Nibble. Each time staying just tight to my baseline. Because this is a poplar-to-poplar fit, I get a little smash factor to make it all work.

IMG_1286The drawer fronts are not tapered, but the sides are. Again, I have to use the straightedge-and-utility-knife layout method, but from there the process is the same as with standard dovetailed drawers. The only difference is the tail sockets are tapered from top to bottom. To transfer my pins to the tail board (drawer sides), I set the front at my scribe lines, which is a consistent 1/2″, then transfer the lay out.

In the drawers of the Shaker Counter, the bottom was slid into the 1/2″ thickness of the bottom edge. The lowboy drawer bottoms at applied – it’s good to have the thickness at the bottom for nailing. I use the counter on a daily basis, and the drawers slide spectacularly. I’m wondering if it’s the design (heavy bottoms) or the yellow pine I used for drawer parts. I’ll have a better picture when the lowboy is wrapped up.

Build Something Great!

Glen

This lowboy is an upcoming project in Popular Woodworking Magazine. To see the entire project, pick up the February 2014 magazine – if you’re not a subscriber.

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Make This Your First Lowboy

CT LowboyFor the past couple weeks, I’ve been working on SketchUp drawings for a Connecticut Lowboy discovered at the Connecticut Historical Society. The class happens at The Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking in September, immediately following the holiday weekend – the class runs from Tuesday through Saturday. (There are a few class spots left, so now would be a great time to contact Bob Van Dyke at the school to sign up.)

When I built The “Queen Anne Dressing Table” for the June 2010 cover of Popular Woodworking Magazine, I thought I had discovered the easiest-to-build lowboy ever. I was wrong. This project is easier, if you can believe that. And best of all, easy does not translate into ugly. IMG_0634In fact, when I wrote about my 2013 classes in January this year (read it here), I mentioned how this lowboy stopped both Van Dyke and me in our tracks.

What made the dressing table easy was that all the interior parts were nailed in place. What makes this piece easy is that there are few interior parts. Take a look at its inside. There is no top rail on the piece (the case top is the kicker to keep the drawers from tipping when extended), the two interior drawer dividers are solid pieces that run from front to back, drawer guides are nailed between the legs and the only runners are single pieces dovetailed into the front rail and centered in each opening.

Where a piece such as this picks up is pizazz is with details. One feature that makes this lowboy stand out is the cock-bead work at each of the cutouts in the front rail and at the sides. IMG_0623That work takes time to get right. But it adds a real punch to the finished piece. If you click to open the photo above, you can better see this detail. A second interesting detail, and one that makes me scratch my head and search for a connection, is the construction on the drawers. It’s not the fact that the bottoms are applied. That, along with the beaded moulding that wraps the drawer openings, indicates that this piece has an early origin. What I find interesting are the tapered drawer sides. This is nearly identical to the work found on the Shaker counter originally built by Grove Wright that I built for the June 2012 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. Is there a connection, or is this a construction method used in the region. Grove Wright spent time working at the Enfield, CT Shaker village.

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Above is another photo of the interior of the Connecticut lowboy. In this photo you can see a drawer divider. Check out how the divider is angled as it stretches from front to back. Was this a way to save on material? Also notice how oxidation affects the coloration on the divider. What you see is not two pieces of lumber with different colors joined together. It’s the fact that the upper section has, for more than a hundred years, been protected by the drawer with the lower section constantly exposed to the elements.

You really should take the time to join us at CVSW as we build a great looking, simply constructed and high in detail Connecticut Lowboy. Register here.

Build Something Great!

Glen

 

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GDH at WIA

This week, I want to mention Woodworking in America (WIA). With my return as managing editor with Popular Woodworking Magazine (PWM), you know that I’ll be and teach at WIA. If you are a woodworker in search of basic skills, you should plan to attend. If you are experienced at woodworking, but are looking to up your game, you should plan to attend. My bet is that if you look at the woodworkers PWM has presenting this year, you’ll want to be there, too. (Registration is open, so now is the time to make the call. Pull the trigger and click here to sign-up.)

This year my classes are all over the map. I open the conference teaching a seminar titled, “Better Woodworking Through Proper Wood Prep.” MIllingThe most basic observation I can give you is that if you begin a project with warped wood, you will fight it throughout the entire project. You need to make sure you know the basics, so of course we’ll cover the basics and you can bet there is way more. I’ve spent 20 years milling wood for projects. I’ve learned a crap-load of tricks and techniques to make the work easier and to mill lumber that is bent, twisted and just plain gnarly. In addition to the basics, I’ll share how to read your stock, what corner to press and when to straighten twisted stock, cup up or cup down and what to do if your board sticks at the jointer. This one class can make your time in the shop better.

