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Thread: Dovetailing Journey

  1. #1
    Join Date
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    Dovetailing Journey

    Dovetails have always been my nemesis. They wind up clunky and unrefined. I know; practice, practice, practice.

    So, I decided to practice. I cut a few 6" lengths of scrap pine, maple and whatever else I had laying around and started making dovetails. Funny how practice makes perfect. A couple of things really made a difference.

    1) Make sure you have enough light. If you can't see it clearly, you can't cut it cleanly.

    2) Slow down.

    3) Chop the majority of your waste, then put a fresh edge on your chisel prior to the final trim to your knife line. This made a huge difference. I thought I was still sharp. I wasn't. It mattered.

    A few dozen more test pieces and I should have this figured out.
    Sharp solves all manner of problems.

  2. #2
    Hang in there Rob. It really is just a ton of practice.
    I cant remember if I posted this for you before, but it's some notes I made that many others commented upon. Might give you more ideas. LINK

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

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Luter View Post
    Dovetails have always been my nemesis. They wind up clunky and unrefined. I know; practice, practice, practice.

    So, I decided to practice. I cut a few 6" lengths of scrap pine, maple and whatever else I had laying around and started making dovetails. Funny how practice makes perfect. A couple of things really made a difference.

    1) Make sure you have enough light. If you can't see it clearly, you can't cut it cleanly.

    2) Slow down.

    3) Chop the majority of your waste, then put a fresh edge on your chisel prior to the final trim to your knife line. This made a huge difference. I thought I was still sharp. I wasn't. It mattered.

    A few dozen more test pieces and I should have this figured out.
    Rob,

    Congrats, sharp and practice can make a big difference

    ken

  4. #4
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    Rob, One of the things that helped me during cutting practice dovetails was to try cutting them different ways. My usual method is to cut tails first. Starting with pins first made me look at cutting dovetails from a new perspective.

    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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    Quote Originally Posted by Frederick Skelly View Post
    Hang in there Rob. It really is just a ton of practice.
    I cant remember if I posted this for you before, but it's some notes I made that many others commented upon. Might give you more ideas. LINK

    Good luck!
    Fred
    Thanks Fred. Lots of good information there. Some of the most effective changes I've made have to do with alignment and marking.

    I made an alignment Jig with fences typical of that shown here by David Barron:



    Mine's not as fancy but it's easy to get everything lined up. I need to make a couple more.
    Sharp solves all manner of problems.

  6. #6
    It doesn't make a big difference but if you use a fret saw to remove most of the waste you won't have to resharpen when you trim back to the line. A person who is very good with dovetails might be able to work with you and give you some good pointers.

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

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Henderson View Post
    It doesn't make a big difference but if you use a fret saw to remove most of the waste you won't have to resharpen when you trim back to the line. A person who is very good with dovetails might be able to work with you and give you some good pointers.

    Mike

    2nd on the fret saw. Makes waste removal much easier. And I've found the blue tape method really helps me SEE where and what I want to cut. Plus it's - for me - one of the most relaxing and zen like things I do in the shop. Not at all like work.
    If it wasn't for the "last minute", nothing would ever get done.

  8. #8
    Join Date
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    Lafayette, CA
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    Mike, since I became aware of them a few weeks ago, I have kept your first two dovetail instructionals open as active tabs in my browser, and I refer to them liberally. As a public service to the community, I'll take the liberty of posting the links. I hope you don't mind; you posted them yourself recently.

    http://www.mikes-woodwork.com/ThroughDovetails.htm
    http://www.mikes-woodwork.com/Half-BlindDovetails.htm

    Solid advice.

    Now, about that fret saw: I picked up a LV German-made coping saw this year and fitted it with a Pégas skip-tooth blade. While there is some mild flex in the blade, the saw does cut near where I need it to cut. I dream about a fret saw based on the ad copy that it hardly flexes at all, but I'll think about that luxury down the road. Until then I won't know what I'm missing, I guess. I'll try to see if someone in my local woodworkers club has a Knew Concepts fret saw I can try, just in case I want to tantalize myself, but for now I'll use the coping saw. (I do wish there was a way to add a washer to one end to enable more tightening, but I don't see how on this saw, unless I try to remove the pin, but I'm loathe to do that.)

    https://www.leevalley.com/en-us/shop...-saw-and-blade

    I think your advice was to use a saw instead of chopping out the bulk waste, and to that I say, absolutely.

  9. #9
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    I remove most of the waste with a coping saw now. I had a couple sweet German fret saws but the blades were too fragile for the oak I normally work with, so I sold them in the great tool purge of 2019. I’m tempted to spring for a Knew Concepts saw with a high tension blade.
    Sharp solves all manner of problems.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Luter View Post
    I’m tempted to spring for a Knew Concepts saw with a high tension blade.
    Do it. You won't believe what a nice tool that is.
    "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
    - Sir Edmund Burke

  11. #11
    I notice you used different woods for practice. That is also key. Pine and poplar can be/need to be much tighter fit than oak and maple.

    I have a David Barron jig. I find it very helpful in starting the cut accurately. I need all the help I can get to start the kerf accurately.

    TW

  12. #12
    Good advice.

    Working from home, I would do the 'Dovetail a day' during my lunch break. Around day nine, I started seeing improvement. Around day 20 I started making boxes out of poplar. After a month, I was making boxes for family members out of hardwood.

    I've saved the practice dovetails to see how far I've gone.

  13. #13
    You’re honing you’re skills, Rob.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
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    Perth, Australia
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    A couple of points:

    Removing the waste, with a coping or fretsaw, spares the chisel edges from significantly more work. You are like to do cleaner work because they stay sharper longer. I prefer a fretsaw as the blades are thinner with finer teeth, and you can saw closer to the baseline.

    If you are snapping blades on a fretsaw, then you are using too much force. The Knew Concepts fretsaw is fantastic, but I can do very good work with a vintage jeweller’s saw with the appropriate technique. Here is a video I made ...

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=M6O4rY_0zQs

    I am not interested in the David Barron alignment board. It is good for simple dovetails, such as boxes. However, once you no longer align sides, or ends, then there is a need for other methods. How do you use it for these dovetails? The back panel lies in the centre of the drawer sides.





    Regards from Perth

    Derek

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Feb 2018
    Location
    Burnaby, BC
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    I was going to post the same tutorial (Mike's). They are greatly helping me in hand cutting dovetails.

    Blue tape technique on Derek's website is other wonderful resource.

    In case of a little longer boards using small miter clamps help a lot in alignment (don't know who posted but it's on SMC).

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