First Handcut Dovetails


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I now have a new found respect for those who can hand cut perfect dovetails, especially freehand. I assumed that they would be easy, which in a manner, they were. However, easy to mate perfectly is another story. Without further ado, for historical purposes for the world to see, here is my first ever attempt at cutting dovetails by hand using Paul Sellers method. Go easy on me!

Lessons learned:

  • You cannot chisel straight on your baseline/knife wall if there is supporting material. This pushes your chisel backwards into your line and causes the gaps in the bottom.
  • Sharp chisels are a requirement. Narrower chisels are better than thick ones. My Home Depot Stanley FatMax chisels are not exactly svelte. I'll probably end up getting a set of Narex chisels are relegate the FatMax to glue cleanup/general purpose.
  • Establishing a baseline slightly deeper than the material thickness helps cause the pins/tails to be proud, thus can be smoothed flush with plane/sanding.
  • Pine is not as forgiving when it comes to dovetails. I read somewhere that this is because it compresses very easily, perhaps someone could elaborate.
  • 1" thickness is probably too thick, especially just starting. Using 1/2" or even 1/4" would have been a much better start. Less material to remove means fewer chances for errors.
  • Not sure why Paul doesn't recommend sawing out the waste with a coping saw. It seems like this would cut down a lot of work for the chisels and reduce the chances "chisel push back" (don't know if there is a technical name for this) that occurs when there are lots of wood fibers

Any other tips on how to improve are always welcome.

 

Dovetail2.jpg

Dovetail1.jpg

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You're too hard on yourself...your first try went together without cracking wood...that's success. It's all about practice.  Just practice.  And practice.  And practice. Someone came up with a great i

==>Mortiser as in power mortiser? Mortiser as in mortising chisel, or in my case, English-pattern Mortiser, aka, pig sticker...   ==>And why remove the waste with a brace/bit? Reduce risk of sid

Wow, strong arms, a poor saw or both. I have no idea how I could replicate that with the Japanese saws I have used. Thanks for the photos Popeye! 

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That was Schwarz who did that when he set out. Good advice. Practice makes perfect.

Al have a look at my recent thread on Bedside Tables or Nightstands in the forum to see how I do it. I am a chop out dovetailer rather than coping sawer. Either method works well to get rid of waste. But if you are doing half blind DTs you have to chop the pin boards.

Pine is not a good material to use when you are practising as it does compress. Try some hardwoods instead.

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+1 on using something other than pine. Grab some maple and a contrasting wood. You'll be able to better see where you need improving. You should also practice sawing in a straight line, this will help you greatly. The keys to cutting any joint are proper layout, and knowing how to handle the saw. Take your square, mark some straight lines about an inch or so long, and just cut them. 

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You're too hard on yourself...your first try went together without cracking wood...that's success.

It's all about practice.  Just practice.  And practice.  And practice.

Someone came up with a great idea but I can't remember who it was.  Grab two boards and cut a set of dovetails every evening for 30 days.  At the end of each session just hack off the old pins and tails and start again the next day.  You'll be down to a nub by the end of the month, and I promise your skills will be a universe improved.

I do prefer to saw out the waste.

Thanks - I think everyone is their own worst critic. After all, I usually see posts that say something along the lines of, "Well, this came out terrible, but here it is" and usually the piece, to me, looks perfect to outside appearances. I will certainly keep at it - it is one of those practice makes better type of things, I am sure. A dovetail a day keeps the...uhh...crappy dovetails away? Anyway, Paul Sells has 40+ years under his belt, so of course he makes it look easy.

That was Schwarz who did that when he set out. Good advice. Practice makes perfect.

Al have a look at my recent thread on Bedside Tables or Nightstands in the forum to see how I do it. I am a chop out dovetailer rather than coping sawer. Either method works well to get rid of waste. But if you are doing half blind DTs you have to chop the pin boards.

Pine is not a good material to use when you are practising as it does compress. Try some hardwoods instead.

Just looked at that thread, and I see what you mean now. You also chiseled a bit behind the knife wall, which is probably where the majority of my gap problems came from. Again, lesson learned. Also, I think a marking gauge might be a bit more reliable/convenient for setting the base line, rather than using a knife + square. Not that it will solve all my problems, but might add a bit of consistency at least.

I will try some Oak, and maybe 1/2" at that, to minimize the wood working against me at the same time as my lack of experience!

Also you mentioned a Frank and using his method, call me naive, but who is that?

 

+1 on using something other than pine. Grab some maple and a contrasting wood. You'll be able to better see where you need improving. You should also practice sawing in a straight line, this will help you greatly. The keys to cutting any joint are proper layout, and knowing how to handle the saw. Take your square, mark some straight lines about an inch or so long, and just cut them. 

