Learning to cut through dovetails and tenons

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Blog entry by HungryTermite posted 03-14-2011 04:42 PM 3176 reads 1 time favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

If you read my earlier post on making my own Dowel Nuts then I think I figured out what I did. After reading my own post I think what happened was this… I tapped the threads in the brass while the brass was still warm from drilling the pilot holes and after the bar cooled off completely the hole size shrunk just a hair and that was what made the threads tight. I also noticed that the threads on the bolts were not in the best shape so I chased the threads in the brass with a tap and chased the threads on the bolts with a die and then tried the two again and this time I was able to give the nuts one hit with my finger and they spun almost all the way down. That’s more like it! Of course now I lose the advantage of having the tight threads so I will add a lock washer under the head of the bolt when I install it.

And, in a final fit of sillyness when it comes to these bolts, I decided I didn’t like how shiny the bolts were and I thought they would be out of place on my bench. Had I thought of this before I bought the bolts I would not have purchased stainless steel bolts and instead would have bought plain steel or something that I could have used some bluing agent on. Since I did have stainless bolts I sanded them down and painted them with some oil rubbed bronze enamel paint. I like the color but I wasn’t paying any attention and I didn’t notice that it was a metal flake paint. I could do without the metal flakes but they are small and not noticeable from any distance that most people will see the bolts from.

Next up was to learn how to cut the combined through dovetail and through tenon for the joint between the legs and the top. Happily, I did my 1st attempt on a piece of scrap and I wish I had enough scrap to cut a few more practice pieces. Cutting to a line by hand is still not something I am good at but I don’t have any power tools I thought I could use to make this cut. I thought about the drill press and I suppose I could have used that to remove the waste between the dovetail and the tenon but eventually I was going to have to cut something by hand so I decided all the extra cutting would be some much needed practice and made the whole joint by hand.

One thing I learned was that my 16” tenon saw wasn’t deep enough to make the cuts! At this point I still have about an inch to go! You can also probably see that I am cutting at an angle since the waste side of the cut is not square.

Normally I don’t like my Ryoba for deep cuts but since I had already made a kerf with the tenon saw I was able to use the Ryoba for the last inch successfully. The kerf on the Ryoba was only a few thousandths thicker than the tenon saw so it actually worked out ok, at least when my cuts were straight. Somehow I keep managing to cut a curved kerf which makes cutting with both saws difficult but since the Ryoba lacks a spine it is slow going.

I found that I had the hardest time cutting the faces of the dovetails in a straight line. Cutting the tenons out wasn’t as bad but I tend to wander off to the right of my lines. I used the method that Chris Schwarz demonstrated when he was on Roy Underhill's show and I think that made a world of difference in how well I perform the cuts. Prior to that I had no chance of pulling this off. Changing my grip on the saw and my stance has helped a lot with drifting off to the right. Here is the test piece with waste removed:

With a little bit of confidence I approached one of the rear legs as my first victim. I figure by the time I get to the front legs that will be two more joints under my belt and will help the front look all that much better. The first cut was to remove the waste on the back side of the tenon. Much to my surprise, this went surprisingly well. Just a little chisel work to clean up some humps but otherwise fairly straight.

Next I cut the two dovetail faces and then made the two cuts between the dovetail and the tenon. Now, I probably could have drilled a hole so when my saw reached the bottom of these cuts most of the waste fell out but I actually thought it was fun (and tiring) to knock out the waste with a chisel. Here is the foolish way to do it:

I quickly wisened up and realised if I made a few cuts down on the baseline that I could just split the end grain and pop out nice sized chunks very easily. This was a nice benefit of using quartersawn stock for the legs:

After all that I had a decent looking jointl. It does need a fair amount of chisel work I think. My cuts were not really very straight and are probably not truly vertical. The trick now is to clean them up without removing too much wood.

While I was at it I decided this would be a good time to clean up the mortises for the stretchers as well:

I also started the other back leg. My cuts on this one showed a marked improvement. My final cut with the tenon saw was straight and only angled off my line by a hair. I was quite pleased with myself on that one. I do wish I had the scrap to keep practicing before I cut the front legs. I can’t practice the actual joints but I think I will find some scrap and just cut along some lines to at least practice cutting down straight. The challenge for me is cutting along both a side and a top at the same time.

-- Good Judgement Comes From Experience. Experience Comes From Bad Judgement.

3 comments so far

View Maveric777's profile


2693 posts in 3100 days

#1 posted 03-14-2011 06:45 PM

If there is one thing I get from your blogs on this project is the fact you are enjoying yourself making this journey. Now that is what it is all about.

-- Dan ~ Texarkana, Tx.

View dub560's profile


615 posts in 2936 days

#2 posted 03-14-2011 07:10 PM

that’s not learning man, you are excelling at this

-- Life is enjoyable especially when you borrow from people

View HungryTermite's profile


90 posts in 3072 days

#3 posted 03-15-2011 03:13 AM

@Maverick: Couldn’t agree more.

@ dub: Thanks!

-- Good Judgement Comes From Experience. Experience Comes From Bad Judgement.

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