Bustin’ the Dovetail Myth

Adam Savage gets intimate with dovetails!

One Cut

Sick of sawing back and forth like crazy when cutting dovetails (or other short cuts)?

Check out this video of a Lie Nielsen “One Stroke” dovetail saw.  No doubt it was an April Fools joke, still funny as!

Chris Schwarz has found another use for it – gang-cutting dovetails.

The Sound of this Photograph

OK now, before we get started here I want you all to gather around there behind the bench. Like a family photo. We are going to gang-cut all the dovetails on all your tail boards with this one saw from Lie-Nielsen.

Yup. One cut. One and done. And you are going to be amazed.

Yup. Look amazed. Chris, drop your left hand there so we can see the saw in all its awesomeness.

Now remember folks this is amazing. Look amazed. Ready?

Chris Schwarz Gang Cut

Chris Schwarz Gang Cut

Reminds me of a few other tools created for the same task, such as this one from Veritas

Veritas Gang saw

Veritas Gang saw

Pins and Tails

If you think about a joint, the intersection point of two materials, there are a number of ways they can be held together.

If the material is metal, you can weld, braze, solder, glue, bolt, screw, rivet, glue, tape, just to name a few methods!

If it is wood, obviously some of these still apply, but not all. Joints can use the strength of the glue to hold a joint together, or mechanical strength (where because of friction/fibre compression and mechanical interlock, the joint holds together), or both.

A basic mitre joint requires the strength of glue to hold it together. One with dowels, biscuits, spline or dominos start getting some mechanical benefit, along with the increased glue area. A mitre lock bit pushes up the amount of glue area. A box joint even more so.

One joint that really makes use of mechanical strength and glue area is the dovetail.

Now some people have a real passion about handcutting dovetails, and hey, more power to them.
One day I’d love to have the technique down pat to be able to do that myself, but in the meantime I’ll stick with dovetail jigs.

The are a number of jigs out there, but by far and away the easiest I have found to quickly and easily create a basic dovetail joint is the Gifkins dovetail jig. No need to reference back to a manual, relearn the steps, remember how to use it, it is that intuitive.

I’ve referenced it on a number of occasions, and hope to do a bit of a feature on it shortly.

Until then, here is the current version of the standard sized Gifkins, with the latest stops fitted.

20120607-223235.jpg

There is a jumbo version, able to produce dovetail joints up to 480mm, and 22mm thick, which would be pretty cool too.

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For more info, check out the Gifkins website.

A Memory Box

Sometimes a memory box isn’t important just for what is inside, but the box itself – the materials it is made from have as much significance as the contents.  This is one of those boxes, and was one I made as a Christmas present this year for my Mother-in-Law.

A Box of Memory

The request for this box came about while my wife’s grandfather’s house was all being packed for the last time (he has recently moved into a nursing home).  Some furniture was not worth selling, and as it was about to be placed out for disposal, the thought by my MIL was whether I might be able to do something with the timber at least, to make a memory box.

The timber came from a piece of Rosenstein furniture, made from Queensland Mahogany.  There was no way that I could maintain the original finish, but that wasn’t specifically important – that it was made from this timber with family historical value was the key.

I took the panel, removed a length of beading detail, then thicknessed and drum sanded it down to a better thickness for the box.  The dovetails were created with the Gifkins Dovetail Jig.

Crocodile Leather Top

Another item found during the process was a bag of crocodile leather, left over from the 60′s, when my wife’s grandmother got a pair of leather boots made.  This was part of the left-over.

I took a piece and glued it to some Tasmanian Oak (so inside the box would still be worth viewing).

Edge Beading

To finish off the leather detail, I took some of the beading removed at the start of the process, ripped it down with the bandsaw, and used this smaller portion (approx 1/3 of the original beading width) to create this edge detail.

Wherever I used the original beading, I was particular in that the original finish was not changed at all, so the colouring of the original furniture is still represented in this reconsideration of the original item.

That crocodile leather is pretty awesome too, and that so much of this box carries that extra depth of meaning is significant, both for the recipient of the box, and for me as I was making it.

Underside of Lid

Keeping the lid simple, I rebated around the edge to create a lid that lifts off, rather than one that incorporates a hinge. (Wooden, handmade hinges is a project for the (near) future).  Here the contrast between the mahogany, and the Tassie Oak is quite noticeable.

Dovetail Detail

Around the top of the box (below the lid), I’ve attached the full width beading removed from the original furniture, mitred at the corners.  It was originally attached with small nails, and where that occurred I have left untouched – if it has a hole, so be it.  I used Titebond glue for both the dovetails, and the beading.