Sounds like a plan - combination of lack of experience and lack of proper setup. Material was clamped in a WorkMate, and used a Japanese Razorsaw to cut. A dedicated bench + vise is on my short list. Again, sure puts a new perspective on those who did/do this for a living. Of course, doing anything a million times often breeds improvement, I would imagine. Any suggestions on proper technique for sawing properly/straight - besides sawing a lot, of course?

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It's Frank Klaus. I mentioned him somewhere in the thread. Just Google him and you'll find a few Youtube videos. He is a master woodworker and is known for his  quick accurate dovetails. He's probably forgotten more than most people will ever know about woodworking.

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I would recommend soft maple to practice with.  Pine is too forgiving so it can give you a false sense of success.  And hard maple is so unforgiving that it can frustrate you like crazy when you're trying to learn.  But if you can cut nicely fitting dovetails in hard maple, you can cut them in anything.  Soft maple - or cherry or walnut if you have scraps lying around - are perfect practice species IMO.  Poplar is okay too but it's getting close to too soft like pine.

A marking gauge is not optional for dovetails if you ask me.  You need one.  You CAN use a square and knife to lay out, but there's too much error involved to get anywhere near perfection.  A quality dovetail saw will make your life much more enjoyable.  I think western saws are easier to learn with, but that's a matter of opinion and up for debate.  But they are. :)  Quality matters, despite what some people will try to tell you.

Also, I'm not sure if you cut tails or pins first, and that's also a major point of contention, but I've found that generic through dovetails are way easier to cut tails first.  That's just my experience and the way I would recommend doing it to anyone trying to practice.

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Terry: Frank Klaus, thank you - I will check him out.

Eric: Well, I have some hard maple around, might as well head towards extremes, right? Ha! I picked up the Gyokucho razorsaw and it seems to cut fine, and I have seen folks use both whole Eastern/Western saws, both with positive results. I attribute my lines to lack of practice more than anything. Also, I figured a Japanese razorsaw would be better than the $10 gents saw, but a little less expensive than a Rob Cosman, especially since my income doesn't depend on it. ;)

However, since you do have more experience on the matter, I will defer to your input on what would be a quality dovetail saw? Lee Valley/Veritas?

I have been cutting the tails first, then transposing and making tails. Visually that seems to make sense to me.

Side note, looking at the Veritas Double Marking Gauge. Seems like it would be the most versatile - anyone have experience with it?

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what would be a quality dovetail saw? Lee Valley/Veritas?

Yeah, either.  Or any of the boutique saws.  Or any quality old-school flea market find that's in great shape and professionally sharpened.  Hard to beat a LN for a hundo and a quarter for bang/buck IMO.

This is what I use...

https://www.lie-nielsen.com/product/tite-mark-marking-gauges/tite-mark-marking-gauges-tite-mark-?node=4179

thumbnail%2Cw_500%2Ch_500%2Cm_a.jpg

 

https://www.lie-nielsen.com/product/dovetail-saws/dovetail-saws-dovetail-saw?node=4145

thumbnail%2Cw_500%2Ch_500%2Cm_a.jpg

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LN makes great stuff from what I hear - I haven't pulled the trigger on any of their stuff. However, that saw price is half what the specialty saws run for, so certainly interested in the future. I will probably wear this saw down and may opt to try a Western saw next. Worst case is I don't like it and sell it.

Any reason for the LN marking gauge over the LV? I see both of them offer single micro-adjust gauges, just wondering if there is a noticeable quality difference, or just personal preference.

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Any reason for the LN marking gauge over the LV? I see both of them offer single micro-adjust gauges, just wondering if there is a noticeable quality difference, or just personal preference.

It's not a LN, it's a Tite-Mark made by Glen-Drake Toolworks.  LN just happens to sell it.  The Veritas would be a fine alternative but I'd probably get the micro-adjust version because it's only a few bucks more.  The Tite-Mark is more bad ass but probably doesn't make your pins and tails fit any better.

http://www.glen-drake.com/Tite-Marks/

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Great start! As mentioned so far they'll only get better. In my experience the Japanese saws don't break teeth and last a long time. If they are not well suited to you do try a western saw. Keep at it!

Thanks! From the little research (but little practical experience) the Japanese saws are hardened, the Western saws are not. The Japanese blades you replace, the Western you sharpen - but I have heard they are a bear to sharpen, which is why I opted for the Japanese saw. We will see how the mileage is. I figured the investment was minimal for a decent start - worst case scenario is that the teeth fall off and I run to the hills!

