So what is it, the ultimate handcut joint? The ultimate joint will require precision, flawless execution and many years of training. Many of us Western woodworkers would probably say the dovetail.
Two weeks ago I had the chance to see one of the best executed examples of handcut dovetails I have ever encountered. It was in a side-area of the flower room of the Meixi village museum. Meixi was a small village in the Pearl river delta, today it is a suburb of Zhuhai, essentially the Northern continuation of the city of Macao.
The Chinese literati had a distinct preference for wired gnarly wood, huang hauli mu (literally yellow flowery pear wood) or zitan (red sandal wood NOT a relative to the ordinary sandal wood), the harder the better, the denser the better and one might tend to think the more difficult to work with the better. But since huang hua li and certainly zitan do not come in large boards, the chests might be made of yu mu (Northern Elm), a favorite softwood of the ancient Chinese.
ince the owner of the village, a wealthy businessman, lived in the village before the late 1840, my guess is that the chests are about 100 to 150 years old. Most likely and typical Chinese tradition the chests are built completely without nails or pegs and none of the joinery has ever seen a drop of glue. Not too bad for a chest that went through the up and downs of modern Chinese history (makes me wonder how many of these chests were used as firewood).
It might be instructive to note that dovetail joints play a minor role in Chinese furniture construction and Chinese woodworkers consider dovetail joints to be one of the easy types of joints.
-- Chris Scholz, Arlington, TX, www.Galoot-Tools.com