LumberJocks

needing tips on hand cut dovetails in softwoods

  • Advertise with us

« back to Joinery forum

Forum topic by guitchess posted 04-18-2014 12:28 AM 3197 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View guitchess's profile

guitchess

85 posts in 3171 days


04-18-2014 12:28 AM

For some reason I can cut decent dovetails in hardwood, but I have all kinds of issues in softwoods. Fibers crushing while paring despite a razor sharp chisel and marking lines are not accurate regardless of care taken are just two that are not even a minor issue when I’m working with hardwoods. Any tips would be appreciated.

Thanks


14 replies so far

View Loren's profile

Loren

8301 posts in 3110 days


#1 posted 04-18-2014 12:48 AM

Yeah, it’s tricky. Read Krenov. He comments on making a
fine cabinet from fir in one of his books and grouses about
how tricky it is to do clean work with it. One thing I will
say for soft woods is you can get away with tighter dovetails
because the wood will squash a little.

A trick I picked up from Krenov that I’ve used on soft woods
(and anytime I hand cut dovetails really) is to cut them so
the geometry is right but too tight to dry fit, then shave
the pins hollow to make a little room. The corners come
out clean that way and it becomes possible to assemble
the joint.

View knockknock's profile

knockknock

337 posts in 1635 days


#2 posted 04-18-2014 03:53 AM

I like Loren’s trick, I will have to try that.

One thing that I do, is to make the baseline under the waste into a knife wall (double depth, I do it twice), before removing any waste. That way, even if the pine chunks out when removing the waste, I still have a good edge.

View WoodAndShop's profile

WoodAndShop

148 posts in 972 days


#3 posted 04-18-2014 11:17 PM

I just answered another dovetail question, so I’ll tell you what I told him: Last year I took a 5 day class with Roy Underhill & Bill Anderson, and I just got around to making a video series of what I learned about cutting dovetails by hand. Here's the link to video 1/15.

I used poplar, which is soft. Let me know if this helps!

-- Joshua Farnsworth - Free Traditional Hand Tool Woodworking Tutorials: http://WoodAndShop.com

View HorizontalMike's profile

HorizontalMike

7144 posts in 2376 days


#4 posted 04-18-2014 11:20 PM

The only dovetails I have cut thus far were in White Pine, or should I have said White PITA… ;-)

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View WoodAndShop's profile

WoodAndShop

148 posts in 972 days


#5 posted 04-18-2014 11:46 PM

White pine works great for dovetailing!

-- Joshua Farnsworth - Free Traditional Hand Tool Woodworking Tutorials: http://WoodAndShop.com

View woodchuckerNJ's profile

woodchuckerNJ

1154 posts in 1096 days


#6 posted 04-18-2014 11:56 PM

Hmmm. I don’t have that problem…. so what am I doing wrong?

I mostly use pine, or poplar for drawer sides. I just lay them out and cut them…

I have done a lot of dovetails.. I use a 1:6 ….

Can you describe what is happening.
Is it the fibers on the tails that you are having problems with?
If so chop, remove, chop remove…
just remove small pieces.. you come in after the chop, by putting the chisel in 1/16 to 1/8 from the chop and keep the bevel down, and enter the wood and remove that chop… it will keep from breaking the fibers in the tail… but it’s not necessary to worry about them because they offer no strength, but it is neater.

If this is not what you are talking about please pm me…

-- Jeff NJ

View guitchess's profile

guitchess

85 posts in 3171 days


#7 posted 04-19-2014 12:39 AM

When I say softwood, I’m referring mainly to pine. I have dovetailed poplar before and had no issues. I learned my dovetail technique from a Frank Claus video, so I’m a pins first guy.

The first issue that I typically have in pine that never seems to affect me in oak, cherry, maple, etc., is that my dovetail saw tries to wander, following softer pockets of grain. Considering the fact that I scribe the tails after cutting the pins, this is where wander becomes an issue. Granted, I have a very cheap saw, and I sharpen it myself, but it does the job fine in harder woods.

The second issue comes when removing the waste between pins or tails. With hardwood, it’s a simple chop – remove – pare to the the line process. With the pine, the chop – remove step tears out big chunks of grain that leave voids that make paring difficult. I have tried coping out then paring and still have the issue to a lesser degree. The voids make it hard to believe that I’m getting sufficient strength after glue up.

I am currently building a Dutch tool chest, and it is the project that brought this subject up. I already have the case glued up or I would take a pic to show an example.

View WoodAndShop's profile

WoodAndShop

148 posts in 972 days


#8 posted 04-19-2014 01:16 AM

Hey guitchess, I think you just mentioned your problems: (a) look for a better dovetail saw (I love Lie-Nielsen) and (b) try cutting tails first. I’ve never had any problems cutting dovetails in pine that way. Roy Underhill also does a lot of dovetailing in Pine with this method.

-- Joshua Farnsworth - Free Traditional Hand Tool Woodworking Tutorials: http://WoodAndShop.com

View Loren's profile

Loren

8301 posts in 3110 days


#9 posted 04-19-2014 01:24 AM

Cut the tails first.

