Baby's Cradle #2: Day Two: Shaping the Carcass and Dovetails!

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Blog entry by paratrooper34 posted 11-16-2011 01:40 AM 2308 reads 0 times favorited 1 comment Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Baby's Cradle: A project done completely with hand tools. Part 2 of Baby's Cradle series Part 3: A New Beginning »

Ok, so day two now and big work today. I have the basic form of the cradle down and need to final shape and size all the pieces. So here is how I got it done:

To square up the sides, I fashioned a makeshift shooting board. There is no substitute for a good shooting board and I am absolutely dependent on mine. Do any of you other handtool users use a shooting board much? So I made one for the top of the bench that would accommodate the full width of the carcass pieces. I had a piece of some kind of manufactured board with a really slick plastic coating on it that I used for the base where the plane slides. I got that board in Germany and have no idea what it is, but it makes a nice surface for the plane and it protects the top of my bench. As you can see from yesterday, I didn’t use anything under the plane and it left some minor bruising on my tail vice. No biggie though. My bench is a user, not a showpiece :)

So the two above pictures show how the shooting board turned out and the work I did on it. You will notice in the bottom picture that I had to remove about an 1/8 inch of material from one side. Luckily this wood is pine and 1/8 inch goes pretty quickly. The plane I use for shooting is a Record T-5 that is equipped with an A-2 blade from Veritas. I am not a big fan of A-2 blades as sharpening them is quite a chore. But on a plane used for shooting, the added strength of the A-2 blade means you can go further between sharpenings. The cutting action on a shooting board is very stressful on a blade. Use one with tough steel to avoid resharpening at very frequent intervals. Ask me how I know this.

The sides of the cradle have a slight bevel at the bottom to align with the angled foot and head boards. But before I put the bevel on them, I needed to joint them to get both sides sized the same. Once I had that done, I would put the bevels on the bottom. In this picture you see the jointing with my large 30” old school jointer. I picked up this jointer in a big lot of old hand tools off Craigslist for a song. The jointer is a joy to use. If you never used an old school wooden bodied jointer, give one a try when you can. They are very nice tools. Mine has a slightly cambered blade which is very useful in getting uneven joints square across the width of the joint. See below how well a cambered jointer plane blade works.

The picture is not ready for prime time, but you can still see this joint is dead square.

Here you can see the tiny bevel that is on the bottom of the side pieces. I have no idea what the angle degrees are, I just set my bevel square to the corresponding side and transferred it to the bottom edge.

The #5 plane made quick work of beveling the case. Be sure you keep your bevel gauge set on the mark you transfer to the carcass; you need it to check the bevel when you get it worked down.

With both carcass sides together, I cut the circle detail with a coping saw. I have a cheap coping saw and its low quality struck here. The back side twisted and bit a little further there than on the front. Not too bad, but will require more work with the rasp.

I used an Ulmia #2 cabinet rasp to hog out the rough work left from the coping saw. It was a bit of work. Maybe I will check around and find me a better coping saw! I smoothed the rasp work with a smoother file and will further smooth it once the carcass is assembled.

Last bit of work to the carcass before the joinery begins: I used a block plane to bring both sides to the same size and ensured they were square.

Time to make some dovetails!!!

Laying out the tail side first. Yes, I do tails first. For me, it is easier. I use a Veritas dovetail gauge, a .5 mm mechanical pencil, and a marking gauge with a knife blade to mark the base of the joint. I use pencil on the tails. I use a knife to transfer the tails to the pin board. The marking gauge is self-made, you can see it on “My Projects”.

You need a nice crisp line here. Make sure the blade in the marking gauge is sharp and the bevel facing the waste side of the cut. Because you are working cross-grain with this mark, you should use a blade type marking gauge. One with a pin (especially if it is sharpened to a circular type tip) will work, but the knife blade leaves a cleaner mark.

Here you see the tails are laid out and ready for some saw action. The baseline is cut on all four sides here. I do not mark anything on the back except for the base line. Cut the top line (on the end grain) while simultaneously starting the line down the front. Once those two cuts are established, the saw will follow the rest of the way to establish the back side cut. But before you start cutting:

Take a few minutes and practice on some scrap wood. This gets you warmed up by sawing in the same wood to get a feel for it. It also gives you the chance to develop some fresh muscle memory as you feel the saw at the angles you will be cutting at. Get the cut square front to back on the end grain side and follow the pencil line to the base. When you can do that comfortably, move on to the real thing.

Here you can see the cuts made with the small LN Dovetail saw and then the start of waste removal between the tails. Notice the small “X”s in the waste area between the tails on the end grain. I highly suggest you mark the waste to avoid cutting the wrong area. I know, I know… could you not keep this straight???? Trust me, I got lost in the mundane cutting of a bunch of tails one day and cut the wrong side. No matter what I did to fix that, it showed and I threw the piece away. I always mark now, always.

After chopping out the waste between the tails with a sharp chisel, I transferred the tail placement to the pin board. I used a marking knife that is also sharp. Start by making the marking cuts with very slight pressure and a few subsequent marks with increasing pressure. This keeps the mark more accurate and reduces the risk of the blade following a grain line out of the intended mark.

Here the waste is being chopped out from the pins. A sharp chisel is critical here. When I got all of the waste out, I trimmed a couple of rough spots out in the corners of the pins and tails and the two mated together the first time with no adjustment necessary. This was due to careful layout and careful cutting. I am not a master of this joint by any stretch, which is why I took my time an made calculated cuts each and everytime I used the saw. Trust me, if I can do this, you can too. Next “episode” will be more dovetail pictures to capture some details not here today and then carcass fitment. Stay tuned!

-- Mike

1 comment so far

View RussInMichigan's profile


600 posts in 2809 days

#1 posted 11-16-2011 04:32 AM

Thanks again.

Your second installment was as good as the first.

I’m really enjoying this hand build.

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