Extremely Average #10: Horrible Dovetail Blunder

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Blog entry by Ecocandle posted 01-12-2010 04:17 AM 5384 reads 0 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 9: My First Project Part 10 of Extremely Average series Part 11: Dovetail Delusions »

The population of Martelle Iowa is in the neighborhood of 350, so one could use the phrase thriving metropolis comfortably. We do not have door to door USPS delivery, which is a little bit of a bummer, but it does have a tremendous upside. The excitement I get when I hop in the care and drive all the way across town to check my post office box. It is almost like Festivus all year round, without the pole or ‘airing of grievances’. Actually I don’t care for mail, but last Thursday I made several online purchases. En route to zip code 52305 was a brand new Japanese hand saw, which was rated ‘Best Overall’ by Fine Woodworking. I also ordered, from another site, 8 DVDs and 2 books.
Since I ordered them both on Thursday of last week, and didn’t choose any of the fancy pants options with regard to shipping and handling, I didn’t expect them until the middle of the week. As a rule, I am more of a average pantaloon shipping sort of guy. So imagine my surprise when there was a long rectangular box waiting for me. After I explained at length, to the Martelle postmaster, what a Japanese hand saw was, and why I am much cooler for owning one, I headed back across town. I drove down the main street, past the Football Stadium, around the Mega Mall, cut across the parking lot to the Subway, and finally after a few more turns, arrived back home. Ok, I may have exaggerated the length of my trip, and some of the sites in Martelle, but you get the point. Though it is a short trip, I was eager to try out my new saw, and what took 4 minutes, seemed like it took well over 5 minutes.

I don’t know how to cut a dovetail. I don’t know how to mark them. I have picked up a couple of tips, but that is all. Safety is important. I always read the instructions before trying any new tool. This, of course, goes against the ‘guy code’, but I do it anyway. Luckily for me it is a hand saw, and were there instructions included, they would say, Step 1. Pull, Step 2. Push lightly, Step 3 rinse and repeat. Oh wait, that last one was from my Japanese hair conditioner. I digress.
Without any instructions to impede my progress, I grabbed a pencil, my little angle marker thingy that I bought from an antique shop last weekend. I have no idea what they are called, but I have seen them used in laying out the tails and pins for the aforementioned joinery. I have also read that the real masters don’t measure their dovetails, they eyeball it. It is as if the woodworking gods are begging me not to bother with measuring, but are saying instead, “Go forth and run amok with your new saw.”

Not wishing to face the wrath of an angry woodworking deity, I quickly marked the tails on a piece of hard maple and clamped it in the vice. I took great care to mark the waste areas with a ‘w’ so I would not chisel out the wrong bits. I have read that one should cut close to the line and then pare it up the rest of the way, to get a nice fit. One of the problems that ‘amok runners’ often face is that they blunder. I made a blunder worse than 1. e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3. Bc4 Bg4 4.Nc3 a6 5. Nxe5 and black taking the queen on the 5th move. Today I was playing black. I took such care to mark my tails and then I immediately cut on the wrong side of the line. Oh well, that is why I am determined to practice these skills before I try them on something I care about.
I am happy to report that the saw rated ‘Best Overall’ is a wonderful cutting device. The kerf was thinner than Kate Moss. The saw cut a really straight, albeit poorly place, line. Ok, now it is time to do some more practicing, I think I will work on the Sicilian Dragon and thus avoid the possibility of a blunder on the 5th move.

-- Brian Meeks,

14 comments so far

View mckenziedrums's profile


118 posts in 3383 days

#1 posted 01-12-2010 04:24 AM

You didn’t cut on the wrong side of the line… You just adjusted the size of your tails and pins is all ;)

View Ecocandle's profile


1013 posts in 3392 days

#2 posted 01-12-2010 04:24 AM

LOL…Now that is a great woodworking tip.

-- Brian Meeks,

View Chuck 's profile


88 posts in 3526 days

#3 posted 01-12-2010 05:04 AM

You screwed up on cutting your first dovetails? You will NEVER be a successful woodworker.

-- Chuck, Washington D.C.

View Ecocandle's profile


1013 posts in 3392 days

#4 posted 01-12-2010 05:07 AM

I am sure you are right Chuck. :-)
I see you are from DC, did you make it to the Greene and Greene exhibit at the Renwick last year?
It was fantastic, I went 6 times.

-- Brian Meeks,

View gizmodyne's profile


1780 posts in 4416 days

#5 posted 01-12-2010 05:22 AM

You have not made a mistake until you cut the pins. The tails are just a template for the pins. The thing to aim for is cuts that are square to the faces of your board. You can adjust them square by light paring. When you go to cut the pins split the line towards the waste side keeping the vertical cut square. Keep on….

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View Kacy's profile


101 posts in 3411 days

#6 posted 01-12-2010 06:35 AM

What I am trying to imagine is how you find the time to post these missives each day without skipping one or two for a smoke or something … of course, it will be harder when the weather warms up.

-- Kacy, Louisiana

View Karson's profile


35166 posts in 4726 days

#7 posted 01-12-2010 06:43 AM

I enjoy your description of driving around the Mega Mall after that it was all downhill. (I mean the saw is tipped downhill)

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]



56 posts in 3434 days

#8 posted 01-12-2010 12:48 PM

Brian,Remember; measure twice, cut once, pound with a big hammer till it fits. Keep up the great writing, it’s a bit of warm air in a long cold winter. JIM

-- A day without sawdust is like a day without sunshine

View SPalm's profile


5332 posts in 4208 days

#9 posted 01-12-2010 04:22 PM

Tools = Progress.

Beware breaking the ‘guy code’. It has consequences.

Love your progress,

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View Fireball's profile


71 posts in 4393 days

#10 posted 01-12-2010 08:26 PM

Funny stuff! Keep on trying!

View ChuckV's profile


3197 posts in 3853 days

#11 posted 01-13-2010 03:48 AM

Thanks for keeping us updated. The great thing about practicing dovetails is that they take very little material. Just cut an inch or so off the end and try again.

It looks like Martelle, Iowa is growing like crazy. The 2000 census gives the population as 280. That’s 25% growth in 10 years! And at 0.3 sq miles (192 acres) I can understand why the journey to the post office is a major undertaking – I hope that you remember to bring some food and water with you in case you get lost or run out of gas :-)

-- “Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are.” ― R. Waters

View Ecocandle's profile


1013 posts in 3392 days

#12 posted 01-13-2010 03:51 AM

I stand corrected. I guess with all the hustle and bustle in this major urban landscape I miscounted. Noted!

-- Brian Meeks,

View mtkate's profile


2049 posts in 3651 days

#13 posted 01-13-2010 04:19 AM

I loved the read. So the 8 DVDs and two books were woodworking related or did you fail to elaborate… for shame? ;)

View Ecocandle's profile


1013 posts in 3392 days

#14 posted 01-13-2010 04:31 AM

It is called a teaser…you will just have to read today’s blog to find out. Aren’t I tricky?!

-- Brian Meeks,

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