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Thread: Why saw the waste in dovetails vs chiselling it?

  1. #1

    Why saw the waste in dovetails vs chiselling it?

    Hi guys,
    I've been reading along in the thread about Blue Spruce's upcoming fret saw, re-reading other dovetail posts and of course reading Derek's blog. I still can't quite put it altogether: what's the advantage of sawing out the waste (with a good fretsaw, etc) versus chiselling it out?

    Sawing it doesn't look like it saves time, because I still have to carefully pare to the baseline after removing the bulk waste. By chiselling, I get a good baseline and it saves a step.

    But I think I'm missing something important, because any number of you have said you used to chisel but now saw, because the KC Fretsaw is such a game changer.

    I've got $100 burning a hole in my pocket, but I won't use that KC saw for anything else if I don't get much gain from sawing the waste. I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts, especially if you switched from chiselling to sawing.

    Thank you!
    Fred
    "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
    - Sir Edmund Burke

  2. #2
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    Easier to change out a saw blade than to keep sharpening chisels.

  3. #3
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    For me, and my limited experience, small dovetails are easier to saw because there is less room for a chisel. Larger dovetails don't benefit as much since i just make a couple vertical chops and split from the end. Either way ya need to sneak up on your base line with a chisel.

    Brian
    The significant problems we encounter cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.

    The penalty for inaccuracy is more work

  4. #4
    Unless the dovetails are pretty small ones, I always saw out the waste for these reasons-

    it is quicker because you have a lot less to chop away before you chop or pare right on the baseline. Say, for a 1" thick stock, I saw out 3/4" or more of waste already and that's 3/4"wood or so less to chop

    it saves me from honing my chisels frequently (not that I don't, but for a different reason). 1" thick white oak is tough on my chisels

    I can gang saw the tail waste but you can't gang chisel it

    Unlike chiselling, you don't have to flip boards until the final stage of paring or chopping

    I also like practice sawing with a fret or coping saw

    In general, a saw is for rough work (and removing waste is rough work) and a chisel for fine, precision work as far as I am concerned. There are exceptions of course. But that guideline works for me when I do hand work.

    I know Christian Becksvoort chisels while Ian Kirby and Rob Cosman saw. If you like chiselling (which is good for practicing chisel skills), keep it.
    Simon
    Last edited by Simon MacGowen; 03-11-2018 at 2:09 PM.

  5. #5
    In fact for me small dovetails are easy to chop because there is less waste. The bigger and thicker the dovetails, the longer it would take to chisel for me.

    I have completely chopped before and I have seen people who are super fast at it, but until you get really speedy, it can be physically and mentally fatiguing to do all that chopping.

    For that matter, I prefer to saw the bulk of the waste with a bandsaw.

  6. #6
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    If noise were no consideration, I think I would chop more. But sawing is quieter, and I really want to keep my neighbours happy, so that I can keep woodworking in the cellar. No I can do a few final chops to the line, and some paring to fit after removing most waste with a saw.

  7. #7
    One problem with removing waste when doing dovetails is having the wood "break off" as you chisel it out, leaving a hole at the back of the dovetail. These nasty looking gaps generally don't show once you glue up the dovetails but just seem wrong to me. I've tried several things to avoid them.

    One way is a specific way of chopping out the waste so that the waste is always supported - I'll try to add some pictures of what I mean later. The other way is to saw the waste with a fret saw and to saw very close to the line. If I saw very close, I find that the final chop to the line with a sharp chisel "usually" makes a clean cut.

    The specific method of chopping out the waste is more reliable but sawing can work.

    Beyond that, I don't find that sawing is faster than chopping. And in any case, speed is probably not the most important thing in making hand cut dovetails.

    I go back and forth with my dovetails - sometimes I saw and sometimes I chop. Just depends on how I feel.

    Mike
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  8. #8
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    I prefer to saw, it can be faster in many instances especially in harder woods.
    Bumbling forward into the unknown.

  9. #9
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    Sawing seems faster and less prone to bruised baselines.

    My dovetails have improved with sawing the waste as opposed to chopping the waste.

