Dragsters and Dovetailing

ImageThe fastest drag time for the 1/4 mile ever recorded was set by Sammy Miller in his car Vanishing Point. The standing 1/4 mile was covered in just 3.58 seconds and was set at Santa Pod raceway in Northamptonshire in 1985. You can see the run here. For me, the most remarkable thing about it is how unremarkable it looks: the car just accelerates with no fuss, no drama, just all of the enormous power punching it forward at an incredible rate.

When you watch Frank Klausz cutting dovetails there is that same lack of drama, precision and incredible speed. You look at him working and it looks incredibly easy but, as we all know, it isn’t.  The first set of dovetails I ever cut took me hours and, when finished, they still looked like an utter horror show.

To show the difference: Frank takes about 3-4 minutes to cut a set of dovetails.  This is not him rushing: He is on record as budgeting only 20 minutes to cut and fit all of the dovetails for a drawer when he quotes for work. In contrast, as an utterly average woodworker, it takes me about 20 minutes to cut a set or 30 minutes if I’m measuring out a set with uneven spacing. When Frank does the job, there are no measurements taken, there are no dovetail guides and no hesitation. Watch closely and his economy of movement is very deceptive.

Why am I telling you all of this? It is because I am practising dovetails again this week. Not to learn how to do them again (though practice is always a good thing) but because I want to increase my speed but not sacrifice accuracy in the attempt. Why am I doing this? Well, because whether you are a professional or a weekend woodworker like me, none of us have time to waste!

So I am putting out a challenge: I am going to cut and fit a set each night for the next week and put them up together with the time it took for me to do them. If anyone else is up for it they can too. It’s not a competition with each other: we are competing only with ourselves. In the unlikely event that Mr Klausz reads this blog: sorry Frank but you’re barred!

– Paul Mayon 


2 thoughts on “Dragsters and Dovetailing

  1. An interesting idea, Paul. On a similar tack, my plan for June is to limber up for the Anarchist’s Tool Chest course by cutting a dovetail joint each day for a month. The twist is that I’ve never cut a dovetail before (my focus to date has always been on lutherie), so I will be starting from a much lower base mark than you. Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to the challenge, and will post my thoughts and results on my blog.

    Looking forward to reading about how your times come down over the course of the week.


    • That sounds like a very good idea as preparation for the ATC course Kieran. That is what I did to teach myself to cut them and to ‘put the skill into my hands’. A tip of the cap to you sir for the training regime beforehand.


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