Dovetails…Set 4.5…?

…and this is sometimes the problem with not being a professional woodworker:


Sometimes life really does get in the way. 

More soon…Back to nursing a poorly kitten.

-Paul Mayon




Warwickshire College Success in Partnership with New English Workshop

New English Workshop are committed to supporting younger woodworkers and it is great to see success for one of the students at one of our partner venues: Thanks to a design by Warwickshire College Furniture Craft Student Daniel Chinn, the Visitor Centre of Coombe Country Park will soon feature a brand new interactive exhibit and, as a result, Daniel will be joining us on one of our courses this summer.


Students from the college’s Leamington centre were invited to take part in a design competition to create the exhibit for the visitor centre at Coombe Country Park near Coventry. The project gave the students the chance to make a site visit, work to a design brief and come up with a model of their design before presenting their ideas to the panel.

The winning design was an innovative project by Daniel; an 18-year-old Level 2 student. His design was inspired by Coventry’s three spires and aims to help visitors understand about the trees in the park. The seven foot tall creation includes ‘discovery pods’ about the park’s tree species, which will include a carving of the leaf, the lid made from the bark of the tree, and information inside about the different species. Daniel will be assisted by the experienced members of Coombe Abbey Woodturners group, who practise their skills in their workshop in the Visitor Centre, to help bring his design to fruition.

Daniel said, “I wasn’t expecting to win at all so I’m really pleased. I was looking for a way to support it when I got the idea to use the three spires of Coventry, and at seven feet tall, they will make the piece a real focal point to attract visitors. It’s going to take a lot of work to create it but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

As a prize for winning the design competition, Daniel won a place at one of our New English Workshop Summer School courses tutored by renowned woodworker Christopher Schwarz. Daniel’s prize was sponsored by furniture maker, William Self from Solihull, who said, “I’m delighted to be able to sponsor the prize – the competition is a great opportunity for the students to showcase their ideas, and they came up with some really exciting concepts. I’m sure Daniel will get an incredible buzz from seeing his creation being used by the public at the visitor centre.”

Tutor Jamie Ward said: “We’re delighted to be working with Coombe Country Park again this year. The project has taught the students a number of entrepreneurial skills from going through the design brief to coming up with the final project and presenting their ideas to a client. We’re looking forward to supporting Daniel in creating his design in the college workshop. He’s a really committed student and thoroughly deserves this.”

For us at New English Workshop we are really pleased Daniel’s design won. Derek Jones , Chris Schwarz and I are all looking forward to meeting Daniel in July. Well done Daniel.

– Paul Mayon

Warwickshire College offers a range of full and part-time furniture making, wood machining and wood turning courses. For more information, click here.

Come and have a go (if you think you’re hard enough)…


Like ‘Boutique’ Hotels and ‘Boutique’ Guitars, Boutique tools are cool. Boutique tools are sexy. Apparently owning boutique tools can make you more confident and successful vis ze ladies too…

But sometimes it is not the the chilliest tool in the box that does the best job.  Take my burnisher for example (actually you can’t do that because DJ already did that): I have a (replacement) humble Carbur 2 burnisher.  I have previously been the proud owner of two ’boutique’ burnishers.  One had a beautifully turned Rosewood handle, the other was all cosseting curly cherry and brass.  both had a nicely polished steel shaft.  The difficulty was that neither of them would get near turning a hook on most of my (many) card scrapers. More in hope than in expectation I bought the French made Arno Carbur2 from Matthew Platt’s Workshop Heaven. I have not looked back since.  This tool is like Velma from Scooby Doo: Not much to look at but always gets the job done (um…can I say that?).

One polished carbide rod is cylindrical and functions like a normal burnisher, the other is triangular with a very small radius on the edge which intensifies the pressure, ideal for thick scrapers and scraper plane irons where a more aggressive cutting burr is desirable. Both are extremely efficient so you get better results in less time and with much greater control. This tool works. Manufacturers have made their card scrapers from harder steel over the years (I have Rockwell hardness measurements to prove this) but, used correctly the Carbur2 bends each and every one to its will by creating a beautifully turned and evilly sharp hook.

Don’t buy one if you are looking for fancy finishes though: Mine has a factory standard gouge in the body and the carbide rods have been put in by a drunk vagrant wielding a spatula of epoxy resin in one hand a bottle of Thunderbird in the other.


Ignore any of that: if you simply want a tool that does exactly what it is meant to: get this one. The real payoff is that the Carbur2 is half the price of its nearest ‘rival’.

I barely ever recommend any tool to anyone but I would have to say of the Carbur2: If you are struggling with your current burnisher, throw it away, put it on eBay or use it as a boutique plant dibber but please, go and buy a Carbur 2 (from Workshop Heaven…of course).

– Paul Mayon

(For those of a technique driven disposition, normal dovetailing service will be resumed tomorrow with set 5 in Prunus avium)

Dovetails Set 4: 19:45 let’s see what is happening here…

Verdammt!! I am not getting faster (yet) so we’re going to take a look at what I am doing (right and wrong) and talk about some of the things that a lot of dovetail instruction on t’interweb doesn’t say.

