Hand cut dovetails exercises

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5,084
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Catalunya
Hi guys, I do not know how many of you are good at hand cutting dovetails, but I'm not among you (yet:))

I've been practising cutting dovetails almost every day from the begining of the month, and the results are being quite erratic not to say random. What you see here are the remaining trials, some other were too bad to be shown so I threw them away in desperation.

From absolutely loose ones, to too tigh others passing through all sorts of precision.

The problem is that when I think I'm getting the knack of it and I make a couple that seem acceptable, the next one is like making five steps backwards. What you see here are some of the trials, at the beggining I put the date on them so I could see the evolution, on some others I was so frustrated I didn't put anything.

I need to get them right for my seven drawer dresser, or it will look awful.
 

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Vaughn McMillan

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ABQ NM
I haven't done any, so you're already way ahead of me, Toni. ;) Some of your look perfect, so you know you have it in you. As you do more, the consistency will come. And once you have the process figured out, I suspect your dovetail joints will be picture perfect.
 

Bill Satko

Member
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2,647
Location
Methow Valley
Here are pictures of my first two hand dovetails. I was going to be taking a class in hand tool joints and I figured that I might as well give it a try before the class. That is the one in pine. The other (Spanish Cedar) was done at the class. I have kept them to remind me not be afraid to try anything. I had put off trying to do it because I thought it was beyond me without some instruction. It taught me the best instruction some times is to just try. The are joints are starting to shrink; I should have glued them, but enjoy taking them apart and putting back together.

Dovetail 02.jpg

Dovetail 01.jpg

My experience is that you need to be a good with the saw to make good dovetails. I normally cut tails first, so when I cut them I saw down the middle of the line. When I cut the pins I then leave the line. The consistency comes in just leaving the line the same amount each time.
 
Messages
5,084
Location
Catalunya
I normally cut tails first, so when I cut them I saw down the middle of the line. When I cut the pins I then leave the line. The consistency comes in just leaving the line the same amount each time.

Hi Bill, thanks for the info, I also make tails first. So the trick is to split the line on the tails and leave the line on the pins. I'll try it today Thanks!
 

ken werner

Member
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3,377
Location
Central NY State
Toni, whichever you cut first pins or tails- doesn't matter if you touch the line or split it - it's the second parts you make that have to be accurate to your mark.

I learned to cut pins first, but lately have been preferring tails first. Except of course with half-blinds, where pins must be done first.

Ken
 

Paul Brubacher

In Memoriam
Messages
296
Location
outside of Toronto, Ont
Good luck in the dovetails. I haven't tried them myself yet.
A freind did some using reclaimed wood. After he had them all cut and fitting nice and tight, he decided to sttrip the paint off before doing the final assembly. He sure was surprised at how thick the paint was because he was left with loose joints.

I see that you have updated your avatar. From your postings, I had assumed that the original photo was somewat outdated.
 

Rob Keeble

Member
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12,636
Location
GTA Ontario Canada
Hi Toni

Some of those dovetails look near perfect to me. I still have huge gaps. I am very luck two gentlemen that visited my home recently were polite in keeping quiet about the gaps in my joints on a certain medal cabinet.:rofl:

As for tricks and tips, I have also heard and tried to narrow the line down by not using pencil but a marking knife. Also marking out the send half of the joint from the first piece cut which ever side you choose.

I rember at school we cheated somewhat by cutting oversize and fitting through filing down the sides while fitting. Downside was we ended up drifting to one side or the other and had overlapping wood at the edge.

I appreciate your desire to hand cut the dovetails but I bought a PC dovetailer and router to do this in future. :D

Best of luck you seem pretty close with yours. How perfect do you want to get?:thumb:
 
Messages
5,084
Location
Catalunya
Hi Toni

Best of luck you seem pretty close with yours. How perfect do you want to get?:thumb:

Thanks Rob, and to answer your question, as much perfect as I could and as fast as I could.

