Dovetails #1: A Comedy of Errors

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Blog entry by stroml posted 03-29-2012 04:51 PM 1943 reads 1 time favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Dovetails series Part 2: Another (Improved) Hacksaw Attempt »

Armed with this,

and this,

and these,

I decided to try and see if I had what it took to do some hand joinery. My ultimate goal is to build a set of natural wood guitar head and speaker cabs for my own custom built amp, which also happens to be my first guitar amp electronics project. I was concerned that I was getting a little too interested in gathering nice, expensive tools rather than working on skills, so I set out there to make due with what I had.

I’m still a newb, so I actually have no idea what kind of wood this is, but I’m sure it’s been sitting around for quite a while and had time to “mature”, so to speak. Is there such a species as Scrap?

First order of business was to cut some practice blocks out of this wood with a table saw. Cheating, I know, I know! But I have to start with something that’s straight right?

So here we have it, 2 pieces of mystery wood (pine?). Let the journey begin!

I have to preface this by saying that my previous woodworking experience was about 15 years ago in my middle school industrial tech class. We had band saws, belt sanders, drill presses, and all sorts of handy dandy devices. Unfortunately, I have no such tools, nor do I remember anything about what I learned in that class. So today, instead of well-oiled machines, I have from my random tool collection:
  • cheap hacksaw
  • rusty Craftsmen chisel
  • marking nail
  • elementary school ruler
  • safety goggles
  • hammer
  • ghetto bench vise, obviously not for woodworking

Here’s a closeup of how finely tuned my tools are today.

Notice the set(side to side offset of the blade?) of the hacksaw and the rust on the chisel? What you probably can’t see is that the chisel has some chips on the cutting edge…oh well, a good woodworker never blames his tools, right?

First order of business is to start cutting the tails. Using my trusty marking nail and hacksaw, which I reversed to a pull stroke, I came up with some mediocre to decent results.

Not bad! This almost looks like the video. Hooray! I can do this afterall!. Well, aside from the fact that the back cuts are not the same depth, but I digress.

Next up, chisel the waste. Simple right? All I have to do is tap this on the line on both sides and it should pop right out!

Holy crap, I’m doing it! I can taste victory now. Wait, what’s that little crack starting to form? Uh oh…

Welllp, looks like we’re doing 2, not 3, dovetails today. I continue to chisel, I’m pouring a lot of hard work into this…dangit, another crack.

And another.

At this point, I was pretty much ready to throw in the towel. These tools suck! I don’t consider myself a good woodworker yet, so I can blame my tools if I want to :P

Unlike any sane, dejected person, I decide to cut another piece from the scrap board and start over. This time though, I’ve ditched the flat head screwdri…chisel and just hacked my way through the waste.

Ok, at least the wood didn’t split this time. That’s a positive. Now for the tails.

Victory! Kinda. This particular hacksaw was probably not meant for precision joinery, and the blade kept twisting and curving along the wood instead of going vertical. Probably a combination of bad technique and bad choice of tools, but whatever, I’m so close!

Let’s see, a few more “refinements” with the hacksaw, and I’m ready to give it a test fit. Here we go.

It may not be pretty, but it resembles a dove tail, and it holds on to itself.

So there you have it, my first woodworking and dovetail experience. Even though it looks like poo poo, I’m still proud of myself for trying, and now I can only wonder how much I can improve on this before I decide to go on with my guitar amp project.

You think I should get some better tools?

-- Strom

11 comments so far

View SugarbeatCo's profile


142 posts in 2347 days

#1 posted 03-29-2012 05:05 PM

Lmao, this whole thread made laugh, thanks, I needed it

-- Always one more tool away from being an excellent woodworker...

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3975 days

#2 posted 03-29-2012 05:26 PM

Strom – it looks like you have more problems than dovetails—- someone wants to be your girlfriend!

All kidding aside – keep at it, you’ll get it. It certainly took courage to show your adventure through the dovetail maze – but I enjoyed the read and look forward to more.

(P.S. – I would’nt recommend responding to Julie) ;-)

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View stroml's profile


21 posts in 2333 days

#3 posted 03-29-2012 05:32 PM

Thanks Betsy, I’ll make sure not to give my bank acct # to Julie ;)

SugarbeatCo, I’m glad you liked the read. It was too funny for me not to post my first foray into woodworking.

-- Strom

View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 2564 days

#4 posted 03-29-2012 07:30 PM

New tools might help, sure, but no need to get crazy just yet. A new chisel, coping saw, and a thin blade dovetail saw can be found at just about any big box store without blowing big bucks.

You’ll need to know how to sharpen up the new chisel, though. The wood you’re using looks like pine. And it’s actually harder to do clean chisel work on soft woods than on the hard stuff. The softer fibers will just crush under a slightly dull edge, so your chisel needs to be crazy sharp to get good cuts.

-- Brian Timmons -

View Rha7's profile


21 posts in 2587 days

#5 posted 03-29-2012 08:13 PM

Well… ehem…. I thought I was a very lousy newbie wood worker, my self-esteem just got inflated haha.

Hehe just kidding, nice try!, I’ve never tried it, but I will this weekend and share it with you so you can get your payback joke hehe :)

-- Gabriel Medina, Juárez, México, formerly, "The greatest border of all".

View Everett1's profile


213 posts in 2613 days

#6 posted 03-29-2012 08:38 PM

i’ve only tried in practice, then i found a 24inch leigh jig on craigslist for 80 bucks

This post was hillariious, but i love looking back and seeing how crusty I did things on earlier projects and how far i’ve come

-- Ev in Framingham, MA

View GrandpaLen's profile


1651 posts in 2351 days

#7 posted 03-30-2012 03:09 PM


Your determination is commendable.

There was a time, before the refinement of modern day tools, and their availability at nearly every hardware and Big Box Store, that an idea such as yours would have been encouraged and with time and patience, your tools would have been enough to see this to fruition, albeit a sharp chisel would be in order. ;-)

Play Safe and DON’T throw in the towel.

-- Mother Nature should be proud of what you've done with her tree. - Len ...just north of a stone's throw from the oHIo, river that is, in So. Indiana.

View stroml's profile


21 posts in 2333 days

#8 posted 03-30-2012 04:10 PM

Thanks Len! Gonna give it another go with this set of tools, though I have a coping saw and a cheap dozuki on the way.

-- Strom

View DocSavage45's profile


8650 posts in 2922 days

#9 posted 03-31-2012 02:21 AM

Cut on the inside of the scored line. Learn how to sharpen a chisel, and keep it sharp. LOL More accidents happen with dull tools than sharp ones Hey you learned something and got rid of something laying around the shop!

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View GrandpaLen's profile


1651 posts in 2351 days

#10 posted 03-31-2012 06:05 PM


If you are going to use your hack saw on your next attempt, tighten the blade to remove as much deflection as possible and that will help keep it from wandering off the line quite as bad.

Your tenacious quest to accomplish this task with what tools you have on hand puts a smile on my face that reminds me of the look on my Grandfather’s face when I was about 10 yrs. old and would try to reinvent a common procedure in his woodshop.

Keep thinking ‘outside the box’ and apply that to your future wood project designs and we’ll be here to enjoy them.

-- Mother Nature should be proud of what you've done with her tree. - Len ...just north of a stone's throw from the oHIo, river that is, in So. Indiana.

View stroml's profile


21 posts in 2333 days

#11 posted 04-01-2012 02:10 AM

Just made another attempt with my hacksaw. Thanks for all the encouragement!

-- Strom

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