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




3 thoughts on “Dovetails Set 4: 19:45 let’s see what is happening here…

  1. Like Barry I haven’t had a chance to get going with the old dovetail practise yet, right in the middle of a project building a bookcase (lot’s of housing joints rather than dovetails), which I want to see through before getting too obsessed on dovetails. Can’t wait to get started though, need all the hours I can fit in between now and the course – not really done dovetails before, so need to get on with it. Feeling the pressure already!

    That latest set of dovetails look really spot on in the photo to me Paul, I’d be delighted with those. Do you use a knife for all your marking up or do you use a combination of pencil and knife? I’ve found knifes line on pine can sometimes close up a bit after you’ve scribed them, especially on end grain.

    I’m considering giving the the Dutch Toolchest a go before undertaking the full on english chest at the course, can never have too much tool storage..

    • Hi Mark – good to hear you are cutting timber whatever you are doing. It is what it is all about. I agree the Dutch chest is a great warm-up for the ‘Full English’. Don’t be overawed though – once you get into a rhythm dovetailing it gets easier. I knife all my lines with my spearpoint marking knife (but there is nothing wrong with a sharp pencil – you just have to know where you are putting the saw kerf in relation to the line which is sometimes not quite the same for a pencil line as a knife line. As for scribing a knife line on end grain in pine, it can depend on whether you have shot the end of the board or not (i.e. how smooth the surface is). You can use a pencil to highlight the knife line so that you get two pencil tracks and you make sure you only cut one pencil line away (this is a method suggested by Jeff Miller) but then this doesn’t help your speed! To begin with go for accuracy and build speed from there.

      Looking forward to seeing you on the course!


  2. An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this
    onto a colleague who has been conducting a little research on this.

    And he actually bought me breakfast due to the fact that I discovered
    it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!!

    But yeah, thanks for spending some time to talk about this matter here on your website.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s