Dovetail a Day #1: Days 1 through 5

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by Chris McDowell posted 04-24-2014 12:47 AM 1810 reads 1 time favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Dovetail a Day series no next part

I’ve tried dovetails before with the one back saw I had before – a $5 Stanley cross-cut saw. Results were less than stellar, way less, even disgustingly horrible, so I gave up trying until I got some proper tools. I got a Veritas dovetail saw and some dovetail markers for Christmas (per my specific request). I bought a vise and finally got it installed last week. So, I was ready. I had seen Christopher Schwarz’s article on doing a dovetail a day and I decided to give it a try since it sounded like good practice.

I have scrap pine 1×4’s so that is what I’m starting out with. I’ve heard Rob Cosman make a comment that pine is good to practice on (he was talking about a table in this case) because you learn to be very careful since it is so soft. Same goes for cutting dovetails in pine, I would say. It dents so stinking easily, it’s ridiculous.

Here is day 1:

I put 3/19/14 instead of 4/19/14. I learned that if you mark out your tails intending to remove the pins, cut on the wrong side of the line, proceed to chop the tails out instead of the pins, then everything ends up backwards. I thought it looked funny when I got done, then I realized what had happened. I had even marked X’s on the pins to remove them, but for some reason I removed the tails instead. Lesson learned.

Day 2:

After day 1 results, it was almost impossible not to improve. Again, I erroneously wrote March 20 instead of April 20.

Day 3:


Day 4:

Day 4 was a move backwards. I learned on day 4 not to rush and to make sure I mark which pieces I want to remove. I had cut the tails first, then got distracted when I started the pins and had to go entertain the kids for a little while. Upon resuming I decided that I didn’t need to mark the waste and would just remember which side to cut on. Well, that didn’t work. It seems I forgot completely what I was doing and just be-bopped along cutting on the wrong side. That’s why you see the big kerfs around the tails.

Day 5:

So far the best results. The sawing just seemed to go so much better today.

I’m cutting them the way Paul Sellers teaches in his Dovetail Caddy video series. I learned how to chop mortises from him, so I figured I would learn dovetails from him as well. I think he is a good teacher.

One thing I’ll mention is that I used a 1/4” chisel for all of these because it is the only one I have that is currently sharp. I’m transitioning from using the scary sharp method to using diamond stones. I’m missing too many of the different grits you need for scary sharp and I don’t feel like buying any more. Plus, I don’t really like the scary sharp method anyway.

At this point my goal is to update every 5 days, although I will be forced to take a few days off being that summer is coming up and vacation is in the plans at some point.

Thanks for reading.

-- Chris, , FACEBOOK: , Proverbs 16:9

10 comments so far

View Fr. Thomas Bailey, OSB's profile

Fr. Thomas Bailey, OSB

79 posts in 1985 days

#1 posted 04-24-2014 01:27 AM

Practice makes perfect; nice progress.

-- Fr. Thomas,

View dawsonbob's profile


3252 posts in 2087 days

#2 posted 04-24-2014 01:38 AM

Keep at it, by all means. It took me awhile to learn to cut perfect dovetails, too…oh, wait, I still can’t cut perfect dovetails. In fact, mine suck…but I’ve learned to get better each time, just like you’re doing.

It’s the old thing about how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

-- Mistakes are what pave the road to perfection

View Buckethead's profile


3195 posts in 2200 days

#3 posted 04-24-2014 01:39 AM

Your work is better than you might realize. Most of those are really tight, and you’re just starting out. Looking good!

-- Support woodworking hand models. Buy me a sawstop.

View Buckethead's profile


3195 posts in 2200 days

#4 posted 04-24-2014 01:39 AM

Fat finger double post.

-- Support woodworking hand models. Buy me a sawstop.

View Chris McDowell's profile

Chris McDowell

644 posts in 2484 days

#5 posted 04-24-2014 10:19 AM

Thanks for your comments

-- Chris, , FACEBOOK: , Proverbs 16:9

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


16095 posts in 2950 days

#6 posted 04-24-2014 11:39 AM

Chris, a dovetail-a-day method is what I did, and on pine too. It works, and it’s all about muscle memory. How to cut and how to chop with confidence.

Oh, and tool layout.

Each night I’d get out the same tools and lay them on the bench top, ready to work so that no time was spend looking around. The mindset becomes just as important for the task as the skill set.

Good stuff!

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View Chris McDowell's profile

Chris McDowell

644 posts in 2484 days

#7 posted 04-24-2014 04:18 PM

Smith: that’s definitely something I need to focus on more – tool setup. One day I had to walk away from the work 3 times to get something I forgot. I had only gotten the saw and markers out. Seems like every time you walk away you lose a little focus. Good advice. Thanks!

-- Chris, , FACEBOOK: , Proverbs 16:9

View Hoakie's profile


306 posts in 4368 days

#8 posted 04-26-2014 01:00 PM

Good progress. Quicker to decent results than my attempts. You can read about it here:

Several members provided useful tips and tricks in the comments section.

-- John H. [To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. ~Edison]

View Chris McDowell's profile

Chris McDowell

644 posts in 2484 days

#9 posted 04-26-2014 01:43 PM

Hoakie: thanks for the link. It was an interesting and helpful read. Your 2 month update pictures looked great! Gives me something to look forward to. I also read some more in you series and saw your shop tour. Nice. But then I saw you were moving and have to almost start over with power and such. I’ll look forward to see how it goes.

-- Chris, , FACEBOOK: , Proverbs 16:9

View Roger's profile


20993 posts in 3136 days

#10 posted 05-17-2014 12:31 PM

This is a gr8 way to practice and perfect.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

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