Woodworking vacation #17: Day two - dovetails with Frank Klauz

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Blog entry by Betsy posted 09-30-2009 01:34 AM 2142 reads 0 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 16: Day one - dovetails with Frank Klauz Part 17 of Woodworking vacation series Part 18: Day three - dovetails with Frank Klauz »

Wow – another productive day. Most of us actually have the box together and close to ready to cut the lids off!

I apologize first that I left my camera and notes at the school. Too tired to go back for them so I’ll try to do the best I can from memory.

I think I left off on having just finished the pins and getting ready to mark and cut the tails.

My first issue with my pins is that they are really steep – way to steep – but workable. The problem with steep pins as that the tails are hard to cut at so steep an angle to match – the saw binds a bit. Also the tails being so steep the edges are easier to break. So take heed my friends – steep is not so good – its workable certainly – but not the best. I’ve been cutting quite a few practice pins/tails today and still have trouble eyeballing the angle so that it is not so steep. Don’t tell Frank – but I’ll probably mark my boards before I cut them in the future.

With all this said – I think it’s quite important when going to a class – to do what the instructor tells you to do. If you are going to go into a class and try to tell the teacher – that’s wrong or I’m going to do it my way——save your money. I take a class to learn something new – even if its a method. Besides – who am I to doubt Frank – he has more woodworking knowledge in his pinky finger than I’ll ever dream of knowing.

OK – you have to mark your tail board by placing the pin board on it’s end on the end of the tail board. Make sure all the edges are flush and even – then use a sharp pencil to mark the tails. Now here is one thing that I did ok – I was able to cut a straight line at an angle without extending my marks to the end of the board. I had to pat myself on the back for that!

When you cut your tails – the saw is drawn straight across the end of the board – but then tilted to match the angle of the pin. You also cut on the waste side of the pencil line and you leave the line. The waste side would be the pin being cut out.

Once cut, you chop out the waste the same as you did the pins.

Now if you did things pretty close to right – the boards should fit together. Hummmm – OK – I failed that part. I had to do quite a bit of “fixing.” But with Frank as the instructor – the fixing was not so hard to do.

Most of the videos and articles say you should not fit your tails together and then take them apart. Seems like they say that the boards go together on the first try. Frank says nope—- if you have to do some adjusting – so what! I like this guy! :-)

Let me back up one step. When you put your first pin board on the first tail board – you should make a small “x” on both boards so that you know those two boards go together. Believe it or not, that’s the only mark you need to know which board goes where. It’s true. If you put those two boards together – there is only one way the other boards will fit together.

Now back to fitting. My tails were too tight. So Frank showed me to simply place my boards together and give them a solid “rap” with the mallet. Then take the boards apart. You will easily see where you need to trim the tails – the areas to be trimmed are crushed. Trim those areas and you should fit. And it did work!

With that said – too tight and too big of a rap could split your board. I had a tiny split – but take heart – just put a little glue in the split and clamp it—- all better.

Now when you have all four corners fit – you glue it all up.

Frank uses white glue exclusively for his interior projects. The same white glue your kids use at school is the stuff Frank uses. He also uses the Tite Bond Extended glue. The yellow glue just does not give you enough time to get all the edges prepped and ready to assemble. Frank simply says – to get rid of the yellow stuff and get the white stuff – it works great and is cheaper to boot.

Frank also tests all the glue when he buys it. Of course he generally buys 4-5 gallons at a time. The reason he tests the glue is that if at any point in transit it gets frozen – its no good. So what he does is takes a little glue from each jug and glues two pieces together – lets it dry and then bangs them – first softly then gradually a little harder. When the board finally gives and breaks – if there are no wood fibers from one piece left on the other – then the glue is no good and it goes back to the store. If there are wood fibers – then the glue is good. Glue that is over a year old should be thrown out.

