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Dovetails - general questions

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Forum topic by Betsy posted 04-18-2008 10:56 PM 1394 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Betsy

3391 posts in 4094 days


04-18-2008 10:56 PM

Topic tags/keywords: dovetails

Ok – I’ve spent a lot of time trying to learn to cut dovetails by hand. I could probably make a small tree out of all the cutoffs and little socket pieces that I’ve made. So now its time to dive into it and make a real project, a box, of course. Now here’s my problem – I’ve been cutting and cutting and chopping and chopping with no real thought on inside/outside/up/down etc. as to the actual work pieces.

I’ve got my four sides picked out and have marked the inside faces and top edges and marked left/right/front/back.

Tail boards are the sides and pin boards are the front and back.

Step 1: Cut the tail boards (assuming the marking is done of course) Question 1: I’ve been assuming that you cut the tail board with the inside facing me – is that right?

Step 2: Transfer your marks to the pin board. Question 2: If you are going to put the pin board in your vice so it is upright and then lay your tail board onto it’s edge – do you put the tail board’s face down? Question 3: Do you put the pin board’s face towards me or away?

Step 3: Cut the pins. Question 4: Do you cut the pins with the inside of the board towards me or away?

I’m not going to tax myself too much and try to make a grooved bottom at this point. I’m going to use a slab for the top and bottom and make it a simple lift off lid.

Question 5: When you make a box with dovetails——does the flow of the grain matter as much as when you are mitering a box? I ask this as I figure if the joint does not fit – I’ll remark a new set of pin boards and try again.

Question 6: When you glue your joint – do you glue only the long grain or all three sides of each socket? Seems to me that all three sides would be inviting a lot of extra squeeze out that you probably don’t need. But not sure so I thought I’d ask.

Question 7: (I know I’m full of questions.) On box joints you generally leave the joint a little proud of the surface to give you a little wiggle room and then level the surface after everything is set. Do you do this when you make dovetail joints also? (I’ve had occassion in classes to make some dovetails by machine and we did not leave them proud – but was not sure if you do the same when you hand cut the joint.) I’ve been cutting them to fit right on the surface and not proud (or I should say, that’s what I’ve been shooting for).

Thanks for your help. I’ll blog about my progress.

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


5 replies so far

View GaryK's profile

GaryK

10262 posts in 4186 days


#1 posted 04-19-2008 12:13 AM

Here’s a guy that shows how he does it.

http://www.hcwg.org/howto/Dovetails

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

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Betsy

3391 posts in 4094 days


#2 posted 04-19-2008 06:32 AM

thanks Gary——- that’s a good site.

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

View Thuan's profile

Thuan

203 posts in 4016 days


#3 posted 04-19-2008 06:54 AM

here are some things I do on my dovetails. It may not work for all, but it works for me.
1. I don’t believing in making the perfect dovetail. I figured if I make a 100 of them, the 101 and first will be better than the last, so it will get there, i don’t try to achieve perfection by whittling and paring and playing it safe.

2. I try to make the dovetail as fast as possible, the least amount of moves as possible. the faster I can get one done, the more time I have to practice another. if you try to make a perfect dovetail, then you are practicing how to make a bad dovetail look good, you want to practice how to make a good dovetail the first cut.

3. understand your tools in every way. I never ever use leverage on a sharp set of chisel. A mortise chisels is designed for leverage, a bench chisel is design for overall work, a paring chisels is the razor sharp one for slicing and shaving body hair. a skew chisel is used for cleaning out corners ( get some skew chisels).

4. I don’t use a coping saw. I chop with a chisel, with a slight back bevel to keep the scribe line clean, then I hit the edge grain to break of a little piece at a time. the inside can be as ugly as it want, no one will see it, tidy up the corner with skew chisel.

5. I mark all the boards on all sides. It’s less thinking. the inside is hidden, the outside will proudly show the line, or not, depends on how much you shave it.

6. Glue and sawdust will hide everything until you get really good at it.

7. Practice cutting straight line, I did about a 100, then I got arrogant and kinked my Japanese saw blade. It cost me $20 to respect my tools.

8. Have fun!

-- Thuan

View Derek Cohen's profile

Derek Cohen

396 posts in 4166 days


#4 posted 04-19-2008 06:04 PM

In reply ….

Step 1: Cut the tail boards (assuming the marking is done of course) Question 1: I’ve been assuming that you cut the tail board with the inside facing me – is that right?

Answer: NO! Cut with the OUTSIDE facing you. That way you will not cut over the baseline. If you do this on the inside of the board it matters less as it will not be seen.

Step 2: Transfer your marks to the pin board. Question 2: If you are going to put the pin board in your vice so it is upright and then lay your tail board onto it’s edge – do you put the tail board’s face down? Question 3: Do you put the pin board’s face towards me or away?

Answer: Always mark the outside of the boards (as well as the reference edge). When you mark the tail board from the cut pin board, then the boards should all have their outside facing you.

Step 3: Cut the pins. Question 4: Do you cut the pins with the inside of the board towards me or away?

Answer: see earlier answer.

I’m not going to tax myself too much and try to make a grooved bottom at this point. I’m going to use a slab for the top and bottom and make it a simple lift off lid.

Question 5: When you make a box with dovetails——does the flow of the grain matter as much as when you are mitering a box? I ask this as I figure if the joint does not fit – I’ll remark a new set of pin boards and try again.

Answer: You are going to make a lot of mistakes and cut a lot of dovetails before you are satisfied enough to keep a box. I would not obsess about matching grain at thos point.

Question 6: When you glue your joint – do you glue only the long grain or all three sides of each socket? Seems to me that all three sides would be inviting a lot of extra squeeze out that you probably don’t need. But not sure so I thought I’d ask.

Answer: I place glue on all surfaces. You will want to try and squeeze the joint together, including trying to avoid a gap at the baseline.

Question 7: (I know I’m full of questions.) On box joints you generally leave the joint a little proud of the surface to give you a little wiggle room and then level the surface after everything is set. Do you do this when you make dovetail joints also? (I’ve had occassion in classes to make some dovetails by machine and we did not leave them proud – but was not sure if you do the same when you hand cut the joint.) I’ve been cutting them to fit right on the surface and not proud (or I should say, that’s what I’ve been shooting for).

Answer: Yes. One of the advantages of a slightly raised joint is that you can hammer the glued fibres into any gaps. Once the glue dries, then plane it flush.

Regards from Perth

Derek

Two recent boxes:

-- Buildiing furniture, and reviewing and building tools at http://www.inthewoodshop.com

View Betsy's profile

Betsy

3391 posts in 4094 days


#5 posted 04-20-2008 02:45 AM

Derek – thanks for the answers. This helps me.

By the way——those are some impressive boxes.

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

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