“Baby’s First Dovetail” or “Why First-Aide Kits Are Important”

IMG_1449IMG_1426So today, Sunday 7th September 2014, was such a lovely day that I couldn’t justify another period of indoor research and theoretical design. I HAD to get outside. It’s a balmy 17C (~62F) outside, in partial overcast, so I took off my spring jacket and ended up T-shirted and opening up the heavy garage doors for ventilation. I love summer. 🙂

IMG_1428I had it in my head to quit whining about what tools I’m lacking, no matter how useful certain toys could be. Like Paul Sellers taught us, you need an appreciation for hand tools before you can really understand what limitations and advantages power-tools have; and that electricity is not always the best addition to woodworking. Besides, when I hurt myself (and I have every, single day I’ve spent more than an hour IN that building), it’s usually less “emergency room worthy” with a chisel than with a table-saw… trust me on both accounts. For today’s exploration/adventure, I decided to try my hands at Dovetails. Emphasis on Try.

IMG_1432IMG_1433I would be using, today, an assortment of chisels that I had borrowed from my father. I will eventually replace these with a new set of single-bevel chisels, which I may find a little more useful for dados and dovetails. In the meantime, these are a precious gift from a great man, and most importantly, free. I had them in a little drawer in my red mastercraft tool cabinet (also a “gift” from my father). That was up reasonably high and I had a bit of a hassle trying to find the appropriate sized chisel in a tiny drawer. I decided to take the time to mount and group them by size. I took a level line with my square 14 inches (~350mm) long, and divvied it up into 7 pieces, since I had 14 units at a glance. I used some 3″ (~75mm) finishing nails since they fit the holes. No problem so far. I hammered the nails and discovered that I only (ONLY!) had doubles, and not even 7 pairs. IMG_1434They appear to be two full sets and some spares. How frustrating. Many are in hard shape and need some desperate attention from some diamond plates, but all I had was an uneven pocket knife sharpening stone from my grandfather’s era. I managed to sharpen one, only to find an existing tool that was already like-new. I should have guessed where my day was going by now. In actuality, I had two at 1/4″ (~6mm), two at 1/2″ (~12.5mm) two at 3/4″ (~19mm), four at 1″ (25.4mm) and two at 1.25″ (~31mm). I can take turns honing an edge on each one and see where that takes me.

IMG_1431IMG_1438Anyway, onto the dovetails. I decided to make use of my door-top bench with the doorknob hole (not a DOG hole, since I have no dogs to hold boards or even a vise. Though I might make a vise cleat to assist with my chiseling work. They have a Z-cross section hook onto the end of your bench on one end, and the other end has a lip that you can force a block against.IMG_1439 Convenient, I must have some! In lieu of that, I used some spring clamps onto the apron of my bench. After drawing-on the marker lines for the single pin 15 degree dovetail that I was going to cut into some 2X4 scraps I had laying around. Clamped up, I used a rigid-back dovetail saw to cut the initial lines, from which I can pare back towards the lines with my sharpened chisels.

IMG_1441IMG_1442Having cut away vertical lines with my handsaw, I went in search of my coping saw; or to be more correct the IMG_1443coping saw that I thought I had. It was no where to be found. I decided to use the old scrollsaw that Dad gave me, having never actually used it himself. It did the same trick as a coping IMG_1444saw, though I had a few nervous moments when the blade began to track away from my lines into the wood I meant to keep. Not that it really mattered, anyway, and the next pic will indicate why. (Insert bloodcurdling scream here). I cut away the same section in both ends of my dovetail. I’ve seen professionals make this mistake, so my pride wasn’t completely obliterated this afternoon. I flipped my lumber over and redrew my marks, this time indicating the waste VERY clearly.

IMG_1448So now I went back to the scrollsaw and did most of the work, quite carefully, by hand guiding the piece through the delicate blade. It all went relatively well, and before too long I was shaping with my very, very sharp chisel. As it happened, the chisel was also hungry for human flesh, as I discovered. As I feared, I couldn’t make it through the day without a minor laceration. You can actually see the old white scar below the recent injury from a 30″ hatchet, and the two below that are from a cross-cut hand-saw. Yep. Like a trooper, though, I plowed on and finished my dovetail, such as it was, before coming in for my medical attention and a scolding from my wife for inflicting yet another manly injury on myself. I thought chicks dug scars?

IMG_1447IMG_1446IMG_1445The end result wasn’t entirely unsatisfying. For my first dovetail EVAR, it holds together pretty well and I didn’t even need one of Matthius Wandel’s elaborate work (and cool as HELL! His jigs make it are accurate to within three-thousandths of an inch. Seriously, they’re stupidly precise. I must have them all!). I am pleased, and am eager to try it in some hardwood, rather than old, warped softwood lumber scraps. A satisfying day, and I didn’t even disappoint myself by missing a trip to the first aide kit.

My day is complete.


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