My Ultimate Workbench Build #7: Trials and tribulations in sliding dovetail end caps...

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Blog entry by RS Woodworks posted 07-28-2011 05:37 AM 25051 reads 2 times favorited 17 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 6: Planing, and chopping mortises... Part 7 of My Ultimate Workbench Build series Part 8: Side panels and rails... »

Hmmm… well I posted blog entry #6 this morning, and as of this moment it shows 158 views, but not a single comment! I’m either boring you all with too much detail and my mindless blathering, or I just have such a small following on this blog that all two of you were busy today…. Haha!

Well I will continue at any rate, as I’m sure somebody who cares will run across this someday. ;)

I decided after dry fitting the legs into their mortises to continue working on the underside while the top was upside down. This bench will have a sliding deadman for additional work support along the front length of the bench. This is a feature that I knew I wanted in my bench as soon as I saw one and figured out what it was for. So I decided to route the groove in the underside of the top that will house the deadman. I set it back from the front edge 3/4” and made it a hair over 3/4” wide. It extends from inside of leg to inside of leg.

On the bottom side, the deadman will slide along a convex shaped track. It’s actually bevelled at 45* on each side. Chris Schwartz recommends this method in his book because a groove would just collect dust and shavings and make it difficult to slide the deadman. I used a large piece of birch to make this lower front stretcher, with the integrated slide. It’s fairly hefty to match the bench and have good support. It will be mortised into each leg.

With those two things done, I decided to next move on to the large sliding dovetails on the ends of the top. The left side of the bench will be just a decorative endcap, and the right side will also be the rear jaw of the twin screw vise. This would be my first attempt ever at a sliding dovetail!

To make this dovetail, I considered several modus operendi. But ultimately settled on buying the largest dovetail bit I could find, and tackling it with the router. I stood the bench top up on end, supporting it against my table saw and clamping it to the fence which I positioned right at the end and locked in place. It wasn’t going anywhere. I clamped one of the Fir timbers that I had squared up to the opposite edge from the one I’d be working on, for extra support. Then, it was just a simple matter of taking light passes to hog away the material. As a quick tip, I actually started on my exit side of the cut, essentially doing a climb cut for the first 2 inches or so. Then I started from the proper end and routed the width of the top. This way, I avoided any tearout coming out of the cut. Did I mention that I’ve never done a sliding dovetail before??

I was very happy with how smooth the cut was!

Here is the newly made ends for the bench top. It took about 2 hours to route all four cuts.

The next step, which I tackled today, was to make the matching caps for the ends. I started with lumber slightly over size and the used the dado blade on the table saw to hog out the bulk of the material. I then went to the router table and used the same router bit to route the mating part of the large sliding dovetail. Keep in mind, this is the first time I’ve EVER done a sliding dovetail!!

Alright, so far so good! I get what I think will be a nice fit, according to careful measurements with my digital calipers. I rub some paste wax on the length of the wood that will be mated. but not before drilling some holes to pin the dowels through. I extend the holes (3/4” long hole for a 3/8” dowel) to allow for movement. This of course is a crutial step!

And in case the fit is still a bit on the tight side, I have a coercion tool , courtesy of Garant. :)

Well the fit was tight, and I did have to coerce the end cap into place…. hammer hammer hammer… DOH!!!

Ummm… ya. Did I mention that this was my VERY FIRST atempt at a sliding dovetail??

Well I happen to have an extra piece of walnut the right size. So I redo the end cap. This time I made the end 3” or so fit tight, and routed the middle section out a bit wider. This way I figured that it would slide on easier but still look tight at the ends. It worked much better on my second attempt, and here is what I ended up with. keep in mind it still has to be planed flush with the top. But I’m pretty happy with it!!

Well that where I’m leaving off. I’d like to hear some feedback from anyone looking at or following my blog as to how you think it’s going, comments, critiques, questions, heck I’ll even take verbal barrages of hatred and blasphemy if it means a comment or two… hahaha!!

Thanks for looking!

-- I restore the finest vintage tools! If you need a nice plane, saw, marking tool or brace, please let me know!

17 comments so far

View Michael James's profile

Michael James

89 posts in 4385 days

#1 posted 07-28-2011 06:27 AM

Let’s just say that I’m impressed. Great work and it’s looking awesome….when it’s done, you’re going to have a tough time using it as a workbench and not a piece of furniture in your home.

If I ever attempt the same, I’m calling you.


-- Michael James -

View BareFeet's profile


37 posts in 3869 days

#2 posted 07-28-2011 06:29 AM

LOVE the progress so far. You’ve got me thinking of a sliding dovetail for my up and coming bench. Where’d you get the bit?

View kenn's profile


813 posts in 5057 days

#3 posted 07-28-2011 06:52 AM

I’ve been surprised at the lack of comments coming through lately, too. Nice job on your second sliding dovetail. I haven’t tackled that joint yet. I think I would have planed the tail portion down a bit vs. your solution but it’s 6 of one, 1/2 dozen of the other. Nice looking bench.

Why didn’t you mention what a [email protected]#$ it was to move that top aroung for the routing?

Keep going. Thanks for sharing.

