I started my hand-cut dovetail journey this past September. In this post I share my graduation from Hand-Cut Dovetails-101. What a terrific day!
As I have mentioned in those previous posts, I have been hand-cutting dovetails every chance I get. I prepared sycamore stock so that it would be at the ready when I have a little (or a lot…) of time to practice. Today I cut dovetails in three little practice boxes, with minimal paring on the pins. Oh – I almost forgot. I made these pins first, a first for me. And it worked great! In addition, I did not mark angles; I learned from Frank Klausz that I can simply start cutting, and lay out the pin pattern by eye.
You can view the entire session given by Klausz right on this blog. Simply click on this link; I split the session into three episodes, for easier viewing, and for ease of downloading.
In the following photo you can see some of the boards, ready to go, on the left of the stack of little boxes I made:
My purpose in learning to hand-cut dovetails: I must make some tiny drawers for a Krenov cabinet waiting in the wings. The drawers in that cabinet will be quite small. These little boxes are close in size to the drawers that will go in the Krenov-inspired cabinet: 2-1/2 inches tall, 6 inches wide, and 4 inches deep.
Today I got a little adventuresome, and added walnut to the mix – and skinny pins on the sycamore boards. I was able to get this one done with a bare minimum of paring the pins. I have not planed nor glued these yet:
I have also been making even smaller boxes, such as the one below, with one large tail on the side boards:
As you may have noticed in the second photo above, I overshot the depth when cutting the tails. The walnut is dark, and I found it difficult stopping at the proper depth – a problem that continues to plague me. So I tried a little chalk on the line, and now the line pops out beautifully:
Here is how I went about making the line stand out we well. First, I mark the thickness of the pins boards on the tails boards with something suitable, preferably a marker with a nice, sharp cutting edge:
Next, I apply chalk to the line marked earlier:
I then wipe off the excess chalk with a shop towel:
NOW I can see the line much better – AND I was able to cut to depth much more reliably:
Maybe it is time to buy a powdered wig, and wear it in the shop during my sessions cutting dovetails by hand. Edit to add: You also will get a kick out of the technique used by Christopher Schwarz. He bought some pantyhose, and stuffed it with whiting and French chalk to mark the pins from the tails. You can read about it at this Woodworking Magazine blog post.
As a big bonus, today I also received my dovetail chisels from Blue Spruce Toolworks – they are terrific! I ordered them from David Jeske at the Woodworking in America conference in Berea a few weeks ago. These helped me pare the pins perfectly, in no time:
Thanks, David Jeske!
I have enjoyed this journey. I hope you get a sense that, no matter your age, you, too, can learn to hand-cut dovetails. I am sure you will be able to do it quicker, and better than I have learned. But I am glad I have learned how to do it. However, I know I must continue practicing, so I am ready for that little cabinet waiting in the wings. It is all about muscle memory.
How do you think I did?
A group of related posts: Hand-cut dovetails, from my blog.