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Inspired to do something new... Hand-cut Dovetails

Is it odd that every time I get a new power tool to perform a task, I get an urge to try and do it by hand as well? Anyway it seems to happen to me a lot. This year I received a dovetail jig for Christmas and was up and running cutting half-blind dovetails in no time. However, I have been wanting to learn techniques working with hand tools for a long time to expand my arsenal.

Over the past few weeks I've been eying some of the entries to the Winter Challenge, the videos of the Japanese master craftsman, and Mike Ogden's blog. The result… I finally got the fire under me to try something new. Hand Cut Dovetails

Like any good woodworker in the internet age, I quickly ran to YouTube to find a good how-to video. The first one I happened on was a video by Village Carpenter I watch her methodically cut out a nice tight joint and thought…No Problem! I ran out to the shop and started hacking away at some 3/4" pine I had laying around. My first product….

Wood Rectangle Wood stain Hardwood Composite material

Ok, this is not really your classic dovetail….in fact not really a dove tail at all!! An angled box joint perhaps? I was in such a rush to just get cutting that I didn't think through the layout or visualize what I was trying to create. So I glued it up anyway and just let it sit while I grabbed another set of boards, 3/8" in pine this time. I figured it would go a bit quicker…..

Low and behold….same problem. Ugh I'm a moron. again glue up and quit for the night!

The next day I decided I would go back an do some more research and watch more videos. I also made the pledge to cut a dovetail a day until I got better. I remember reading about someone who did this a long time ago….I just looked it up and come to find the article was written by none other than Christopher Schwarz so how wrong could it be…Right?

I watched the Village Carpenter's video again found where I went wrong. I also found a video that used sliver pins (can't find source again) I got pretty excited because things were looking good but I realized that I was still rushing the process. I actually got a dovetail joint this time but it was pretty ugly and I think the sliver made it pretty hard to learn

The next night I went back to the more conventional dovetail and got pretty good results.

I tried to force the joint a bit and you can see the result. A nice split :(. You can also see that I got a little cocky and thought I could remember where the waste was supposed to be, but…. I wasn't :( I will mark the waste from now on :).

Encouraged that I actually cut a dovetail I decided to watch some more video. I watched Klausz and Cosman their battle for the fastest dovetails. I also learned about pins first vs tails first. I really am not sure if I understand the benefits of one over the other but I now know there are people that do it both ways, and there is nothing wrong with either

My next attempt so so.

Everything seemed ok as I was cutting it but I was way off in terms of fit and alignment. It was down right sloppy. I had been cutting these with a cheap Craftsman gentleman's saw that had been used to cut a variety of things other than wood. I decided I should try a better saw, I had heard that Japanese pull saws were pretty easy to learn how to use for dovetailing so I decided to get a Dozuki with a gift card I had received to the WoodSmith store in Des Moines.

That night I also ran across a video by Robby Pederson on Woodworking Online. He operates a shop just north of me and only uses tools that were available in 1875. I think this is one of the best videos I've seen because he offers a lot of technique as well as tips and tricks. Up until this point I had been cutting "tails first"...Robby cut "pins first" so I thought I'd give that a try. The result….

Not too shabby. This joint was VERY tight and you can see that several fingers were a good tight seal. I think I needed to cut closer to the lines on my tails. I had to use my chisel and a rasp to knock down some pinch points. There were also several cuts what were not too straight but overall I was very pleased. I will also need to stop up and see his shop sometime, maybe even take a class from him if SWMBO is feeling nice :)

Tonight I decided to revisit the "tails first" approach to see if there was any difference now that I had the Dozuki.

I think this is the best one yet in terms of intial fit without havning to tweak too much. I glued this one up and planed down the excess to see what the finished product would look like. Aside from a little gap here and there I think it is pretty respectable for my 7th one.

Now I have quite a few nights of practice ahead of me….I'll post if I see dramatic improvement.

Oh yeah, another great video resource I found tonight was from WoodTreks. This video also explains a lot of technique as they go.

I should also mention that when I got the Dozuki, I abandoned using a coping saw to cut out waste because the blade I had is too thick to fit into the thin kerf. I have been using Robby Peterson's method for waste removal.
Thanks for sharing. It is encouraging to see you work and keep at it. Maybe I shall do the same.


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