Baby's Cradle #4: Dovetails and Fitting (And just a little bit of swearing!)

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Blog entry by paratrooper34 posted 03-04-2012 11:39 PM 7666 reads 0 times favorited 1 comment Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: A New Beginning Part 4 of Baby's Cradle series Part 5: Down the Home Stretch and the Finish Line! »

Well, I got the four sides cut and squared and shaped. The next step was to start the dovetail cutting for the joinery. I decided to go against my traditional ways and cut the pins first instead of the tails. I always cut tails first since I started hand joinery and figured I was doing just fine with that. But I took a look at all of my projects that I did with dovetails and took mental notes each time I did that process and decided that my work could be better; the joints done with more precision. I always used a marking knife to mark pins and tails and I always felt that I wasn’t making cuts exactly where I should have been. When I make scribes with the knife across long grain, I can use a chisel to carve out a channel to guide my saw, but that seems impractical on end grain. So I watched some videos and did some practice work and decided my improvement needed to happen with two changes: start using a pencil to mark cutting lines and start cutting pins first.

After the work I did this weekend, I am still not perfect, but I definitely made a major improvement in dovetail joinery. Of all the dovetails on the cradle, I only had to trim one fat tail to allow assembly of the sides. The rest all fit on the first try. And without using the BFH!!! My work is much more accurate. The only flaws I have in the joints were points where I strayed off the cutting line with the dovetail saw. And it doesn’t take a lot of straying to leave a minute gap which, for me, is easy to pick out. But I believe I have found my way with this joint and will now strive for perfection now that I know what works for me.

So the sides, head , and foot pieces are done and rough shaped and the first step I took from there was to mark the depth of the shoulders of the joinery. I used my marking gauge with the blade to mark with. I have grown pretty fond of the markings of the joinery and I make sure mine are at a depth which is enough so they won’t be removed when I smooth the pieces. I like how it looks when it is completed. Here are some pics of the marking process.

Here is sawing and chopping the pin sides. Once I had them chopped out, I made sure they were square across the width to prevent fitment issues. I also took some time to get the insides smoothed while the carcass is apart.

Here is how I marked the tail sides once the pins were complete. For me, this is much easier than trying to fit a knife in the voids between tails, especially when some of them can be very narrow. With the pins already cut, I have a large area to mark out the tails. I placed the tail side flush with the end of the workbench and used my holdfasts to keep it secure. I then took a 3” x 2 1/2” scrap that I made sure was square on two sides, and placed it on top of the tail board. I then clamped the pin board to that and made sure it was also flush with the side of the bench. This setup allowed me mark the tails accurately and without worrying about them shifting while marking.

After I got all the dovetails cut, I realized the foot board was a little tall. So I decided I would cut a shape in the top of it that is different than what I wanted (and different from the final shape as seen in upcoming pictures) Well, after i cut the shape, I was not happy with it. This is where the swearing comes in! I should have known not to stray from my personal mantra of K.I.S.S., but I did and it cost me. I ended up having to make a totally new foot board. Here is a pic of how I shaped the arc on it, which is the shape I really like for this project.

Once all the joinery was complete, I test fit the carcass. It is definitely sized right this time, plenty of room for a newborn to sleep in.

Once the carcass was fitted (but not glued) I moved it to the saw benches to work on fairing the bottom. In the first picture, you can see how the angles of the sides had to be matched to the bottom surface and be square with the ends. I used a #5 to do this work. The third picture is one of the sides squared up.

I then glued up the bottom panel and once the glue dried, I cut it to rough length and squared it up on the shooting board. It is still about a 1/16” long and the sides need to get faired down even with the sides of the carcass, but I will leave the final planing until I nail the bottom on. I plan on nailing it in place using old school cut nails from Tremont Nail Company.

The last thing I did for the weekend was to rough cut the rockers for the bottom. I decided to use a hardwood for these to stand up to what I hope will be some serious rocking action. I am using some quarter sawn red oak I just picked up. The color is lighter than the butternut but not so much as to make a stark visual difference. I cut the board to length on my bench, seeing as the saw benches were tied up. I am not a big fan of sawing boards to length on my bench and probably need to either build a couple more saw benches to help out with tasks like you see pictured above or maybe invest in a Black and Decker Workmate or two. I do like the saw benches. After I cut the board to length, I ripped the rockers using my bandsaw and then squared them up using a jointer plane. And that is all until next weekend!

-- Mike

1 comment so far

View FirehouseWoodworking's profile


706 posts in 3271 days

#1 posted 03-05-2012 12:03 AM

Nicely done!


-- Dave; Lansing, Kansas

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