I cut dovetails with the marvelous, self-jigging bow saw. By
tilting the blade in relation to the handle the tails are
easily cut by keeping the handle vertical. Angle variations
aren’t much of a problem this way but because the pins
are marked from the tails, it doesn’t matter anyway. The
pins are marked and then the wrist is turned so the handle
is held at and angle which is most comfortable for cutting
plumb. Then all you have to manage is following the line
scribed from the tails.

View woodchuckerNJ's profile

woodchuckerNJ

1154 posts in 1096 days


#10 posted 04-19-2014 03:52 AM

Doesn’t matter if you cut tails or pins first.
I cut pins first tails second.. I too follow Frank Klaus, but learned from him in person at shows, and from talking to him.
I also stopped by his shop a few times, he’s local..

This doesn’t make me an expert.. I’m not… but I have cut hundreds of dovetails already.

As far as following the line, I use a marking knife… I don’t wander.. I use a Lie Nielsen dovetail saw, 15tpi I think. As for cutting the tails, you can’t remove the waste in big chunks.. it will leave voids. Chop remove, chop remove. Don’t go for a big chop in pine, smaller, and clean it. I strop my chisels.. They are really sharp.

-- Jeff NJ

View guitchess's profile

guitchess

85 posts in 3171 days


#11 posted 04-19-2014 04:11 AM

Thank you every one for your tips/info. I will apply as many as possible.

Unfortunately, WoodAndShop, that means I’m going to have to wait for that $125 Lie-Nielsen saw. I will definitely try cutting tails first to see what kind of difference that makes. I watched some of your videos and looks like good stuff. I couldn’t tell in the vid, was that poplar or a pine. If it was pine, it looked like it may be a yellow pine variety. This stuff I’m using is fast growth, white pine. It has an almost spongy quality to it. I’m still going to blame some of my troubles on it. LOL.

I’m going to try my hand at posting a blog of the chest build if someone wants to see a glued up pic.

View Ted's profile

Ted

2785 posts in 1673 days


#12 posted 04-19-2014 06:03 AM

Guitchess, I too have to wait for that $125 Lie-Nielsen saw among other tools that are way out of my budget. In the mean time I use a Stanley hardened tooth backsaw… about $15 at any big-box home improvement store. This is the saw which the teeth are dark grey or black from the hardening process. You don’t sharpen them. When they go dull they’re pretty much scrap metal, but they last decent while if not abused.

I mention this because of two related things you said… cheap saw that you sharpen, and wanders when it hits hard grain. It wanders because it’s not cutting the hard grain like it should, and it’s not cutting the hard grain because it’s not quite as sharp as you think it is.

WoodAndShop makes a good point about not holding the saw too tight. If you are holding the saw too tight you are inadvertently pushing the saw too hard, thus cutting the soft grain faster than it’s able to cut the harder grain. For fine cutting, I hold the saw so gently it’s more like resting in my semi-open hand, as opposed to my holding it. Let the tool do the work.

Anyway, it’s probably your saw is not sharp enough. I’ve found the hardened tooth saws are a decent cheap alternative to the better quality saws that are not yet within my budget.

WoodAndShop Those are some nice videos, very detailed and well explained. However the last 4 video links (12 – 15) go to a 404 Error, Page Not Found. You may want to look into that.

-- The first cordless tool was a stick. The first power tool was a rock.

View WoodAndShop's profile

WoodAndShop

148 posts in 972 days


#13 posted 04-19-2014 11:20 PM

Hi Guitchess, you definitely can find a very good old Disston saw on ebay for under $50, and then sharpen it properly. Contact me if you want help finding a good one on ebay. I was using poplar in the video, but I also have no problems with southern yellow pine.

Ted, I’m glad that you watched the videos! That’s funny about videos 12-15…I’m posting one video/blog post each day, so if you subscribe to my blog + youtube you’ll be notified as soon as the other videos are released (over the next few days).

You guys rock! Keep cuttin’!

-- Joshua Farnsworth - Free Traditional Hand Tool Woodworking Tutorials: http://WoodAndShop.com

View djwong's profile

djwong

167 posts in 2682 days


#14 posted 05-11-2014 04:25 AM

WoodchuckerNJ had a couple of great suggestions in keeping your chisels sharp, and taking smaller “bites” in softwood.

I like to use a fret saw to cut out most of the waste between the tail and pins. This helps to eliminate a lot of chopping with the chisel.

When using your chisel, you can hand pare from your knifed baselines towards the middle. I set the board vertically in a vice and use a chisel to pare down to the knife line. You sort of pare at an upward angle from each side of the board, so that you are creating a “peak” from the knife lines on each side. Once you have the peak, you can slowly pare it down from one side of the board, until you are flat on the opposite knife line.

Another trick I use on Douglas fir, is to apply a little camellia oil on the wood before I pare it. Douglas fir with the vastly different densities between the early and late wood, is very difficult to keep from tearing when paring. Camilla oil helps to soften the wood so it pares cleanly. Camellia oil is a light oil, so. It will evaporate in a few days. You have to. Wait for it to evaporate before applying glue.

-- David W. Cupertino, CA

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics

HomeRefurbers.com