Al Capwn

First Handcut Dovetails

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On the subject of dovetails. What's better hand cut or using a router with a dovetail jig? It's cheaper to do it by hand but is it easy enough to catch on and do it well after a handful of attempts? I see Lee valley has a dovetail guide does anyone use them? Sent from my B15 using Tapatalk

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==>^^^

It depends on how you define 'better’... Both methods have pros/cons.

Aesthetics: Correct or not, woodworkers are enamored with 'thin' dovetails... Note: IF customers care or not never seems to enter the discussion... You can’t cut these with a router...

Speed/efficiency: One or two drawers, it’s hand-cut... A case piece with 10+drawers, it’s the router...

 

Alternate methods: If you’ve got a large batch of drawers, you can also cut dovetails efficiently on a bandsaw or using a dovetail blade on the table saw... These methods will give you the ‘thin’ look that customers may or may not care about...

 

Edited by hhh

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Yep, all else being equal, hand cut is "better" simply because of aesthetics.  I much prefer the thin pins.  It just looks better.  But I still jig cut my dovetails more often than I hand cut them because it's a serious investment of time for me to hand cut more than a set or two.  I'm anal and slow.  But sometimes it's worth it, depending on the piece.  I'm more inclined to hand cut through dovetails since they're always visible.  And as an aside, this is the same reason I never hand cut M&T joints...if you can't see it, what's the difference?  Knock it out in two minutes with table saw and router or in thirty seconds with the Domino, and no one is the wiser.  Machine cut dovetails scream in your face..."I'M NOT HAND CUT!!!"

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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On the subject of dovetails. What's better hand cut or using a router with a dovetail jig? It's cheaper to do it by hand but is it easy enough to catch on and do it well after a handful of attempts? I see Lee valley has a dovetail guide does anyone use them? Sent from my B15 using Tapatalk

Cheap, Fast, Good - pick any two.

I would argue that cutting by dovetails by hand is cheaper than by machine - they *CAN* be cheaper, but it all comes down to how many gadgets you use to make them.

Basic Handcut Option:

  • Dovetail Saw: $10-$30
  • Dovetail template: Free if you make your own, but you need a bevel gauge or some way to translate the angle.
  • Pencil: You should have one.
  • Chisels: $10-$50
  • Hammer: $6-$25
  • Practice: Whatever your time is worth to you.

So you are in the game for low-end $30-$100. Like anything though, sky is the limit when it comes to tools. Boutique dovetail saw will set you back $200-$250, marking gauge ($40-$100), fancy dovetail guides (magnetic or otherwise), nicer chisels, etc. It can add up to the cost of a router, bit, and dovetail jig.

This is also presuming you have a solid work surface as well, such as bench + vise. I don't have a dedicated bench, but I am improvising. Did I mention a bench and vise is on my short list now?

So "better" is subjective. I would imagine after a certain number of drawers a jig would be more time-effective. It just depends on what your end goals are and who your customer is. If your goal is learning a skill, go hand cut. If your goal is " get 'r done" then use the a router and jig.

For example, I used pocket holes for everything starting out. Its quick and has all the skill of a butt joint. Now that I am more "into" the craft, I am reaching outside of my comfort zone to challenge me in a new way. For me, that meant tackling primary joinery by hand. No it isn't fast, but I don't need to be. If I make a piece of furniture in a month or two, that is perfectly reasonable for me. Your mileage may vary.

And as an aside, this is the same reason I never hand cut M&T joints...if you can't see it, what's the difference?  Knock it out in two minutes with table saw and router or in thirty seconds with the Domino, and no one is the wiser.

...but YOU would know, where is your neanderthal integrity?! ;)

That being said, I agree - with the exception of through-tenons, I presume.

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...but YOU would know, where is your neanderthal integrity?! ;)

That being said, I agree - with the exception of through-tenons, I presume.

What's the difference?  Through, not through...they look the same cut by hand or cut by machine...only probably sloppier done by hand.  Dovetails look different when cut by hand because machines can't do what a dovetail saw can do (unless you do the bandsaw method) but M&T look the same either way.  There's no advantage using hand tools to cut M&T.

I don't let nostalgia make me irrational.  My goal is to work as efficiently as possible without sacrificing the quality or appearance of a piece.  Which usually means machines for all the grunt work and hand tools for finesse work, and occasionally some hand cut joinery.  I break edges with hand planes and try to sand as little as possible (ultimately I'd like to have the skills to sand nothing...not there yet).  So I leave the traces of craftsmanship behind that hand tools impart, but I leave the crappy work to my apprentices.

