Woodworking vacation #16: Day one - dovetails with Frank Klauz

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Blog entry by Betsy posted 09-29-2009 02:44 AM 1804 reads 1 time favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 15: in advance of dovetail class with Frank Klauz Part 16 of Woodworking vacation series Part 17: Day two - dovetails with Frank Klauz »

First lets just say that Frank is a very interesting and entertaining person. Woodworking aside, I think you could spend quite a lot of time with him discussing everyday things and never be bored. He knows what he knows and has strong opinions which he backs up with good reasoning.

Here’s a bad picture of Frank if you have never seen him.


I have to admit to being in stitches quite a lot today.

So onto to the class.

The first thing Frank tells you is his four main areas of thought. 1) Wood technology; 2) tools (hand and machine); 3) joinery; and 4) finishing. If you don’t understand wood technology – you don’t need tools. If you understand wood technology but don’t have the proper tools, joinery is not possible; If you can’t make a joint – you don’t need to do finishing. It all adds up.

As for wood technology – one of the most important things that Frank kept saying is that “the inside of the tree is the outside of the box.” Another way is the inside of the tree is the top of the table. In other words the rings go up on the table top or out on the sides of the box.

Frank does not alternate rings when making a panel. He says that does not allow for a good looking top. He opines that the skirt/apron and the buttons will keep the table top from warping. He makes good points for not alternating rings up rings down.

With the rings toward the outside of the box or drawer/case the joint is very strong. If there is any warping the corners are pulled together tight – it does not come apart.

As always there is the argument of cutting pins or tails first. Frank cuts pins first and he makes a good argument for it. The most compelling argument is that tracing the pins onto the tail board only means standing it on end on the tail board. Cutting tails first means that you have to place the tail board on the end of the pin board at a 90 degree angle and find a way to balance the board and hold it in place while you trace the tails onto the pin board. Having done it both ways now – it does seem easier to do pins first.

One thing that always escaped me is when you cut the dovetails do you have the inside of the piece facing you or away from you in the vise! Well—- the answer is the inside of your box/drawer/case faces you in the vise.

Frank also makes no bones about it – you don’t need a gazilion marks on your wood. You need one to start. Just a scribble to mark the outside and the top of the each piece. If you keep those scribbles in order you are going to be in good shape.

First off you have to decide if you are going to put your pins on the sides or the front (i.e. will your tails ends show on the front of the box or the sides?). For this box Frank is having us put the pins on the front and back and the tails on the sides. His sample box looks great this way so I have no argument with it.

Next you have to mark your pieces with your marking gauge. He advocates using the gauge at exactly the width of the work piece. He has no quarrel with the barrel type marking gauge, but prefers the old fashioned ones with the bar and nail/knife. Mine needed work – and he went right to it and fixed my gauge so that it actually cut the wood.

Here is the sequence of cutting the pins. Frank does not draw on the board – he just cuts! I’ve watched his video a number of times and still could not get exactly what he was doing – his sequence. Now I can see what he’s doing.

I’ve tried to draw what he does below. Looking at the picture – my handwriting stinks!


The pins are cut with the saw completely 90 degrees to the board but held with the toe/at an angle. So the saw is not titled in any fashion – but is held at an angle. That is soooo hard to describe – but see the picture above to get a better idea.

The first two cuts are the half pins. The way to remember which direction the saw should angle to cut the half pins – just remember that the larger/wider portion of the pin should be nearest to you. Big end towards you little end away from you.

The third cut is to make a full tail next to your first half-pin. Now is where I was getting confused before. The fourth cut is made at the same angle of the third cut. The fourth cut is made in the center of the portion of the board that is left between the cut number 3 and cut number 2. (confused?).

The fifth and sixth cuts go at the same angle as the cut no. 1. The picture is probably better than my explanation.

My trouble is that by not drawing out the cuts I freehand too-steep an angle. I managed to make an ok set of cuts – Frank says his son would give me a hug – apparently he likes a steep angle as well. Nothing wrong with it other than it’s hard to cut the tails when your pins have such a steep angle. But as you can see – I didn’t do to badly.


Once you have your cuts made on your pin board – you hand to chisel them out. This is how Frank sets his boards from chiseling/chopping.


One thing Frank made a point of is that if you going to use a clamp to hold the material down to chop it- you need to use a scrap piece to protect the work piece AND you need to put that scrap pretty close to the chopping area. This adds a lot of hold down power and keeps the boards flat on the bench allowing your blows to do their job without bouncing around.

Next is picking a chisel to fit the part you are chopping. Don’t use a 1/4” chisel to do a job if you can use a 3/4” chisel. Use the chisel that will allow you to make the fewest strokes. Fewer strokes leads to fewer mistakes.

Frank starts by chopping from the inside of the box/sides – chops half way through and then turns over the piece and chops the second half freeing the waste. The chopping sequence is certainly harder to describe than to do. But let me try.

Oh first – let me say – that I was concerned that my chisels would not be sharp enough. I really was not sure I had managed to get them to even close to what they needed to be. But alas – they passed Franks inspection and I was told “beautiful!. Made me feel better! :-)

OK so Frank starts with the chisel straight up and down right on the marking gauge line. Light taps to define the line – then slight back cut to pop out a sliver of wood – then another soft chop straight down. Then flip the board – put the chisel about 1/16th in front of the gauge line and make a chop – then back cut to pop out the sliver of wood. Then some more straight down chopping until the waste pops out.

Once you get the waste chopped out – you need to place the pins on the tail board. I will have to carry that on tomorrow’s blog though. I’m about wiped out and need to hit the rack. I hope this blog has been helpful to some of you.

Please feel free to ask questions or add comments.

Thanks for reading.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

8 comments so far

View gizmodyne's profile


1768 posts in 3512 days

#1 posted 09-29-2009 04:27 AM

Great post. More please.

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4010 posts in 3486 days

#2 posted 09-29-2009 05:34 AM

Love it Betsy.
There are some videos on the net of Frank chopping doves and cutting them with a frame saw.

Kinda makes me ashamed to use that Incra jig all the time. Frank is a national treasure.

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over a decade.

View a1Jim's profile


115177 posts in 2999 days

#3 posted 09-29-2009 05:58 AM

Hey Betsy
Sounds like fun .Thanks for the blog,

-- Custom furniture

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27251 posts in 3244 days

#4 posted 09-29-2009 10:53 AM

Thanks for the update, Betsy. It does look like you are having fun.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View lew's profile


11266 posts in 3178 days

#5 posted 09-29-2009 05:45 PM

Great Post, Betsy!!

Of course you know, now you have become the LumberJocks resident dovetail expert ;^)


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View Mike Gager's profile

Mike Gager

665 posts in 2690 days

#6 posted 09-29-2009 07:56 PM

i enjoyed franks dovetail video. he makes it look soooooo easy

View stefang's profile


15512 posts in 2757 days

#7 posted 09-29-2009 08:36 PM

Sounds like you are enjoying yourself Betsy. You could certainly have worse teachers than Frank. He was brought up in the old school and probably has forgotten more than any of us will ever know about woodworking. You picked a great way to spend your free time. Have fun, and thanks for the photos!

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Bob #2's profile

Bob #2

3809 posts in 3444 days

#8 posted 09-29-2009 08:46 PM

Good job of docuennting Betsy. It’s almost like I was there reading your notes.


-- A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner

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