Another class I’m teaching is “Precision Joinery: In a Hurry.” In this area alone, you discover why you need to be a blended woodworker. 9The class description from WIA says it best, “No single hand tool, power tool or machine is best to produce all the requisite joints. To make parts as quickly and accurately as possible, you need to know what tool to use when.” I’ve got jigs that make my life in the shop easy and highly productive, but I also know when to turn to my hand tools. During the class we’ll look at a number of furniture joints and I’ll share my best techniques.

On Sunday at WIA, I have a three hour class on inlay based around Federal-style inlay. Be sure to attend “Understanding Inlay: A Key Piece in Connoisseurship & Identification.” InlayIf you study inlay you’ll discover that each major city center had its own distinct inlay designs. One of the most famous (and often miscategorized) banding is the lunette inlay often associated with John and Thomas Seymour in Massachusetts. Every banding, inlay and patera is a clue to where the piece was built. Not only will we learn about different inlay and bandings, but I’ll demonstrate how many of these bandings are assembled. And before the class is over, you’ll be given the opportunity to make a sand-shaded fan that you can inlay into your project. So come ready to learn and ready to work, too.

Build Something Great!

Glen

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Scroll Pediments: On Clocks Anything Goes

High ChestScroll pediments are the front panels found at the top of some of the most impressive pieces built in the 18th- and early 19th-centuries. Furniture such as  Bonnet-top high chests of drawer or highboys (as shown in the left-hand photo), bonnet-top chest on chests and many period clocks have scroll pediments. It’s on these panels that gooseneck mouldings are applied. Scroll pediments, at least on the highboys and other chests that I have seen in books and museums, have the grain running from side to side. (Most scroll pediments attach to the pediment returns with dovetails.) The same holds true for many clocks. But that is not always the case.

Tall case clocks are different when it comes to how they were built in the late 1700s and early 1800s. On tall case clocks, you can find many construction techniques that leave a 21st-century woodworker scratching heads. Some period clocks – some very expensive period clocks – appear to be held together with little more than chewing gum and grime collected throughout the years.

#5024-03I have pointed out a few of the let’s say questionable construction techniques I’ve found on the Egerton clock that I’m working on. The scroll pediment is just another example. On the original clock, which at one time was for sale at $120,000, the grain of the pediment runs vertically. I know this because I have a photo of the back of the hood.

IMG_1058As I work on my tall clock, I am changing many of the oddities I found with the original, but as always the case, a few of those questionable construction techniques are being repeated. Case in point is the scroll pediment. I decided to keep the grain direction vertical. How this changes the building of my clock is most apparent as you work on the pediment returns. Dovetails, which are found on many of the period clocks that have broken-arch pediments, are not an option because the grain on the returns runs perpendicular to the scroll pediment. As a result, I attached the pediment and the returns with screws. I expect that nails were used on the original, but I went with screws (tightly fitted at the bottom and in over-sized holes at the middle and top for seasonal movement) for a more secure hold.

High_Res ScrollWhat is extremely interesting to me is that if you look at the front of the original Egerton clock you could not know that the scroll pediment grain runs vertically. You would, in fact, guess that the grain runs at a 45-degree angle because that’s the look presented at the front. A veneered face with fancy cutouts fronts the pediment.  The veneer grain is angled. (That’s a detail that I will add to my build.)

Build Something Great!

Glen

 

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When to & When Not to Reproduce Period Techniques

#5024-04One of the areas in which you struggle when building reproduction furniture – and I’m not talking about a full-out reproduction in which you pit-saw the lumber, scrub the surface flat then build the piece – is in trying to determine when to copy the workmanship. I had another decision to make yesterday as I worked on the Egerton tall clock. In the shop, I built the mask for the clock. That’s the piece that surrounds the dial and sits directly behind the door.

The photo above is of the antique clock. What particularly I wrestled with has to do with the joinery, specifically the dovetail, that joins the stiles to the rails. #5024-04_CloseIn the photo you can see how Egerton did the work. And we get to see the results of 200+ years of wear and tear. Should this technique be repeated? I decided to pass, and here’s why.

If you study the joint, there is no glue surface whatsoever. The stile fits perpendicular to the rail. The only flat grain of the dovetail is at the sides. Unfortunately, where that flat grain meets the rail, the rail is end grain. And where the rail is flat grain, it meets the stile which is only end grain. No structural glue surface. IMG_1007Also, a close look at the photo (remember you can enlarge the picture if you click on it) shows a couple of fractures that have been repaired. One last note is that I did try the joint and as you might expect, the rail broke across the grain even with the cut of the tail socket.

Given that, I passed on the dovetail joinery. I built the mask using a half-lap joint. Flat grain glued to flat grain. (Yes it is cross  grain, but it is still a strong, lasting joint.) Above is a look at the lower-rail-to-stile joint. Below are the two completed masks.

Build Something Great!

Glen

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