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And as an aside, this is the same reason I never hand cut M&T joints...if you can't see it, what's the difference?  Knock it out in two minutes with table saw and router or in thirty seconds with the Domino, and no one is the wiser.

It was more in response to the Domino; not sure how you would do a through-M&T with a Domino.

Side note: In theory, could one could cut out a majority of the dovetails with a band saw?

EDIT: Don't answer that - you already did. Reading is an acquired skill as well, apparently.

Edited by Al Capwn
Learning to read gooder.

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Thanks for the responses on my question, and thanks for the poster to not get upset with somewhat hijacking the original post haha Sent from my B15 using Tapatalk

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==>I much prefer the thin pins.

Thin, but not anorexic. The trend towards size-0 pins looks as ridiculous as the trend towards size-0 runway models... Having lived with period furniture my entire life, there are very few pieces that survive daily use with English-style ultra-thin 1:10+ pins... While they may look cool to woodworkers, their long-term viability is suspect.

 

==>There's no advantage using hand tools to cut M&T.

Don’t we have to distinguish between machine-cut, machine-cut & hand-fitted and hand-cut? I’m pretty good with machine tools, but I usually have to do a bit of fitting somewhere along the way... And even the simplest pieces benefit from hand-cut joinery for some components (e.x. drawer blades).

 

==>Side note: In theory, could one could cut out a majority of the dovetails with a band saw?

Yes, with the clarification that some chisel work would be required... Many facilitate pin waste removal with a fret/coping saw and tail waste with a coping saw/router. There are numerous videos available on YouTube.

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==>There's no advantage using hand tools to cut M&T.

Don’t we have to distinguish between machine-cut, machine-cut & hand-fitted and hand-cut? I’m pretty good with machine tools, but I usually have to do a bit of fitting somewhere along the way... And even the simplest pieces benefit from hand-cut joinery for some components (e.x. drawer blades).

Yeah, of course...I consider the fitting of a machine cut M&T "finesse work," and IMO doesn't qualify for "hand cut."  I use hand tools to perfect the fit of machine made joints all the time.  But you will never catching me sawing out a tenon or pounding out a mortise with a chisel...that makes absolutely no sense to me.  It's about as meaningful as milling a board by hand.  Purely grunt work with no aesthetic value.

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==>But you will never catching me sawing out a tenon or pounding out a mortise with a chisel...

Never say never: Wait'll you start exploring outside the 90d dogma -- period or contemporary... There will be joinery more efficient knocking out by hand than setting-up a machine --- 90d dogma's raison d'etre...

 

 

PS. sorry to perpetuate the hijack...

Edited by hhh

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==>I make my blanket statement with 90* work in mind.

Accepted...Just thinking into the future...

BTW: Even with funky m/t, I tend not to pound them out.... Even bracing with a handscrew, the risk of sidewall failure is pretty high... I typically brace/bit the waste, then clean-up with a mortiser -- so it's neanderesque, not true cave man... The only time I go cave-man is angled mortises where it's hard to start a brace/bit... I did three curved-apron tables over the summer --- cave-man all the way...

Edited by hhh
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==>I make my blanket statement with 90* work in mind.

Accepted...Just thinking into the future...

BTW: Even with funky m/t, I tend not to pound them out.... Even bracing with a handscrew, the risk of sidewall failure is pretty high... I typically brace/bit the waste, then clean-up with a mortiser -- so it's neanderesque, not true cave man... The only time I go cave-man is angled mortises where it's hard to start a brace/bit... I did three curved-apron tables over the summer --- cave-man all the way...

learn me something here. Mortiser as in power mortiser? And why remove the waste with a brace/bit?

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 And even the simplest pieces benefit from hand-cut joinery for some components (e.x. drawer blades)

 

Can you explain this one?  Why drawer blades?

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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!

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. . .

They won't come off. I think you could break the teeth of a traditional Japanese saw prepared for softwood. However the hardened teeth on modern style saws would need some real punishment to remove them. 

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Everything will break. Full stop. The issue is the amount of force or abuse required. While it is possible they break easily generally speaking, I and a few others disagree. This truly limits the saw in question to lemon status or abuse. Judging any tool on the basis of abuse is kind of pointless beacuse everything will break. 

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Yeah, I already said that in my previous message. This particular saw teeth will break very easily though.

Yeah, I saw that. 

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That photo looks like the teeth were never cut at that spot. If broken, the metal would be at or near the base of the other teeth, not near the top. I'd call it a manufacturing defect.

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