For several months I’ve been trying to master the elusive dovetail joint. The only thing I’ve been able to create is a whole lot of firewood kindling. It’s been a frustrating and trying experience. I’ve read many tutorials, reviewed the Pins first or Tails first debate. Looked at ways and jigs to keep the cuts in the correct plane and alternative methods to clear out the waste material. My joints were always too loose, too tight, not lined up correctly and nothing I tried gave nice clean, straight and sharp shoulders, there were always gaps. Determined that one day I would figure this out, I kept on looking for the solution to my quest, the holy grail of woodworking joints … the dovetail.
I’ve started a new project, a small secretary roll top desk. It has a single pencil drawer in the base and a few small drawers in the roll top area. I looked at options for making the drawer joints but kept coming back to the conclusion that this project really demands dovetails. I remembered that Shannon Rogers (The Renaissance Woodworker http://rogersfinewoodworking.com ) had a video podcast called Olympic Dovetails that I’d not yet watched. I watched it through and thought, ok this is a method I’ve not yet tried. Doing everything with a dovetail saw and chisels to clear the waste. I’d tried the bandsaw, fret saw and other methods but just chisels only … it was worth a shot but it would require really sharp chisels not the ones I normally use that pretty much only dent the wood.
I’d recently purchased a WorkSharp 3000 for the purpose of maintaining my turning tools. It was very good at that but now I needed to try it with my chisels. They needed to be razor sharp for this to work.
In a short time I had my chisels so sharp I could shave with them. Yes I actually tried the “shaving the hair off your arm” trick to test sharpness. It worked, now I have to explain the bald spot on my forearms :-)
Next I had Shannon’s video on my Apple iPad sitting on the work bench. I followed him step by step through the process. It was pretty easy when you have a master showing you the way. I must admit it was quite enjoyable using the ultra sharp chisels, the wood waste was pared out from the tails and between the pins like I was cutting butter. Shannon had a trick of angling the chisel slightly to avoid damaging the shoulder. This also created an undercut to ensure a tight fit, it worked perfectly. Watch the video for a better explanation, here is a link http://tinyurl.com/32ed4au
Then the moment of truth, everything looked good so I put the joint together and … you guessed it … nothing lined up. I was about to toss it aside as yet another failed attempt when I realized I had inserted the wrong set of pins into the tails … duh! I flopped them around and stood there in amazement. Not only did everything line up but the fit was perfect, not a single gap and tight enough to need to be tapped together by hand yet not too tight so they could be easily knocked apart again. It was a thing of beauty. I had done it finally, a perfect dovetail joint. Thanks to Shannon, The Renaissance Woodworker at my side and a very sharp set of chisels.
-- Jim in Langley BC Canada --- www.sollows.ca