It's not a LN, it's a Tite-Mark made by Glen-Drake Toolworks.  LN just happens to sell it...

http://www.glen-drake.com/Tite-Marks/

Oops, my mistake and good to know. That is the one thing on the Double Marking Gauge that they don't have - micro adjust. It seems like a handy feature to have. So the debate is: micro adjustment, which would be useful for precision of all layouts vs. two cutters, which would be useful for M&T and multiple layouts. Decisions, decisions. . .

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Oops, my mistake and good to know. That is the one thing on the Double Marking Gauge that they don't have - micro adjust. It seems like a handy feature to have. So the debate is: micro adjustment, which would be useful for precision of all layouts vs. two cutters, which would be useful for M&T and multiple layouts. Decisions, decisions. . .

Two different tools for two different jobs.  I don't cut M&T by hand so I have no need for a dual marking gauge.  One nice thing about the Tite-Marks is that you can add extensions and cutters to come up with any combination of lines under the sun.  I'm not sure if Veritas offers this or not, but if they don't, by the time you buy a wheel marking gauge and a dual marking gauge, you might as well just get the Tite-Mark and a few accessories.  If you're just planning on cutting dovetails by hand and wanna save a few bucks, the Veritas makes more sense.

http://www.glen-drake.com/Adjustable-Mortise-Blade.html

http://www.glen-drake.com/1-4-Inch-Fixed-Width-Double-Bevel-Mortise-Blade.html

http://www.glen-drake.com/3-8-Inch-Fixed-Width-Double-Bevel-Mortise-Blade.html

http://www.glen-drake.com/Tite-Mark-Extensions.html

 

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You've already hit the (a?) nail on the head with the need to chop away from the knife line and sneak up to it to remove the supporting fibers and keep the chisel where you want it.

Touch your chisels up (I hit mine on the strop) just before you use them - sharp is good :).

The "Saw Skills" topic in this forum has some good info on improving sawing.  http://www.woodtalkonline.com/topic/20221-saw-skills/

It may help to warm up before sawing the dove tail by marking a line in the waste between the tails on your board and sawing that first.

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That Lie-Neilsen dove tail saw is the reason I haven't started my 30 dovetails in 30 days project. I need to buy it. 

On the other hand, now that I have the Incra Jig Ultra, I'm not sure I'll *need* to do it. Will be fun to learn some day though. 

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I like my Lie Nielsen dt saw for through dovetails, but for half blind and sliding, I prefer my cheapo japanese saw. Gotta have sharp tools, coffee, relaxing music on and pull up a seat at the bench and slow down, precision joinery is not a race. 

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...hard maple is so unforgiving that it can frustrate you like crazy when you're trying to learn.  But if you can cut nicely fitting dovetails in hard maple, you can cut them in anything...

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So I went back to the Dojo to try again. This time in hard Maple. Because 1) I am a glutton for punishment and 2) it was on hand, so why not. I took my time. I carefully made sure my lines were crisp and clean. I used a mechanical pencil with a 5mm lead on it. I placed my thumbnail on the line and carefully guided my saw. Oh yes, dovetails would be mine this day...

I chiseled away, making sure to stay away from the knife line I had made. The hard Maple cut cleanly, with none of that soft squishy nonsense the pine had. I looked at my tails with an appreciative glance. . .

I transferred the tails carefully, and once again set to work. Tap tap tap, flip, tap tap tap, over and over until the waste finally gave way. Then the moment of truth: fitting the tails to the pins.

It was then that I realized, to my horror, the error of my ways. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the old adage measure twice cut once is very important, especially if you are new. Make sure that your dovetail layout template is on the correct face when you make your layout lines. Go ahead and enjoy a free laugh, this one is on me.

Dovetail3.jpg

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 Go ahead and enjoy a free laugh, this one is on me.

Not Laughing ... been there, done that ... Join the club.

But you can smile - Since you've now done it on a practise piece, it shouldn't happen again and mid-project ... result!

As Eric said, consider them pins and make some tails to fit - doesn't hurt to practise cutting pins first, you never know you might like it.

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Not Laughing ... been there, done that ... Join the club.

But you can smile - Since you've now done it on a practise piece, it shouldn't happen again and mid-project ... result!

As Eric said, consider them pins and make some tails to fit - doesn't hurt to practise cutting pins first, you never know you might like it.

Glad to hear I am in good company! I was in good spirits, it was only practice after all. Like you said, had it been a project I am sure that I would have been less than...enthused. Lesson learned now though and now it is something to keep an eye out for.

Right-O, pins-first reverse dovetails. Maybe it could be a new trend . . . :D

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