So far some of the ones I'm getting I would classify them as satisfactory or "fair" and many others from "fail" to "disaster". It seems that I'm more consistent in getting them wrong than right:(
 

Norman Hitt

Member
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1,813
Location
Odessa, Tx
I'm sure not the one to give advice on hand cut dovetails Toni, but hey, you just finished a BEAUTIFUL Dovetail and it flew all the way to the USA, so What's the Problem?:D Remember now, THINK "Dovetail", and just remove everything that don't look like a Dovetail.:rofl::rofl::rofl::rofl::rofl:

Seriously, since your carving skills are fantastic, maybe the method of cutting the pins first and then after cutting the tails, just "Pare" the tails gently to fit. Note: This isn't MY idea, I saw it in an article in a WW magazine on how to make "Perfect" Dovetails, and as he "pared" then with a chisel, he left each of the face edges tight to the pins and relieved the middle of the tails just a little to make it easier for them to slip together.

I've got Confidence in you though and I know you will get it figured out whichever way you go.:thumb:

(I "think" I remember that he cut the Tails "Tight" enough that they wouldn't quite fit before paring).
 
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Messages
5,084
Location
Catalunya
I'm sure not the one to give advice on hand cut dovetails Toni, but hey, you just finished a BEAUTIFUL Dovetail and it flew all the way to the USA, so What's the Problem?:D Remember now, THINK "Dovetail", and just remove everything that don't look like a Dovetail.:rofl::rofl::rofl::rofl::rofl:

Seriously, since your carving skills are fantastic, maybe the method of cutting the pins first and then after cutting the tails, just "Pare" the tails gently to fit. Note: This isn't MY idea, I saw it in an article in a WW magazine on how to make "Perfect" Dovetails, and as he "pared" then with a chisel, he left each of the face edges tight to the pins and relieved the middle of the tails just a little to make it easier for them to slip together.

I've got Confidence in you though and I know you will get it figured out whichever way you go.:thumb:

(I "think" I remember that he cut the Tails "Tight" enough that they wouldn't quite fit before paring).

Thanks for your confidence in me Norman, yes, I can pare them and I can make them fit, but it is too time consuming.
Call me stuborn like a mule (actually a good friend of mine does it ;)) but I believe that they have to fit right from the saw, if Frank Klauz, Rob Cosman and some others not so well known do it why couldn't I?

If I get used to make them fit by paring, I will have to make them always like that.
 
Messages
2,369
Hey Toni, they don't look too bad to me at all. I am not perfect myself at making dovetails but like you I am getting better. The way I see most of them, they are either perfect, or close enough so that they could be fixed.

For the dovetails with bigger gaps you can often add a sliver of wood and glue it in place to help take up the gap. It does not show because the end grin sucks up finish anyway and makes it dark which obscures the glue line of the added sliver of wood.

A trick I have employed with great success on some dovetails which had gaps too big to look right, and yet not so gappy that the sliver of wood would work...was to apply some 2 part, 5 minute epoxy into the gap. This works well because of the viscosity of the epoxy. While the epoxy is still liquid, I power sand the joint so that fine sawdust goes into the epoxy and saturates it. After the epoxy sets up, the gap is filled and the sawdust makes it look like wood, not epoxy.

The one thing I never correct however is the occasional saw cut that goes too deep. This might have given the apprentice a wrap on the knuckles, but for a person in 2009...it clearly shows that the dovetails were done by hand.
 
