It is a great honor to be able to help fellow woodworkers. It is especially nice when they take the time to write a note requesting help, because they believe you might be able to pitch in a bit. This was the case with Steve, an amateur woodworker in Central Missouri. His boxes are terrific! But make sure to also look at the photo of the walnut table he sent me — it is the last photo in the Gallery show, at the end of this post. Steve is a very accomplished woodworker.
In July 2010 Steve wrote to me:
I admire your work and would like to try my hand at making the jewelry box with inlaid dovetails. I have the Leigh D-4 jig and some experience. Still, however, I’m just a hobbyist and only make items for my family. I think that some time ago, you had a video posted of how you made the inlaid dovetails, but I cannot locate it now. Can you tell me where it is. I recall it was exceedingly helpful and I’d love to review it several times, now.
I replied: You will find the videos as follows:
- Inlaid dovetails – Tutorial, Part 1, The Basics (The Pilot, too!)
- Inlaid dovetails – Tutorial, Part 2 (actually cutting tails and pins!)
- Inlaid dovetails – Part 3, the Finale
- A merged version for Episodes 1 & 2, which resides on the FineWoodworking.com web site: Dovetails Revisited – Parts 1 and 2 merged
Steve wrote again, because he was having a little trouble with the inlaid walnut blowing out. I had also experienced this, due to inadequate clamping of the inlay material. The following is what he wrote a few days later:
I keep getting the inlay blowout, even after carefully spreading the glue. On one attempt, after a suggestion from a friend, I rough sanded the inside to allow space for the glue to reside. Still blow out. Using Titebond III glue. Any glue recommendations? Very non-porous woods: hard curly maple with walnut.
I offered the following, based on my experience with inlaid dovetails:
I can think of several things to try, based on my experience:
- Clamping time: When using yellow glue, I allow the joint to dry overnight, tightly under good clamping pressure. How much time are you allowing while clamped? I have never used Titebond III
- Regular Elmer’s white glue gives you better open time, allowing you to sit the pins in their sockets much more easily.
- If the joint is too tight, it might wipe off much of the glue as you assemble it…It is “just right” if it takes a little effort, but no mallet to assemble.
- One glue trick someone tried and suggested to me, but I have never tried: Use Super Glue. Apply to the sockets on the tails boards, and wet the joint surfaces on the pins boards. He told me that the joint would be ready to route again in about 10 minutes!!!
- I would also try epoxy, as it has void-filling characteristics. Clean-up becomes the major issue when using epoxy, but alcohol helps a great deal – the tube and/or box will have instructions on which solvent works best to remove the epoxy.
- What size tails are you making? And how deep? I have cut the inlaid dovetails in just about all sizes, except the very largest, using the Leigh router bits.
- Which router bits are you using? If the bit is not sharp, or not running at the correct speed, it could cause blowout.
- You may have to use backer boards. I have never had to use them, but it might solve the blowout issue for you. I would try everything else, before resorting to back-up boards, as they are a pain in the rear.
Ultimately, and on his own, Steve found a solution to prevent blowing out the inlay material; it ensures great results:
I may have discovered a tip for helping with chip out. Before the second cutting of the tails (routing out the inlay). I used my band saw to hog away much of the waste in the inlay (I carefully measured so as to not inadvertently hog away some of the inlay I wanted to remain). This means that during actually re-routing the tails, I am now cutting away much less wood on one pass with my dovetail bit–result was greatly reduced chatter on my dovetail bit – no chip out! Much, much better results!
I’m a perfectionist, and I can see that the entire process requires extreme care throughout. The tiniest things (a fraction misaligned jig, fractionally off shims, etc.) yields exaggerated (and not pretty) results. I caution others that this process requires practice and extreme care in every step. But, it can be done with beautiful results!
Thanks for your guidance.
Terrific, Steve! He continued a while later, sharing his solution to minimize the risk of blowout:
Actually, I ruined two boxes, so I’m on my third one—and I think I’m an experienced woodworker—perhaps not! But, it’s looking nice. Pics to follow.
I just used Tight Bond III, allowing overnight dry-time to ensure it was fully cured. I didn’t have glue problems. My chip out was due to curly wood, and dull bits. My best success was with (1) choosing tight and straight-grained wood for the inlay, (2) using a new router bit, very sharp, and (3) prior to routing the inlay, waste away with a band saw as much as possible so when routing the inlay the bit doesn’t need to remove very much. Other than that, I’ve come to think there is a little bit of technique involved, too. One gets a bit of a feel for it—different from regular routing of dovetails, even with the Leigh jig. I found I got better (after ruining about four boards! — very frustrating). Occasionally, I try hand -cut dovetails, but only an artist could do inlaid dovetail by hand that didn’t look uneven—this is strictly a job that requires a jig for uniformity.
I’d be pleased if you used some of my pictures on your site (Note: I offered Steve to publish his photos on this blog). I don’t have good ones, however. I’m the world’s worst photographer—I just use my cell phone camera and click away. I’ll attach several and you can chose.
PS: Earlier, I planned to retire this year and devote more time to woodworking, my biking, and classical piano (world’s worst here, too). Then, more projects at (work) keep cropping up, so I’ve decided to work another year or even two.
Thanks for sharing with us, Steve. Your pictures are fine to illustrate your work. I know you are looking forward to retirement; enjoy the journey between now and that time.
Here are Steve’s photos of his beautiful boxes made with the D4 dovetail jig – and his walnut table (please click on the images to enlarge them – you will also be able to navigate from one to the next):