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Thread: How do you cut dovetails

  1. #1
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    How do you cut dovetails

    I always cut tails first, it is how I learned and I still do it that way.

    When I first started cutting dovetails, the advice I received was that I should mark the board, then tilt the board so that I would do all of my cuts vertical. I did this for a long time. Eventually, I became impatient. I figured that it was not all that critical that my angles were perfect. I even tried cutting dove tails without bothering to mark them.

    Lately, I have been doing this when I start. In this case, I marked everything using a pen.

    knife_box_0.jpg

    Next, I cut without tilting the board. It is not perfect, but I don't think that I would have done any better even if I had tilted the board.

    knife_box_1.jpg knife_box_2.jpg

    I choose to use my Lee Valley saw for no particular reason; I own a couple of different saws.

    Next, I cut out the waste. I should probably not cut so close to the line, but it makes it very fast to clean it up with a chisel.

    knife_box_3.jpg

    Am I the only one who started by putting the board at an angle. It was probably Rob Cosman who suggested angling the board.

    BTW, this is African Mahogany. The outside dimensions are roughly 20" wide x 15" tall x 16" deep.

    When I mark the tails, I will use a knife since precision matters a bit more there.

  2. #2
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    I have only just started cutting dovetails (literally this past week) and I do not tilt the board, I tilt the saw and follow the knife line as best I can. It seems like a lot more work to tilt the board, especially if it is wide or long.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Whitehorn View Post
    I have only just started cutting dovetails (literally this past week) and I do not tilt the board, I tilt the saw and follow the knife line as best I can. It seems like a lot more work to tilt the board, especially if it is wide or long.
    For certain, it is much more difficult to tilt if it is wide; as is the board on which i am currently working. The Moxon vise made dovetails much easier to cut for me for a few different reasons. The two primary reasons:


    1. For me to cut comfortably, the bench is too low. The Moxon vise raises the height.
    2. The Moxon allows for wide boards. OK, if I had a better (wider) vise on my bench, that would take care of it, but, I do not. In fact, my bench vises are not very wide (less than 24 inches) and there is a screw in the middle and a support thing on each side.


    Patrick,

    How are you holding your boards? Do you cut out the waste or chisel out the waste? I have heard people say that it takes about the same amount of time for them to chop the waste as to cut out the waste, but I cut it out way faster than I can chop it out. That is probably more a testament to my poor chopping ability than any other reality.

    I use a very fine blade to cut out that waste. If it is helpful, I am happy to see what blade I use. When I first started, I was using larger blades (I had no idea they were large, what did I know about it? Almost nothing) so it was very difficult for me to control the cuts. With my current blades, I can drop them directly down into the cuts, rotate the saw a bit, then cut almost straight across; well, as straight as I can cut anyway.

    Also, be sure to post a few pictures of your first attempts. I remember my first few, I was lucky if I could cut a single drawer in a couple of nights. I am still nervous when I cut something that will be highly visible, especially when I do it in something like maple or oak, which is not forgiving.

  4. #4
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    Now you've done it Andrew!

    A thread on dovetails will likely become as long and drawn out as any sharpening thread.

    Most of the time my dovetails are cut tails first. It was kind of embarrassing one time when they were done pins first they came out better than my usual tails first method. It did give me some insights and my tails first cutting became much improved after the experiment.

    My dovetail sawing was never done by tilting the tail board.

    For holding wide boards a few techniques work for me. One using a holdfast on the face of the bench is shown in this thread:

    https://sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?135061

    It shows making 'lovetails.' Those are like dovetails but shaped like valentine hearts:

    Lovetails.jpg and lovetails.jpg

    My other method of holding a wide board was done by removing the tail vise, a simple matter of backing out the screw and setting the assembly aside. A block of wood was made to be the same size as the bench overhang from the legs. This was held by the legs via a couple of holes in the legs and a couple of dowels in the block of wood. Then the large panel was clamped to the legs.

    At first sawing the waste was a bit of a hit or mis effort for me. With time, practice and a Knew saw it got much better.