Frank does not have to clamp his dovetails (OK – occasionally he’ll have one wonky tail that needs a clamp). But with our boxes – we clamped to pull the joints together. I must admit to thinking that just can’t be right—- but all the boxes look great and they are all square. One clamp went on each tail. So for these boxes we used quite a lot of clamps. Each box was left clamped about an hour or so before we moved on to the next step.

Next step was to flatten the box – to know if its flat – just place the box on a flat surface like MDF – if it rocks – it’s not flat. Simply use a piece of sandpaper secured to a piece of mdf and applying strong downward force move the box quickly over the paper – in no time flat – you’ll have a flat box (small pun). Frank gave a couple of the guys a hard time because they were going very slowly on this step——he says go faster, go faster! So we did – doesn’t take long to get them flat.

This particular box is going to have a solid top and bottom – no grooves to worry about. The bottoms and tops were cut very slightly oversized. We glued both the top and bottom onto the body at one time. Frank had precut some MDF the same size as the tops/bottoms to use as cauls. (One for the top, one for the bottom.) I’ve not done this before for a box and as a result, I asked why???? Well why – is because the cauls allow the clamps to send out more pressure across a larger area – thus needing fewer clamps to do the job. I used cauls for edge gluing but never for a box – but it works quite well.

Once the the glue cured then it’s time to plane off the excess edges and clean up the dovetails. Pretty easy if your planes are sharp. Frank took some time to go through some sharpening and grinding. Without my notes I’m not sure I should get too much into this section. What I can say is that a hollow grind sure makes honing your chisels and plane irons easier. I never quite understood this concept from the books and articles – but seeing it makes all the difference. Makes perfect sense now.

Once the sides are pretty clean – next was to fix any goofs that you find. Such goofs as overcuts, chips or gaps. Some of the gaps were fixed with little wedges. Others were fixed using 5-minute epoxy colored with sanding dust. Once the epoxy was dried then it was time to sand the sides smooth.

That’s pretty much as far as we got today with the boxes.

Frank took some time to show us hand cutting a sliding dovetail and demonstrating the technique to use to make his water pond for his water stones. Pretty amazing for sure.

Well that’s all for today. Thanks for reading.

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

8 comments so far

View lew's profile


12100 posts in 3778 days

#1 posted 09-30-2009 01:44 AM

Betsy- I envy you. What a wealth of information you will have to take home.


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

View Rev_John's profile


93 posts in 3911 days

#2 posted 09-30-2009 02:50 AM

I know what you are talking about. I took joinery from Marc Adams and it was a great experience. I know it it specail to take it from Frank. Have fun!

-- John from Jackson, Michigan

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3844 days

#3 posted 09-30-2009 02:56 AM

Thanks for the update, Betsy. It sounds as if you are having fun and enjoying yourself.

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

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4122 days

#4 posted 09-30-2009 03:58 AM

I am jealous – verrry jealous.

Have fun tomorrow!

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View bill merritt's profile

bill merritt

203 posts in 3312 days

#5 posted 09-30-2009 04:45 AM

No better way to learn than in a hands-on situation like you have there.I know what you are learning will last for years. Enjoy it. Thanks for thinking of us.

-- Bill Merritt -Augusta Ga. woodworker

View MattD's profile


150 posts in 3967 days

#6 posted 09-30-2009 04:55 AM

Great write up. Frank is one of my idols. His video on drawer making is one of my favorites. I immediately bought a card scraper after watching that.

-- Matt - Syracuse, NY

View lightweightladylefty's profile


3241 posts in 3735 days

#7 posted 09-30-2009 05:19 AM


It certainly is generous of you to share all of the knowledge you’re gaining at this class. You do an excellent job of explaining—even without the pictures.

-- Jesus is the ONLY reason for ANY season.

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3918 days

#8 posted 09-30-2009 12:15 PM

Thanks all. I hope that I can at least pass on a few tidbits to everyone. Frank is a very good instructor, an excellent woodworker and an all around good guy. Stay tuned!

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

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