I wasn’t planning on doing dovetails as the next step in my apartment hand tool curriculum because frankly I wasn’t ready. My saw lines were still crooked, my box joints in the last project sucked, and I was still struggling with impatience when pairing joints with my chisel. Yet time was scarce, and I couldn’t wait any more to take a stab at the much celebrated and feared joint. I decided to cut my first dovetails, and in the process make what turned out to be an awkwardly sized “pencil holder.”
Having recently acquired my first plane (a LN 62) as well as some second hand pine boards, I picked the most warped and bowed one to practice some planning. I cut up the board into manageable sizes (mostly determined by the plane unfriendly knots) and did my best to plane some sense into the bends and warps.
Next up was using my newly constructed shooting board which I had struggled earlier to make more square (still isn’t perfect).
Then the artistic step came, how to arrange the face patterns. I didn’t have much insight here so I tried to keep the grain continuous around the box. The most important step I stumbled onto here was labeling the matching corners which helped me avoid a lot of mistakes when it was time for cutting.
Finally, it was time for laying out the actual dovetails. I think I picked an 80/10 degree angle, it looked dovetail-y and didn’t seem too far off from other recommendations for softwood.
Next, cut them!
I don’t have a coping saw (yet), and so all the waste had to be chiseled out.
Now it’s worth mentioning that I like being a good neighbor, so I don’t hammer my chisels, it’s all gentle pairing using my body weight and arms. This is a slow process, and led to more impatience which inevitably lead to a lot of tear out. I had to slow things down. I put on some soft meditative music and cut up some summer peach, and continued through the night.
At the end there were 12 dovetails. I wish I could say that each one was better than the last, but alas, there was no rhyme or reason to their quality. Out of all 12, I think the first one was the best. Most suffered from tear out, bad saw cuts, impatient chiseling, or bad layout. Honestly, the fact that they came together at all was quite satisfying.
Side story: After my last blog entry on my LN, I admitted I was worried about sharpening such a nice new blade with my non-existant experience. Fellow SF lumberjock shampeon offered to give me his old Stanley block plane so I have something I feel better experimenting with and learning how to sharpen. I was floored by his generosity and took him up on the offer (thanks again!). It’s a old Stanley 220 he had gotten in an ebay batch, and it felt great in the hand. I cleaned it up as best I could following online guides, the sole and sides looked to be still very flat and in good shape. The blade itself needed some work though. The bed angle I believe was quite high (25 degrees—maybe someone can tell me if this is accurate for a 220?), so after some nail biting I chose a (primary) bevel angle of 20. Using a honing guide, protractor, and 1000/4000 combination waterstone I spent more than an hour grinding away the dull blade. It definitely made a difference.
The sound, the feel, it was a joy to use. Tuning it, and seeing the difference showed me why so many people become obsessed with vintage planes (I put in an order for Garret Hack’s book after this ;)
Back to the dovetail box. For the bottom I figured I’d get more practice, so I used some (too) thin hobby Alder board. As you can see, besides the poor sawing and chiseling, I accidentally (I have no recollection) chopped off one of the tails—even after X-ing out only the waste! Ugh. A permanent reminder to stay focused. This of course led to a 19 dovetailed box.
Another gratuitous shot of the Stanley in action—3 tails, 3 curls. Too much fun.
Next was prep for glue, and the actual glue up.
At this point I learned a little about gluing and sanding the joinery gaps, this ended up making a big difference in the final appearance. And finally, with help from the lumberjock finishing forum, I shellaced it with 3 coats and a final paste wax finish—my first finish.
I was pretty happy with the end result considering all the firsts I went through. Thanks for reading!
-- "As I’ve said to myself many times before: Try to live the way you are, be the person in your work that you are in the rest of your life. Easy to say!” - James Krenov