-- Every cloud has a silver lining

View KayBee's profile


1083 posts in 4583 days

#4 posted 07-28-2011 07:29 AM

Sliding dovetails are a pain to get together. Wait, you know that now : ) What were you standing on to route the bench edge?

-- Karen - a little bit of stupid goes a long way

View doordude's profile


1085 posts in 4320 days

#5 posted 07-28-2011 07:42 AM

your dovetail looks hellishily great. but it looks like a lot of heavy moving and high wire work to get this accomplished
but you did it and looks great. this is the first blog i’ve seen about your build.
i just picked up popular woodworking mag. today. and in it, is an article about cutting big dovetails simular to what your trying to achieve. you should pick it up,August 2011 edition
i’m in the process of milling boards for my top,also good luck

View redryder's profile


2393 posts in 4439 days

#6 posted 07-28-2011 08:36 AM

I have to admit I have made my share of screw ups as in your split end cap and such mess ups hit the trash before anyone finds out. I like your honesty and persistence and the end result should be awsome…........

-- mike...............

View ergeek's profile


7 posts in 3859 days

#7 posted 07-28-2011 01:16 PM

Ryan, that’s fantastic! loved the pics of the sliding dovetail issues – just another day in the life of a woodworker. If at first….
Question: why bother with the end cap at all? It looks great and I guess it will be the face for your end vise, but why not just use the board ends?

Thanks for the great post

View ratchet's profile


1391 posts in 5124 days

#8 posted 07-28-2011 02:31 PM

Nice! The walnut endcap turned out GREAT!\
Keep going.

View Cory's profile


760 posts in 4756 days

#9 posted 07-28-2011 02:55 PM

Sorry I haven’t posted a comment before now. Like many others, the summers mean less time to peruse posts and make comments. But, I’m enjoying your blog immensely. I’m about to embark on a similar workbench build, so I really appreciate the detail you’re giving us and all the great pictures. Keep up the good work. I’ll make it a point to drop a comment or two on the remaining posts!


-- The secret to getting ahead is getting started.

View MGW's profile


39 posts in 3833 days

#10 posted 07-28-2011 04:30 PM

Keep it coming! I want to get all of your ideas documented so that I can steal them for my workbench soon!
Thanks for the blog. As if the project isn’t enough work, taking the time to document it for the rest of us must be a chore at times. Know that we appreciate it!

-- Michael, North Carolina -- Whittling away the time making fine lumber into perfect fire stove fuel.

View Bertha's profile


13624 posts in 4030 days

#11 posted 07-28-2011 05:13 PM

This is really coming out wonderfully. My heart sank when I saw that crack, after all that accurate routering. I’m sure you can salvage the piece for something else. This thing is awesome.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View RS Woodworks's profile

RS Woodworks

533 posts in 4588 days

#12 posted 07-29-2011 01:53 PM

Thanks for all the great comments guys! It’s really nice to know that someone is watching this blog.

Michael, call any time.
Barefeet, thanks! the bit is from Lee Valley. It’s the last item, with the 1.3” depth.

Kenn, thanks. And your right, it is a bit of a bear to move that top around by myself in the shop. But I get er done. The problem with planing the tail portion down is that you need a dovetail plane, which I don’t have. You can buy them, but very hard to find an 8* one, which this dovetail is. I could have stopped and made my own, which I seriously considered, but didn’t want to spend the time when there is another way to achieve the same result.

Kaybee, a number of years back my dad made me a set of saw horses, they come in very handy for things like that. :)

ergeek, Good question. Why bother at all? The honest and simple answer is, because I wanted to and because I can. I want the bench to look awesome and be a reflection of the quality of my work. If someone comes to see my shop, I want them to notice the bench first and stare in disbelief when I tell them I built it. hahaha.!

To the rest who commented, thanks for the kind words and the encouragement! It is a ton of work to build this bench, but it’s work that I enjoy. It is even more work to blog the whole thing, but I look at it this way. Plenty of other woodworkers out there have helped me, knowingly or unknowingly. I figure if this blog helps at least one or two people, then it’s worth it. Besides that, when this bench is 50 years old, it might be nice to look back and see how it was built! That is if the internet still exists in an accessible form by then….
Cheers! and stay tuned for the next blog…

-- I restore the finest vintage tools! If you need a nice plane, saw, marking tool or brace, please let me know!

View bigike's profile


4059 posts in 4625 days

#13 posted 07-29-2011 02:49 PM

very nice I like the idea of the sliding dovetail as breadbord ends.

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop, http://[email protected]

View Manitario's profile


2818 posts in 4220 days

#14 posted 08-22-2011 08:11 PM

the end cap looks really good, a nice touch that most would have avoided doing. I would have been sweating hard cutting the dovetail on the bench top knowing that if I messed it up I’d have to cut that section off.

-- Sometimes the creative process requires foul language. -- Charles Neil

View RS Woodworks's profile

RS Woodworks

533 posts in 4588 days

#15 posted 08-23-2011 06:18 PM

Thanks all. Rob, you are right, I was sweating pretty good at the fear of really messing it up.

-- I restore the finest vintage tools! If you need a nice plane, saw, marking tool or brace, please let me know!

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