Pennsylvania Spice Box for Mom #2: Dovetails - Purists please look away

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Blog entry by SPHinTampa posted 02-20-2012 01:59 AM 3627 reads 2 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Milling Wood and Cutting Parts Part 2 of Pennsylvania Spice Box for Mom series Part 3: Assembling the case and making the feet »

Last session, I managed to rough cut, mill and prep most of the project parts.

This session, I finished gluing up the dividers and cutting the carcase joinery. The divider portion of the project isn’t going to upset anyone so I will walk thru that first.

My intention is to create curly maple interior rather than the veneered approach used in the FWW article. In addition, I am going to use plywood in the interior except for curly maple fronts. First step is take some of the 1/4” curly maple left over from when I resawed the drawer fronts and make a series of 1 1/2” curly maple strips.

I cut all my divider stock from 1/4” (15/64”) maple ply last session. I run blue tape along the underside of the pieces and smear glue on the front face. I also run a bead of glue down the back of each maple strip, using an old plastic hotel room key to spread the glue evenly.

I then run the two joints together until I feel the suction fit and then press down on the tape to hold in place. I stretch 2” strips of tape perpendicular across the joint to clamp in place.

I then lay them out overnight to dry.

For the next step, I pull out the plywood bits to cut grooves for the dividers.

You may have seen that I have an entire INCRA step up, including the wonder fence. However, since my router table is the same height as my table saw, I often use my table saw fence.

The carcase dados are stopped so that the shelf can slide most of the way and then a small notch in the divider covers the dado for the last 1/4”. This lets the shelves sit a little loose in the dados to accommodate wood movement. Since I am cutting both sides on a single router set up (best way to make sure the shelves are parallel, the set up will vary. On one side, I will be laying down the panel on the running router bit after lining the front of the panel with the top piece of blue tape and then pushing the panel all the way forward. For the other side, I push the panel thru the bit and stop when the back edge hits the bottom piece of blue tape.

I am also using plywood for the back panel. I live in Florida (very wet) and I am shipping to Calgary (very dry) so I worried about wood movement and decide to sacrifice tradition for convenience. (boo! hiss! I know). So I cut a groove for the plywood in the back and front.

If Roy Underhilll is reading, this is part when I suggest that he jumps to Lee Valley site and surfs for awhile until I can do the next blog entry. I am going to use the MCLS thru dovetail template to cut the carcase dovetails.

Since it has been a couple of years since I have used these templates, I ran a couple of test boards and the results looked great. However, I had a few problems when it came time to do the real deed. First problem, while the joints were nice and tight in poplar, the setting was too tight in Jatoba. I find this happens when I do the double dovetails on the INCRA as well. If I cut a soft maple side and then a paduak trim pieces, the maple works fine but I need to recut the padauk by shrink the tails by a few 1/1000ths of inch (love the micro adjust). Here I had to readjust the jig as if I was setting up for the first time. I think this is due to the fact that softer woods deform slightly (compress) when I put the joints together but the denser woods will not.

Another item that does not come up when doing test cuts is getting the two pieces to align perfectly. For some reason there is no centering line on these jigs, I use a marking knife to make one (after checking that distance is exactly the same from both sides of the jig. MCLS customer suggestion … mark a center line at the factory.

Clamp the jig to top panel. Align the jig center mark with the centering mark on the carcase side. Mark the thickness of the matching side to set you bit depth.

Then chuck up a 3/4” 14 deg dovetail thru a 5/8 bushing guide. Adjust height to at or slightly below the depth line on your stock. Then carefully cut the tails in your stock. (or is it pins)And it is done.

Then attach other side of jig to side panel and chuck up a 3/8” straight bit thru the bushing.

For those of you that know the jig, you will screaming “STOP”. I screwed up. You always cut with your outer face facing away from the jig. Yes, I cut the pins on going the wrong way … arrrrrrrrrrggggggggggh!

My fix will make you scream louder. Because the dovetails on the panel side are concealed by crown moldings, I cut off the pins and 3/4” of the carcase, glued an off cut from panel glue up back on with biscuits and epoxy. I put the assembly back thru planer and recut. Would have been faster to cut these by hand.

Precision jigs and power tools just enable me to screw up more wood faster than hand tools. The crown molding will hide my error and the fix will be plenty strong for a piece this size. Otherwise I would have had to adjust the dimensions or redo the carcase side. Again, real woodworkers, just look away.

The bottom dovetails are interesting because they are rabbited first to make them only 7/16” high so they can be concealed by the base moldings. In this case, I cut a stopped dado, equal to the width of the carcase sides and a deep as needed to leave 7/16” behind. It is important to remember the correct height when cutting the pins in the sides.

Next session …. assembling the case.

-- Shawn, I ask in order to learn

2 comments so far

View Roger's profile


20928 posts in 2826 days

#1 posted 02-20-2012 01:30 PM

very interesting, nice pic tutorial

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View DocK16's profile


1184 posts in 4109 days

#2 posted 07-01-2012 05:06 PM

micro adjust is the greatest thing since indoor plumbing

-- Common sense is so rare anymore when you do see it, it looks like pure genius.

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