First let’s take a look at the most recent set I’ve cut…



So that first thing to note is that the joints are all (reasonably) tight.  This time any drying of the wood will tend to tighten up the joint (the growth rings try to straighten themselves out).  Those who check in each day will notice that Set 2 had the tails the wrong way round i.e. the growth rings straightening out would tend to pull the joint apart. Some would say I should have picked quarter sawn stock (which is true) but I am practising my mechanical skills with reasonably cheap dimensioned pine from the local builder’s yard here.   Something I can’t show is that the joint went together nicely without too much ‘persuasion’ from my mallet and required a minimum of glue.  This is partly because of a feature that I suspect most people who cut dovetail joints on a regular basis know but rarely pass on: On the inside (hidden) edge of each tail, I cut a fine chamfer as a lead in so that I could get the joint started when pushing it together. It works – just don’t overdo the chamfer.  I’ll show the feature on tomorrow’s set before I glue it up.

I lost style points for dropping the joint and putting two dents in it. The corner is nice and sharp and this is achieved either by block planing the end grain or, as I have done here, by sanding both faces.  I don’t have a problem with either method but for those doing rectilinear joinery  the sanding method works well  to keep things all square.  To do this I made a couple of large sanding boards yesterday.  For these joints or small to medium sized pieces these are quite useful to bring down dovetail ends that are just a hair over sized in thickness relative to each show face.


Both boards are double sided; one being 80/120 grit and the other is 180/240 grit. I only used the rough board for this set but will do a set to a finer finish tomorrow. 

Why am I not speeding up?  It is my addiction to measuring everything still.  I have my tools lined up in the order I use them (to my left as I am left handed). Nothing slows you down like bumbling about looking for that elusive marking knife…  I ensure that the dimensions of both the pins and tails are sized around the dimensions of my chisels so cuts are completed once and that…is probably where the ‘problem’ lies as it is those measurements that I keep on taking to ensure I don’t size the base of my tails at less than 10 mm (Ah…then I’d need to chop the waste out in 2 cuts with my 6 mm chisel).

I’m going to do some saw cut practice (‘let’s hit those baselines faster soldier!’) and examine what I can do to speed up my marking out before I do the next set.  We all spend so much time oohing and ahhing over tools and yet, when it comes down to it, the most important thing is the way we use them.  As Jeff Miller pointed out in ‘The Foundations of Better Woodworking’ you can do far more with great technique and average tools than you can with great tools and average technique. When Jeff and i talked about it – I couldn’t really argue with that.

-Paul Mayon



Dovetails Set 3: 19:55

ImageThis latest set are reasonably neat but I can’t really call this an improvement can I? Where am I going wrong?  It is my natural unwillingness as an engineer not to measure things.  I am reasonably efficient in my tool layout and hand movement but as long as I won’t let go of measuring and marking everything (twice) I am not going to go much faster than this.  Food for thought then…

How are you all doing with yours? Surely you didn’t let the weekend slip by without reshaping some wood?

(Apologies for the shonky old phone photo also!)

-Paul Mayon

Dovetails Set 2: 19:57


Day 2 of speeding up my dovetail technique:  Different timber (offcuts of pine), fewer pins and tails but thicker wood to saw through. A fair comparison? Maybe, maybe not. But this is exactly the material that will be used in the dovetail joints for the Anarchist’s Tool Chests (and Dutch chests) being built by the New English Workshop students at Warwickshire College this summer so I thought it would be a good time to get a head of steam up on these myself.  The ATC has over 100 dovetails in it so being quick and accurate at this operation will make a vast difference to all those who are making one.

I used the same kit as yesterday: L-N gents handle dovetail saw, Narex 8105 chisel (10 mm this time) and my L-N dovetail marker and a Veritas marking gauge for the shoulders.  Something I didn’t say yesterday:  I used my spearpoint marking knife to mark out.  I never use pencil on dovetails (but there are plenty who do). I find as long as the lighting is right (i.e. good raking light) you can always see a well marked knife line.

Is this set an improvement over yesterday? In terms of time; yes, but I can see that a couple of shoulders did not line up well so a little accuracy was sacrificed. Onto the next set then…

– Paul Mayon

Dovetails Set 1: 20:56


Set 1 of my Dovetail Challenge was completed in 20:56. So, as a dovetailer I am fat, lazy and out of practice.  The 10 mm thick Prunus avium stock was flat and square before I started. I cut tails first and used a Lie Nielsen dovetail marker (how decadent of me daaaahlings, I know, I know..) I used my Lie Nielsen gent’s handle, rip cut dovetail saw (long since out of production) and my Narex 8105 chisels (suitably hot rodded by grinding down the bevel a little so they don’t bruise the internal corners when chopping out.

I need to be more economical in my movements, keep my tools in order but chiefly not let the cat sit on my 6 mm chisel I think…

That should work.

– Paul Mayon