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Handcut dovetails in thin stock...

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Blog entry by Cleveland posted 12-15-2011 01:08 AM 1926 reads 1 time favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I am starting a project for my daughter…I am going to attempt to build her a jewelry box out of poplar..I chose poplar because it is inexpensive and did not want my first shot at hand tooling everything to go flophouse with a nicer more expensive wood…I finally got dovetails to mate up perfectly in poplar that is around 3/8’’ thick..I had been practicing on some thicker pine and got to the point that i wanted to jerk my own teeth out..I was taking extra care trying to be precise and make smart cuts and pares….but still no dice…but my first attempt with the poplar…which was considerably smaller and thinner the joint fit perfectly….so i guess the question I need to ask is this….Are dovetails easier to control in thinner stock? Also would it be easier to hand cut this joint in a harder wood seeming my kerf wouldn’t drift as quickly? please flood me with advice and some solid answers to go on !!!

-- Clevo



11 comments so far

View doorslammer's profile

doorslammer

104 posts in 2225 days


#1 posted 12-15-2011 03:50 PM

Yes, dovetails are a little easier to get nicer in thinner stock since any misalignment/out of squarenessi is not amplified as much because of the thin material. Also, hard or soft wood should not have any effect on your saw wanting to drift. If your cut line is drifting it is either your body mechanics or the saw is set stronger on one side. However, dovetails in softer woods will be a bit more forgiving since you can make the fit a little tighter and the fibers are able to compress more than a harder wood.

-- Aaron in TN -http://www.amwellsfurniture.com

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3302 posts in 1310 days


#2 posted 12-15-2011 04:07 PM

Yellow pine is a pain to dovetail. The variable grain density makes your saw want to wander. White pine and poplar is an easier species to work with. Practice with these softer woods, getting your joints to mate sawcut to sawcut, (trust me, it saves time and looks better). Then move up to harder and harder woods (which have less and less margin for error.).

Thinner stock is more forgiving because there is less of a mating surface that has to match, but I suggest you work with normal sized stock for boxes and drawers. I cut my tails first (most days), and transfer may tails to the pinboard with a knife…this help tremendously as long as you cut to the waste side of the line. a fine toothed saw (15tpi and higher) set lightly should track to one side of the knife line almost automatically, you just have to cut straight down.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile

Smitty_Cabinetshop

9918 posts in 1274 days


#3 posted 12-15-2011 04:10 PM

Cleveland, congrats on taking a hand-tooled approach on the gift to your daughter – she’ll love it!

You might have had difficulty in the pine samples because of hard grain lines, but that’s hard to say for sure. It’s one explanation for saw drift. Really, though, unless you’re using a coping saw for straight lines or, as Aaron said above, your saw needs a lighter set on one or the other side, the saw moves where you tell it to go.

Thinner is easier to pare for final fit, sounds like you’ve discovered that. But strive for a fit straight off the saw by knowing (and cutting) astride of your strike lines as appropriate. You’ll get there!

EDIT: Hah! Looks like RG and I hit on the same essentials. :-)

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive

View Cleveland's profile

Cleveland

15 posts in 1011 days


#4 posted 12-15-2011 08:23 PM

Honestly while cutting I stay just kissing the pencil lines…you can still see the marks when the cut is complete.I also use a chisel and create a shoulder for the marks on the end grain…this is the only place i really have any obvious trouble. My saw likes to jump around on the end grain…I’ve cut several more practice pieces with the Poplar and they have all turned out near perfect..(acceptable by all means) anyone got advice on putting in the dadoes for the bottom? only hand tools and I don’t have a router plane…or a rebate plane?

-- Clevo

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile

Smitty_Cabinetshop

9918 posts in 1274 days


#5 posted 12-15-2011 08:26 PM

No plow either, I guess?

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive

View Cleveland's profile

Cleveland

15 posts in 1011 days


#6 posted 12-15-2011 08:57 PM

hahah nope…looking for these tools…and kind of in a hurry…..I’d like to find some older one’s although lie nielsen and veritas make gorgeous tools…I can’t bring myself to spend that kind of money on them….

-- Clevo

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile

Smitty_Cabinetshop

9918 posts in 1274 days


#7 posted 12-15-2011 09:10 PM

I have a SW-vintage #45 that I use for making drawer bottom dado cuts. Getting one of those in a hurry is probably not a good idea, though. Many of them have parts missing, so if you don’t know what to look for it could turn into a hobby all by itself. Mine was without center skate, for example, so I had to get one from the ebay plane parts guy. Then it came without nickers. Then I needed the longer rods. And so on. It’s a happy ending, but the moral of the story is there.

There are some simpler Record ploughs out there, really good for this kind of work. Check for a buy-it-now thing, maybe, or just bite the bullet and get the Veritas plow. I’ve read really fine things about that specific tool of theirs (Veritas Small Plow Plane). You won’t regret it.

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3302 posts in 1310 days


#8 posted 12-15-2011 09:15 PM

One day you may want to . In the mean time, I have two questions. How hard are you pressing down on the saw when you start your cut? It should be almost kissing the wood rather than cutting it, pressing hard just makes the saw skip in the way you describe. the other thing that does this is not having a very smooth end grain surface to work with. Are you smothing you end grain with a block (or shooting board) before you start? You wont always need to do this but when you are starting out it’s helpful to eliminate everything that can throw of your saw.

I use a pencil for whichever half I cut first then transfer with a knife. A dull knife actually works very well here since it leaves a slightly fat line for your saw to track…try it.

As far as Rabet planes go, a stanly 78 is a pretty solid tool that can be found cheaply. Just make sure you do your research so you can check that all the parts are there. I prefer wooden joinery planes myself but they can be more expensive, harder to find, and REALLY easy to mess up.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Cleveland's profile

Cleveland

15 posts in 1011 days


#9 posted 12-15-2011 10:28 PM

not much pressure at all…first drawstoke is fine but the first push stroke is about the only time i have it jump…i plane them down afterwards…so a small kerf isn’t a problem…but a missing sribe line is…I do smooth the end grain with a block plane. and a backer board to keep from tearing out the corners….i feel comfortable that i have arrived at a standard that will serve me well as far as dovetailing…it was just odd to me that the thinner poplar had super tight and straight joints and no gaps but i could not get the same results with the pine practice pieces. I have serched for Record Planes and haven’t had much luck finding them…for sale..got any tips?

-- Clevo

View RGtools's profile

RGtools

3302 posts in 1310 days


#10 posted 12-16-2011 02:37 AM

It really depends on your area. Most guys have good luck on ebay but I don’t. I prefer to haunt antique stores with a hodge podge of vendors. That way I can see what I might buy in the flesh before I fork over any money. But that takes time and luck too.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View BertFlores58's profile

BertFlores58

1646 posts in 1578 days


#11 posted 12-16-2011 11:03 AM

I could not resist to comment on this based on my experience in handcutting dovetail. I don’t have any difference sawing both on hard and soft but you need to decide on how you will cut the base (in between sawn dovetail) with a chisel. Using a router will not have this problem but THE HARDWOOD IS EASIER TO CHISEL CUT RATHER THAN SOFTWOOD. The hardwood holds on not to break but the softwood will tear deeply or be pressed destroying the edges. When I do chiselling, I have to sandwich the stock with the vise plate (also as guide) or a guide block. Here is the link of the video and how to do the thinnest dovetail I ever made by handcutting: MEGAN BOX. Dovetailing is very interesting. Good Luck.

-- Bert

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