Workbench Build #9: Bittersweet Dovetails

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Blog entry by JL7 posted 06-17-2011 02:49 AM 3837 reads 0 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 8: Still Dovetailing...... Part 9 of Workbench Build series Part 10: Lots of holes drilled..... »

If you caught my previous post – I cut my first (ever) dovetails into the right end of the apron, which is the tail vice end.

First – I appreciate all the great comments from that post – and I want to thank superdave for alot of the inspiration to even attempt this…......There are ALOT of inspiring posts on this site, but I happened upon Daves posts (and links) with hand tools and they just kind of hit home.

So – the sweet part of this post…........

For the left end of the apron I decided to improve my chances of success by reducing the tail thickness to ~3/4”:

And the pins:

This turned out to be a good decision (I think) becasue the final fit is defineatly better than the right side – and quite honestly, better than I really expected with my lack of any practical experience – this is a dry fit:

Clearly not perfect – but it will do – I’m pretty happy with the result. The tails are still a bit proud of the pins, but I will adjust that on the final assembly – they are so tight I really want to limit how many times I have to test fit.

And the bitter part…............

I should have put the tails on the end cap and the pins on the front apron so the front vice would have a nice consistant flat face, without endgrain. It dawned on me the next day, I think I was driving to work, saying, you dumb#$@.

Sometimes I get so caught up with symmetry and balance – that common sense goes right out the door…........

Anyways – the nicest dovetails on the bench will now be covered by the vice face – or I move the vice face inward to the center of the bench to eliminate using the endgrain space.

Here are a couple of photos with the vice face on top of the bench (in 2 alternate mounting locations)....what do you think?

I know there is a cutting board club going on here, not sure of a dovetail club. I have no interest in becoming a member of the dovetail club and therefore – I am not planning on re-doing this mistake – so I live with it…......

As always – learned alot – and always appreciate the input…..


-- Jeff .... Minnesota, USA

13 comments so far

View blackcherry's profile


3338 posts in 3851 days

#1 posted 06-17-2011 02:59 AM

The dovetail came out splendid, by using the same material and scarping some fine shaving with a card scraper and mixing with some hide glue you can fill in the small gaps and watch these cat eyes disappear. As far as the tail and pin mishap we can only caulk it up to experience. Great work over all and best of all your in business will a real mans bench, congrats and happy woodworking…BC

View SPalm's profile


5320 posts in 3910 days

#2 posted 06-17-2011 03:04 AM

Ha. Don’t you love this learning by doing stuff?
I just came up from the shop after cutting the tapers on some legs on the wrong sides. I think I said some of the same words you did. Arrgh.

I don’t know what to tell you. I guess you can cover the dovetails, because they are just supposed to be there for strength. Ha. Move the vise to the right.

You are doing just fantastical, so don’t listen to me,

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View kenn's profile


810 posts in 3748 days

#3 posted 06-17-2011 03:29 AM

I should post a pictue of my first dovetails but I’m too ashamed to share them. They still sit above my shop door as a reminder of how far I’ve come. I’d never have the guts to put the first ones on an actual project but yours look fine. As for the vise placement, either one works. If the pins are causing problems, you’ll just trim them back flush. Put it where you think it looks best becuase you’ll not have any functional difference. Me? I’d put it to the left, flush.

-- Every cloud has a silver lining

View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 2868 days

#4 posted 06-17-2011 03:40 AM

I have done the same thing on a bench I made. Now a lesson I have learned – when sketching out a project, make some grain and end grain marks and think about the results of the joinery. I hate it when I build it the joinery is very nice, then I have to redesign because of my mistake.

The tails are very nice;)

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View PurpLev's profile


8536 posts in 3677 days

#5 posted 06-17-2011 03:41 AM

actually you did the dovetails how they are meant to be – the tails on the apron, and the pins on the end cap and there is a reason for that – the physics of doing it this way is that the end cap is kept from coming off as the tails keep it pulled into the table. if it was the other way around (as you think you should have done it) then there would be a theoretical chance for the end cap to simply come off… not really how it should be done.