The finish is my old favourite – Tung Oil, and Ubeaut Traditional Wax

In the bottom of the box, and under the box, I’ve attached felt, and otherwise the box is a simple design.  Once again, the Gifkins Jig proves just how good it is at a simple full dovetail. (I have tried handcut dovetails, it can be done, but i didn’t find  it particularly rewarding, or satisfactory result-wise with my skill level – the darkside eludes me again) (Saw a T Shirt quote recently – Come over to the Darkside…..we have cookies!)

I still have a long way to go with my box designs, but for a long time I didn’t even dare try one at all.  A box is something that is often appreciated very closely, so if you don’t have really accurate joints (etc) it is pretty obvious to an even untrained eye.

Creating a box that not only will contain memories, but is made from them is a particularly rewarding exercise.

Little Boxes made of Ticky Tacky

Christmas came and went with such a rush, that I completely forgot to even take some photos of the two boxes I made as presents.  These are a few photos of one of those boxes (taken by my old man) of the box given to my Mum.

Dovetail Box

The sides are Tasmanian Oak, from Misan Timbers.  They have been dovetailed using the Gifkins Dovetail jig, with felt on the base, and more felt on the inside base.  The finish is hard burnishing oil, followed by Ubeaut Traditional Wax applied then buffed with the Ubeaut Swansdown mop mounted in the drill press.

Underside of Lid

The top is framed with Tasmanian Oak, and the panel is Queen Ebony from SITCO Australia.  (It is looking a lot redder than in real life).

On the underside of the lid, I have added felt around the perimeter (where it makes contact with the base)

Inside of Box

The base is actually a floating panel (as is the Queen Ebony in the lid), with a rebate around the edge and sitting in a slot cut around the base.

Side of Box showing Dovetail Detail

The dovetails were perfect straight off the router table – the beauty of the Gifkins jig – once you have it set right, repeatable, perfect dovetails are almost too easy.

Last Minute Xmas Idea

If you are anything like me, around this time of year you start getting ‘nagged’ by your nearest and dearest (in a well-meaning way) for what you’d really like as a present.  And if you are really like me, coming up with an answer is excruciatingly difficult.

So here’s one for you: a Gifkins Dovetail Jig.

I have one, and I don’t get to use it as much as I’d like, which just goes to demonstrate my next statement.  This is the easiest dovetail jig out there, bar none.  The last time I used it was over 6 months ago, and yet after one test cut to check I still knew how to use it (and check calibration), I was able to accurately cut all the dovetails I needed for a box I needed to make.

No reading a manual (there is one (somewhere)), no requirement for test cut after test cut. Just size the sides and cut the dovetails, and have them come out perfectly.

I’ll document the process better in a later article – what I have been doing with it has been a bit of a rush, and I don’t want to prematurely reveal anything (to the recipient that is!)

I was just reminded just how good the Gifkins was, having to use it for the current project.

I have tried handcutting, bandsawn, Incra, Leigh, Jet, and Gifkins.  For ease of use, particularly if you, like me, don’t dovetail often enough to remember process from one time to the next, the Gifkins jig is the one I turn to when I need results.

Workbench and Dovetails

As regulars will know, I don’t have a workbench in my workshop – a shocking admission, a shocking omission.

(I do now have a Walko Workbench though, which if nothing else is convincing me even more that a workbench is a must-have workshop tool, whether it is the portable Walko, or a fullblown bench.)

I have a couple of motivations for trying my hand (so to speak) at handcut dovetails.  One is simply because I like having as well rounded a skillset as I can, and having a level of skill with handtools to complement my comfort with powered tools will only make me a better woodworker.  It also means that when it comes to using “the best tool for the job”, I’m not going to be limited to only choosing “the best tool for the job so long as it has a cable attached and a powerpoint nearby”

Another motivation actually gets back to my opening sentence.  I have always been particularly partial to workbenches that are a reflection of the craft of the woodworker, and the thing that really sets a workbench apart in my eyes is this attention to detail:

Dovetailed Tail Vice

Dovetailed Tail Vice

And you cannot hope to achieve a dovetail of that size using a router!

Al Navas from http://sandal-woodsblog.com/ has been doing dovetails a lot longer than I have, and has been offering me some advice. One thing he has been promoting which caught my imagination is his practice ‘bucket’, and the concept of a dovetail a day – before doing any other work, he practices another one.  I wish I was able to do woodworking every day (or even every week), but the concept is still valid.

