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.