Back at the Bench


I took advantage of the good weather this weekend to work outside and break down some cherry and oak. With father’s day fast approaching I thought I could kill two birds with one stone: a box as a present for my dad and some more dovetailing practice (you haven’t forgotten Father’s day have you?…). While I was cutting each set I was thinking about what we are actually doing when we cut ‘to a line’. Having thumbed my library of text books on this, many authors talk about ‘cutting to a line’ or ‘staying on the waste side of the line’ but what does that actually mean?

The question is something along the lines of ‘How long is a piece of string?’ and it relates directly to the species you are working with.  If I am working in pine I can cut a little further away from the line than I can in Oak or Cherry: the wood has a little more ‘give’ in it when you bring the pins and tails together.  Below is a of photo showing what ‘cutting to a line’ means for me when working in Cherry. Here below, I am cutting some tails. What you can see is that my saw kerf is clearly on the waste side of the line (where the pin will eventually go) but is right up to the knifed line.


You need good raking light for this sort of thing.  Being on the wrong side of 40 means I am sometimes struggling to see exactly where the knife line is so I also make use of something Robert Wearing recommends; a small nick in the waste at the near corner to seat my saw. Hands are far more sensitive than eyes and you can pick up the nick using your thumb nail and bring the saw right in next to it; you feel the saw just drop into it to begin the cut. I’ll show more on this box (the good, the bad and plain ugly) as the week progresses.

– Paul Mayon


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