While the pieces for the back were clamped / glued up, I spent some time practicing hand cut through dovetails for my next project. I had cut some where between 6 – 12 single tail practice dovetails off an on over the past 6 months or so. I’d never tried cutting an actual “set”; as in more than one tail and at least 3 pins (counting 2 half pins).
Well after cutting a practice set, I decided that the only way I was ever going to get any good at them was to use them more; not just in practice, but to commit to using them in a real project.
Here’s picture of my practice set:
Originally, my cabinet was going to be built using plans from a recent issue of ShopNotes. The plans called for the carcass joinery to be through tenons and dados. Here is a link to the ShopNotes website with a picture to show what their cabinet looked like.
The ShopNotes cabinet is a great looking cabinet, no doubt, but a big part of me wanted to make the case using dovetails now. I guess I was finding my Krenovian muse without realizing it.
I like the look of pins that aren’t too small, which meant I’d be limited to only two tails…but I wanted to do something different than just two equally sized tails. So, I decided to use one larger tail and one smaller tail. I positioned the larger tail toward the back of the cabinet. I can’t explain why exactly, but I felt that this just “felt” better visually as far as weighting the cabinet’s aesthetic. With the larger tail in the front, it would have looked awkward.
I cut the tails first. After sawing the sides of the tails, I tried removing the pin-waste from the tail boards a couple different ways in order to find which method worked best for me. Since the two cabinet sides offered four sets of tails, I figured it would give me a chance to try each of the three methods I had in mind and then finally use my favorite method to clean up the last set.
First, I tried cutting the bulk of the waste out with a coping saw, then paring the remainder at the shoulder line. On the opposite end of that carcass side, I tried drilling out most of the waste and then paring to handle the final clean up. On the third set, I chopped the waste out with a chisel the way I’d seen Roy Underhill do it in the tool chest till episode of the Wood Wright’s Shop this past season. You chop out a good chunk of the waste and pair the last bit up to the shoulder line; as with the other methods. The chopping method was my favorite and I found it to be the fastest for me personally. I used this method on the final set of tails at the other end of the second carcass side.
I used my tail boards to layout my pins and cut the cheeks with the my LV dovetail saw. I then chopped out the tail-waste on the pin board using the same method that I used on the last two sets of tails. Of course, I had to angle the chisel to prevent from cutting into the sides of the sloping tails. The dovetails came together pretty close at first, but did require a little bit of paring to get them to come together tightly without having to break out a big mallet to whack them into place.
After a quick dry-fit, I got busy cutting out the dados / grooves to hold the cabinet back. I don’t have a plow plane (yet). So, I had to figure out a way to do this with the tools I had. First, I scored the sides to define the dado with a mortising gauge. Next, I used a 1/4” chisel (the width of the dado / groove) and a small shop-made mallet to chop out the first 1/8” or so of the depth. After that, I used my marking knife to score the side lines deeper and got to the heavy whacking to chop out the bulk of the waste. I used a combination square to continually check to see when I got to my desired depth.
Once it was within 1/16”, I turned the chisel bevel down and used shoulder pressure to “shave” the groove to get a consistent somewhat-smooth depth. After I was done getting the dados / grooves chopped out of all four carcass pieces, I did one more dry fit of the cabinet to double check my dado depths.
While it was together, I placed the tools inside to get an idea of how they would fit and what it might look like. I moved them around a few times until I got the layout that I liked.
After this, I glued the cabinet up and clamped it for the night. The next day, I planed the tails and pins flush using my LV LA jack plane. I absolutely LOVE this plane. It is literally in my hand every day that I’m in the shop.