Al's Dovetail Practice Bucket

Al's Dovetail Practice Bucket

Of course when cutting a dovetail, once you have the angle right for one, wouldn’t it be nice to have all the cuts done simultaneously. And once again Veritas comes to the party:

Veritas Dovetail Gangsaw

Veritas Dovetail Gangsaw

Now sadly (or not), this was actually from their April Fool collection, but the problem with Veritas and their attempts at an April Fools joke, they take the concept and engineering so far that you end up looking at the tool thinking “it might have been intended as a joke, but……uh…..why not?”

Handcut

I did manage a short excursion out to the shed today – with the intention to try handcutting a dovetail.

Yes, I did manage, no, it isn’t worth showing the result!  (I was rushed, so finessing the fit just wasn’t on the cards).  Irrespective, it looks no worse than many of the dovetails on current imported furniture, so now I just have to get the standard up (need lots of practice time).

As much as there are all sorts of sawblade guides etc on the market, I found the actual cuts and chiseling to be the easy part.  What was difficult (and had a massive impact on the quality of fit) was getting the markup / layout neat. If I had gotten that aspect sorted, the whole evolution would have gone a lot smoother.

An interesting exercise, and I will do quite a bit more to see if I can’t achieve a reasonable (and consistent) quality.

However, using a router with something like the Gifkins jig sure is a lot simpler, and neater (at least for a non-expert)

Cutting the Dovetails

Cutting the Dovetails

Using the quite beautiful Veritas Dovetail saw from Carbatec.  It feels really nice in hand – not your average saw, yet not an unreasonable price either.  If you are half tempted, see if the guys will open a box up for you (or rather don’t, because if you are tempted, you will then be sold!)

Chiselling out the waste

Chiselling out the waste

It was only a simple dovetail joint – 2 pins, just to test the concept. That’s the Walko workbench underneath it

The final "proof of concept"

The final "proof of concept"

No, it isn’t a pretty joint, or even particularly well done.  I knew the pins were oversized (better over than under to my mind), because you can always shave them down a fraction, however I’d run out of time and despite knowing the consequences of doing so, took the mallet to it to join them and got the inevitable splits form.  Oh well, I needed some more fuel for the potbelly!

Hand Tools

I was over at Ideal Tools on Sunday, being filmed for a Hand Tools DVD for use in Secondary Schools and Tafes. Not quite sure why I ended up in front of the camera – wrong place at the wrong time I suppose!  I came away with one thing definitely resolved – I am much more comfortable in front of the camera than I am with a hand tool.  Now there is a scary thought!

It was certainly interesting experiencing a full film crew, when normally it is me, myself and I doing all the roles.

There was a ‘director’ (not sure the real title), 2 cameramen (who also do the post production editing), a soundman (there was even a boom mic!) and one runnin’ around arranging lights, setting the clap board etc.

I didn’t have any problem with the filming side of things – guess Shed.TV has been preparing me a bit for the experience.  I sure don’t like talking about things I’m not very confident in though – felt like a bit of a tool.

So the experience has convinced me that it is time for (non electron-murdering) hand tools and me to become more familiar.

Those who have done it say it’s not that big a deal, so it is time I bit the bullet, found some time, and hand cut my first dovetail. It is obviously something I have been edging up on (secretly, in case I noticed).

I have a dovetail marking gauge from Australian Wood Review

AWR Dovetail Master

AWR Dovetail Master

A joinery knife from Chris Vesper

Vesper Tools Joinery Knife

Vesper Tools Joinery Knife

A set of Hamlet chisels from Carbatec

Hamlet Chisels

Hamlet Chisels

And as of tonight, the Veritas Dovetail Saw from Carbatec

Veritas Dovetail Saw

Veritas Dovetail Saw

I guess I am pretty much out of excuses!

A moment of clarity

I was (attempting) reading the Leigh Dovetail Jig manual the other day, when I had a moment of clarity.  The Leigh template guide does not fit the Triton routers, and that is unfortunate because Leigh have built into their template guide an eccentricity which allows for a very fine tuning of the fit, and accuracy of the dovetail jig.

My clarifying moment was that the new sub-base I was about to review, along with a number of different sized brass template guides from Professional Woodworkers Supplies, will take the Leigh adjustable template guide

Leigh Template Guide

(Image snapped on an iPhone, so sorry about the clarity)  As you can see (and I’ll do an actual review in time), the Woodpeckers Sub Base has a number of holes so it can fit a very wide range of routers on the market, including the Triton, and as part of that, allows a very common form of template guide to also be used.

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