Hand Tools doings #13: Dovetails - I'm getting there --- still kind of ugly

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Blog entry by Betsy posted 04-08-2008 01:53 AM 2048 reads 0 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 12: Dovetails issue Part 13 of Hand Tools doings series Part 14: Dovetails - not quite so ugly - but still not so good »

OK – please tell me these are right. I know they are ugly as sin—- I’ll work on pretty later. But first I was upside down, then I was compound cutting then I was just making little tiny scraps that even I could not make a box out of.

I know I need sharper tools – I’m working on that to.

I cut the waste out of these with a coping saw and then “trimmed” with a chisel. I must say, even though I did a poor job – I like the coping saw much better than chiseling out the waste.

OK so here is my latest entry. PLEASE someone tell me these are at least the right geometry. I can’t pull them apart—- I can slide them apart—- but can’t pull apart.



Got a lot of practicing to do.

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

13 comments so far

View GMoney's profile


158 posts in 4008 days

#1 posted 04-08-2008 02:38 AM

They look right to me. Btw I think sin has you beat in the ugly dept. Most of us don’t show the early attempts and they usually are not pretty. That’s where repetition comes in for skill building.

You’ll be amazed how much easier it is to use sharp tools. I recommend you bite the bullet so to speak and learn to sharpen or get a good machine. You’ll like chisel work much better.

-- Greg, CT

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 4027 days

#2 posted 04-08-2008 02:50 AM

Betsy they look just fine to me. You are making progress. It is slow but these are far better than your first post.

Practice, practice practice. :)

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

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 4193 days

#3 posted 04-08-2008 02:53 AM

Getting better every time you try again. You’ll be a master pretty soon.

Try using a knife and straight edge to outline your cuts first.

And yes they are correct.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Tom Adamski's profile

Tom Adamski

306 posts in 3976 days

#4 posted 04-08-2008 02:56 AM

It is a great start and I think you should be proud. Some people never even finish their first attempt, rather giving up or only using router templates. I think that your biggest limitation right now is your tools. Work on getting them sharper so they cut cleaner and more accurately. It looks like you did a good layout job.
Take the knowledge you learned from this and go onto the next set. Put this one away and refer to it after the next one is done. You will see a marked improvemnet, I guarantee it! For variations on your layout, try this link…

Your doing fine…


-- Anybody can become a woodworker, but only a Craftsman can hide his mistakes.

View motthunter's profile


2141 posts in 4004 days

#5 posted 04-08-2008 03:07 AM

hand cut = tons of practice.

Good luck on your next attempt.

-- making sawdust....

View che's profile


123 posts in 4231 days

#6 posted 04-08-2008 03:24 AM

Well the geometry is right. You have pins and tails. I don’t know what tools your using but I can honestly tell you that a properly tuned saw is a must. I highly recommend Rob Cosman’s DVD series. There is a bit of Lie-Nielsen advertising, but they put out the DVD so I can’t fault them too much for that. (and there saw is great)

Get a copy of the current Woodworking magazine; it is all about hand sawing. Also, read the woodworking magazine blog. Christopher Schwarz has ’s lots of great info there as well.

I’m not anywhere close to a dovetail master but when I fist got my saw I marked straight lines every 1/4” or so. I cut half of them on the left and half of them on the right. There is no point trying to cut a joint until you can cut a straight line. I then cut a bunch of “5 minute dovetails”. One tail and two half pins. The advantage is that there is a lot less chopping so most of your time is spent cutting.

Tools for working wood has some coping saw blades that are very thin and will slide down the kerf left by most dovetail saws. It’s a little scary how much better they work than the big box blades.

Most important… Keep at it.

-- Che.

View Bob A in NJ's profile

Bob A in NJ

1232 posts in 4204 days

#7 posted 04-08-2008 03:26 AM

Do this everyday for 30 days and you’ll be an old pro at this. Good work so far.

-- Bob A in NJ

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 4101 days

#8 posted 04-08-2008 03:36 AM

Whew! Thanks guys. I’m trying hard. The sharp tools are a problem. That’s what I’m working on now. Every time I hit the sharpening station I see where I’m missing the boat. But that’s getting better to. The Kelly Mehler class I’m taking next month should help in this department also.

I’m going to have to look into these links and that coping saw blade. The one I have is pretty large.

Thanks again guys. Will keep you posted!

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

View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 3973 days

#9 posted 04-08-2008 03:36 AM

ya everything looks right. you improve so much every time that you post your results. i wouldn’t doubt it if in another couple of tries your getting them almost flawless. keep up the great work!

View Woodshopfreak's profile


389 posts in 3947 days

#10 posted 04-08-2008 03:51 AM

Looking good. I see that your tails are a little short which would mean that you didn’t layout the lines perfectly, or that you didn’t cut to the line. If you didn’t put the lines in right the first time it is hard to make them look good. I think that if you arn’t useing a scribe to get one or make one like the project that I have posted in my projects. it was really simple to make and is very effective. I myself have the same problems of makeing my tools sharp enough and to make perfect dovetails, but I have amost lost hope, you are very determined, Practice makes perfect right. :) Good luck, and have fun.

-- Tyler, Illinois

View fredf's profile


495 posts in 3915 days

#11 posted 04-08-2008 04:36 AM


If you haven’t already seen Douglas Bordner’s blog of the Scary Sharp system, check this out

-- Fred, Springfield, Ma

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 4101 days

#12 posted 04-08-2008 05:08 AM

Thanks guys. I really appreciate the encouragement. Fred – I’ve seen Doug’s blog. It’s quite good. I have the veritas jig that he describes and it works great. I’ve tried the sandpaper and I’ve not been able to get far with it. Right now I’m trying to use waterstones as that is what will be taught at the woodworking class I’m taking in May. All in all though – I really need to learn to sharpen with one method or another or I’ll forever be having fuzzy, ugly dovetails. But I’m pretty persistent – I’ll keep at it.

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

View Dorje's profile


1763 posts in 4202 days

#13 posted 04-08-2008 07:46 AM

Betsy – so far, so good! Geometry is right on the money -

I second Che’s idea of “the “5-minute dovetail... not quite as overwhelming when cutting one tail and two half pins at a time, and you can do one after the other for lots of practice if you wish. Or even cutting a three tail joint may allow more focus on getting the joint to come together even closer…

Keep it up!

There’s a little video link on the FWW page that’s linked above too…

-- Dorje (pronounced "door-jay"), Seattle, WA

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