So – you actually did well, and it looks good too, so pat yourself on the shoulder and don’t sweat it.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View JL7's profile


8667 posts in 2993 days

#6 posted 06-17-2011 03:42 AM

Hey BC – I’ve never tried the hide glue – but will look into it….excuse my igorance – but I’m not sure what the cat eyes are? I am still kind of a newbie – and everytime you think you’ve conquered a subject – you realize you have miles to go.

Steve – SORRY to hear about the legs – I kind of feel better now (sorry). On this particular project, I just decided to post the good, bad and ugly. The reality is , I make mistakes on virtually every project I’ve attempted. Will this ever end? :)

Kenn – Thanks for the input – you are right – the vice needs to be flush to the left – and that is likely what will happen.

Always appreciate the input – thanks


-- Jeff .... Minnesota, USA

View JL7's profile


8667 posts in 2993 days

#7 posted 06-17-2011 04:02 AM

Hey Dave – I guess it’s confession time tonight for the joinery….I am going to live with it either way and it will be fine…..thanks for input!

PurpleLev – I really appreciate the confidence booster! Here is the rest of the story – the bench top is loosely based on “The Essential Workbench” from Fine Woodworking. I have the CD, but when printing the plans they come out fuzzy and are hard to read. The plans don’t actually cover this topic (of where to put the pins and tails) but the photo (fuzzy mind you) may suggest that I did it wrong. and in my mind I defineately did it wrong.

The endcaps are intended to be glued toward the front of the bench and will use 2 bench bolts (middle and rear) to keep them snug.

So there is really no logical way they will work loose if I did the pins and tails opposite of what I did.

But I do appreciate the input.


-- Jeff .... Minnesota, USA

View fernandoindia's profile


1081 posts in 2972 days

#8 posted 06-17-2011 04:30 AM

Hi Jeff,

I am also a symmetrical guy. So I suppose I would have done the same.

Should you have done the joints as you think you should have done them, and the day after tomorrow you decide to add a plane stop to the end cap, you would have also hided the joints.

Agree with Sharon. You actually did well, and those tails looks good too.

So I would move the vise to the right a couple of inches.

In any case, why do the vise need to be flush to the side? People with nice legs wear skirts. So you workbench

-- Back home. Fernando

View JL7's profile


8667 posts in 2993 days

#9 posted 06-17-2011 04:42 AM

Hey Fernando – interesting viewpoint – and again another confidence booster for me! Very good points and also good points for Sharon’s post.

Is that your bench in the photo or ??? Always interested in more info.

So now I am leaning toward moving the vice to the right!

Compared to my nightmare called “work” these decisions are actually much funner….

Thanks Fernando!....oh and nice skirt comment…:)


-- Jeff .... Minnesota, USA

View Luke's profile


290 posts in 2715 days

#10 posted 06-17-2011 08:22 AM

Jeff I did the opposite by accident and about lost it when I stepped back and looked at my bench. I was so happy that they were coming out well I didn’t stop to think of which end I was cutting. Turns out I got lucky and they were right for the pressure that would be applied to the table. But now, I double or triple check the stock I am working on, and I STILL make more mistakes than I do things right.

View fernandoindia's profile


1081 posts in 2972 days

#11 posted 06-17-2011 04:53 PM

Hey Fernando …Is that your bench in the photo or ?

No Jeff, it´s not. I haven´t got one yet. Still investigating for a bowling lane down here :)

The photo is from a page detailing a Roubo bench building

-- Back home. Fernando

View tsangell's profile


216 posts in 2721 days

#12 posted 06-18-2011 05:17 AM

Plane the tails in flush and you will have a pretty, flat surface.

Looking good!

View JL7's profile


8667 posts in 2993 days

#13 posted 06-18-2011 05:45 AM

Luke – I think this post is proof that you can do things wrong and they can still be right…...

Fernado – If you were closer – I would gladly give a chunk of bowling lane – I have one left…...:) Thats a cool looking bench – looking forward to seeing yours one of these days! I bet your thinking about it…....

tsangell – will defineately smooth her down – thanks!

Appreciate the all the comments!


-- Jeff .... Minnesota, USA

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