Hand Tools Archive

Re: Chopping Dovetails and Spelching

Sgian Dubh
In short, sharper chisel, smaller cuts, even if that means using a narrower chisel, say 3 mm or 6 mm wide chisel to start removing the waste, reserving the wider chisel(s) for final paring to the line.

Between pins reasonably widely spaced apart, say 25 or 30 mm apart, and after sawing out the bulk of the waste with a coping saw, I quite commonly start paring with a 6 mm chisel working back to the shoulder line. Then I switch to a 10 or 12 mm chisel, followed by an 18 mm chisel and finally a 25 mm chisel. Essentially I'm using the already created pathway of the narrower chisels to provide a reference surface for the wider chisels.

This methodology can be applied to soft wood species, hard wood species, and those that have definite hard/soft parts, e.g., many of the conifers, and ring porous hardwoods such as oak. Each individual piece of wood will tell you how much you need to gradually increase chisel width to clear waste, or even if you need to use the method I've described at all. In some woods, you can go straight to the widest chisel and pare back to the shoulder line with few problems. Slainte.

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