    The dovetails that evoke my pride the most are these:

    Unglued Dovetail.jpg

    They were made when it was too cold in the shop to glue and activity in the house made gluing in the house a non-option. The plan was to glue them up come spring. Instead they have been holding together for over 5 years now. The drawer is used regularly. Those tails have a reason to stand proud.

    Here is one of my early attempts at cutting dovetails:

    Chisel Box.jpg

    If you look, you will see dowels through the pins. This was to keep the joints on the box from falling apart.

    In this build thread:

    https://sawmillcreek.org/showthread.php?259750

    All of my techniques used for cutting dovetails was included. The box is still holding my medications and holding together quite well.

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

  5. #5
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    Wow, that was enlightening......

    I tried to quote your text, but my web browser said it would "protect me" and not let me do that

    My next thread will be how to "sharpen a dovetail", that should cause a stir!

    I had forgotten about your heart shaped dovetails. Well, I think I remember reading about those years ago. I certainly enjoyed reading it now. Maybe I missed it the first time around because I totally do not remember reading about sharpening the auger bits.

    I had forgotten that I also used to cut a slight rabbit along the edge because it makes it much easier to then mark where the pins go. I now need to go and re-read your other post about dovetails. I have always learned much from your posts.

  6. #6
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    Can always come up here...and video how I do mine.....dovetails..or finger joints
    Ash Box 2, last corner dry fit.JPGAsh Tote, corner details,1.JPG

  7. #7
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    I have something else I want you to teach me.... I just need to come up with a suitable bribe! And if the bribe involves alcohol, then we need to learn first, imbibe after! :-)

  8. #8
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    This saturday be ok?

  9. #9
    Andrew, there are a lot of reasons for doing tails first, and you have noticed one of them. It is easier to be precise with a cut on the pin board than with the angled cut on the tail board. A slight deviation in angle when cutting the tails is compensated for when transferring to the pin board. If you do the pins first it is harder to get a precise match.

  10. #10
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    I tried to quote your text, but my web browser said it would "protect me" and not let me do that
    One of my browsers does that. My work around was to click "Reply With Quote," select and copy the text, paste it into my new document then cancel the "Reply With Quote."

    I had forgotten that I also used to cut a slight rabbit along the edge because it makes it much easier to then mark where the pins go.
    Rabbeting the tail board became more work than many other methods. Now either setting up a pre-squared marking station or clamping a small piece of straight stock to the base line seems to work quicker with less chance of error.

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

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Warren Mickley View Post
    Andrew, there are a lot of reasons for doing tails first, and you have noticed one of them. It is easier to be precise with a cut on the pin board than with the angled cut on the tail board. A slight deviation in angle when cutting the tails is compensated for when transferring to the pin board. If you do the pins first it is harder to get a precise match.
    Ahhhh, that makes sense......

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by steven c newman View Post
    This saturday be ok?
    I have been very sick.... and you do not want it. In a perfect world, I will be fine by Saturday, but, I have been sick pushing two weeks already. I have to be honest though, I have been itching to get back out to your place. I need to clear it with the wife, but maybe the following weekend?

  13. #13
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    I don't angle the board, but I do cut all of the lines that are angled in one direction first, then come back and do the others. I think this helps with consistency due to muscle memory. Aesthetically it's more important that the angles be consistent than exact.

    As for cutting a rabbet to facilitate transfer marking, I've never done it, but I think Derek Cohen has made that practice obsolete with another of his blue tape inventions. You just build up several layers of tape where the rabbet ledge would be and then trim the excess with a marking gauge set for the baseline. Butt the tape ledge against the pin board and you're registered. I usually eyeball the registration and actually push the tailboard baseline a hair past the edge of the pinboard.

  14. #14
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    I'm a tails first kinda guy. Never thought to tilt the board. Sometimes I do do all the left leaning cuts first then switch and do all the right leaning. Sometimes I alternate back and forth, it really depends on my mood.
    I have taken to cutting mitered corner dovetails, I really like them for boxes. I mark everything with a knife then little X's to mark the waste. I mark all faces. I fret saw out the bulk of the waste then chisel to the base line chopping half way through then flipping and finishing the other half.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Andrew Gibson
    Infinity Cutting Tools

  15. #15
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    Anytime you want...

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