    Of course, YMMV!!!.png

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Frederick Skelly View Post
    Hi guys,
    I've been reading along in the thread about Blue Spruce's upcoming fret saw, re-reading other dovetail posts and of course reading Derek's blog. I still can't quite put it altogether: what's the advantage of sawing out the waste (with a good fretsaw, etc) versus chiselling it out?
    In my experience it takes less physical effort (though perhaps not less time) to saw the waste out than to chisel it. As you say you still have to pare to the baseline, but paring is pretty easy, and you would have to do it after chopping anyway even if you chiseled the waste out.

    Speaking for myself sawing subjectively strikes me as a more finesseful approach than chopping.

  11. #11
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    I chop the baseline rather than pare, after sawing. I like chopping wherever possible.

  12. #12
    Here's a comparison of chopping and sawing for dovetails. The wood is cherry and I did these initial saw cuts on my bandsaw. I cut three places for pins, which have to be wasted.
    2018-03-11Dovetails001.jpg

    First, a more or less traditional approach to chopping: Start your first cut a bit off the gauge line.
    2018-03-11Dovetails002.jpg

    Then remove some of the waste.
    2018-03-11Dovetails003.jpg

    Chop next at the gauge line.
    2018-03-11Dovetails004.jpg

    Turn the board over and do a chop just off the gauge line.
    2018-03-11Dovetails005.jpg

    Remove the waste.
    2018-03-11Dovetails006.jpg

    Then chop at the gauge line all the way through. More than likely you'll get breakout.
    2018-03-11Dovetails007.jpg


    Continued in the next post.
    Last edited by Mike Henderson; 03-11-2018 at 6:24 PM.
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  13. #13
    There's a way to pretty much avoid having that breakout when chopping out the waste. We start just like before with the first chop just off the gauge line.
    2018-03-11Dovetails008.jpg

    Then chop into that cut making a "V". Make the V as narrow as possible.
    2018-03-11Dovetails009.jpg

    Then chop at the gauge line and clean out the V.
    2018-03-11Dovetails010.jpg

    Turn the board over and make the first chop just off the gauge line, and remove the waste - just like the previous post.
    2018-03-11Dovetails012.jpg

    Chop back to the line and continue until you're through.
    2018-03-11Dovetails013.jpg

    This will usually give you a clean cut.
    2018-03-11Dovetails014.jpg

    The reason this works is because the waste is supported as you're chopping down from the back side - so it doesn't break out. You do need a very sharp chisel to make this work.

    Someone might say, "Why not just chop completely through from one side? That way, the wood is supported all the way through and you won't have breakout."
    There are two problems with that approach:
    1. If you chop all the way through, you'll chop into your bench.
    2. More important, you'll never wind up on the gauge line at the bottom.


    Continued on next post.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by Mike Henderson; 03-11-2018 at 8:03 PM.
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  14. #14
    Now, an example of sawing the waste. I used the Knew Concepts fret saw to saw the waste out. You want to saw close to the gauge line without sawing along it.

    More than likely, you'll be further off the gauge line at the back. You'll watch how close you are on the front of the board and you'll make sure you don't cut downward towards the back. Place the board down with the widest space between the cut and the gauge line up. That usually means the back is up.
    2018-03-11Dovetails015.jpg

    Chop on the gauge line with a sharp chisel.
    2018-03-11Dovetails016.jpg

    Then turn the board over and do the same from the other side. This will usually give you a clean cut. Here you can see the breakout in the first wasted area, while the other two are pretty clean.
    2018-03-11Dovetails017.jpg

    Mike

    [Just an added comment: Dull chisels can cause breakout, no matter what technique you use. And sometimes the wood just breaks out even with a very sharp chisel. Some woods are more susceptible to breakout. Pine seems to be one. And sometimes it just the way the grain runs or maybe there's a knot close to your cut.]
    Last edited by Mike Henderson; 03-12-2018 at 1:37 PM.
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  15. #15
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    Mike, thanks for the information, I always saw out the waste but never thought of removing the waste as you show in the second post because the waste is supported it doesn't brake out, That's helpful to know. Thanks again.
    Chet

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