Messages
41
Location
Southern Indiana
Dovetails

I always think its interesting to see the level of fear that comes out in grown men when it comes to handcut dovetails. Haa!! It is a lengthy subject because of the variables involved and it makes it hard to give good advice when you dont know the level of woodworking knowledge any particular person has. A lot more dovetails are repaired than you think.
I guess my first question would be what saw are you using and what tpi does it have? Is the set in the teeth accurate and can you cut a straight line with it down a board. Test it by marking some 90 degreee lines down the face of a board, clamp it up and see if it will cut straight. If not then you need to take some set out of your saw.
Next might be to not use two hands when sawing. Keep wax on your saw blade for smoothness of cut. Your saw should fall through the wood not wear you out trying to make a cut. Let the saw do the work. Body posture is critical. Or how about this, lighting. This may be the best advice to accuracy, lighting.
I am not a professed expert but I have enough exposure that I do them without thinking about it much. Yes, cut the pins first. Just the better way to learn.
This is just to start so you can see how lengthy it gets. I heard a statistic that there are hundreds of thousands of jobs here in the US that have the title woodworker in the description but only about 3 percent of them can even cut a dovetail by hand.
Practice on something like poplar if you can because if you can make it nice in soft wood then harder wood really turns out nice.
Layout is a subject in its own. Chopping or removing waste can be its own subject also.
Once your sure all your pins are cut square to face of board your ready to transfer layout to side board. Another problem which come up in marking knives. I agree with using a blade that is flat on one side and beveled on the other. Score well enough that your chisel has no problem finding the score line and you can tell when the chisel falls into it for accuracy.
Use clamp to set drawer front with pins on top of side of drawer board to mark pin locations. Another talked about subject but thats how I like to do it.
Out of space. That happens when you try to explain these type things. You can send me a pm if you want any more advice. Not sure I even helped much.
 
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5,084
Location
Catalunya
Hi Donal.

Thank you very much for your sound advice, as far as the saw I'm using it is a small Adria dovetail saw, with 13 tpi although I'm not sure about that. It is a very good saw and saws smoothly and evenly.

You recommend me to cut pins first, I know about the tails or pins first dilemma, and I must admit that I've never tried the pins first, but I promise that I will, besided when making half blind dovetails pins have to be first, so mastering both techniques will not do any harm, or so I think.

Having the perseverance of cuting a few everyday, like a warm-up exercise is giving its fruits and my dovetails are far better than they where when I first posted this thread, although I have not achieved yet the standard and confidence I'm looking for, so maybe trying pins first will give me that extra practice I need.

Thanks for the pm offer, be reasured that I'll make use of it any of these days.
 

Matt Warfield

Member
Messages
170
Location
Cedar Rapids, IA
Toni,

Donald touched on the one thing that came to mind while reading this thread - variables. My thoughts aren't based on my ability to cut dovetails. My profession is more in diagnosing computers and...well...seemingly everything else as well.

As Donald said, first thing is to make sure your tools are capable of doing what they are intended to do. Can it follow a straight line? Using a guide block helps take the user input out of the equation.

Next is what is one's skill with that saw? If the skill and/or confidence isn't there, practice cutting lots of straight lines both to the left, right, and down the middle of a mark. And chances are, if you can't follow a mark in 10, 20, or 50 tries, then the saw is definitely not properly set. That's assuming your body alignment isn't throwing it off. I suspect that could be diagnosed by holding a guide block next to the blade and watch for gaps opening and closing between the saw and the block as you move the saw fore and aft. From there, change how you are standing, your torso position, and the work height to dial in the sweet spot.

Lastly, one's ability to mark accurately. (As a teenager, I scoffed at my grandpa's snorting over my use of a magic marker to mark a cut line and he was strictly a carpenter.) If one is confident in both the saw and their ability to use it, then analyzing the marking methods and choosing to saw on the left, right, or through the middle of the mark is where to start. To me, it makes sense to take the opportunity to purposefully cut it to the wrong side of the mark to help gauge what has gone wrong in other efforts. Much like the old saying that we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes, creating mistakes on purpose has benefits as well. :huh: Creating mistakes on purposes also helps relieve some built up tension from not being able to attain desired results.
 

Rob Keeble

Member
Messages
12,636
Location
GTA Ontario Canada
My recommendation is see if u can make it to a Lee Valley store and try the different models out. Then look up the Lie Neilsen tool shows, they have a rolling tour that goes to different parts and they have their range of hand tools out. Again try them out.
I did this and settled on this one
https://www.lie-nielsen.com/product/dovetail-saws/dovetail-saws-dovetail-saw?node=4145

You may find you feel different.

Sent from my SGH-I337M using Tapatalk
 
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