Hand Tools

Re: Be efficient
Response To:
Re: Be efficient ()

Jack Dover

Bill Tindel suggests that I use some other wood. Yes, of course a softer wood should be easier. But that’s not my point

I agree with Bill on this one.

A good dovetail is a result of multiple small factors, miss a single one and there will be issues. Oak requires 100% exactness because it has almost zero compression or "give". If you don't split a line while sawing - dovetails won't fit and you would have to pare. Paring presents another problem: almost no reference surface and it requires an extremely sharp chisel so you don't tear fibers below the mark (and I consider paring one of the hardest skills to master). And the list goes on.

I think it would be better if you would eliminate as many variables as possible. Changing wood is the easiest: poplar is very forgiving in terms of required sharpness, it also has enough compression to compensate for less than ideal sawing, etc.

You also mention that you want to chop the waste out and that it's slow. Indeed, it's slow because you have to position a chisel very carefully and it's quite slow for anyone not doing this full time. It's going to be faster after a while. Paul Sellers makes it look very simple, however I remember my first attempts felt like I was binge drinking for a month and then quit abruptly. Coping the waste out removes this requirement altogether and contrary to what Paul Seller says coping doesn't make you a sloppy amateur or less professional than anyone. But chopping is a valid technique, just don't give up.

Another thing I'd like to mention is that most people that struggle with dovetails go for it heads first — usually they start building a piece and the frustration comes when dovetails are spoiled. I think we (as in "part time woodworkers") miss the practice part and it's crucial. You wouldn't expect to play Caprice #5 w\o practicing etudes and scales, would you? Or to win a basketball game not doing any throwing practice. So just collect a bucket of scraps (could be oak if you insist), and just dovetail two pieces together every night for a week. Inspect them the next day, circle all the defects, write them down, grade your own work. You'll quickly see which small things aren't what they're supposed to be and then work on those. E.g. you might find that you can't split a line or maintain a sawing angle, or that you're not square — just practice these elements, literally, do 5 series of 5 cuts and inspect these again, marking bad ones and giving yourself a grade, rinse and repeat.

And the last one: we're talking about a mechanical skill. It takes time to develop it, otherwise woodworking would be so trivial it wouldn't exist as a separate occupation. Get yourself accustomed to the idea that your dovetailing skill is directly proportional to the amount of time you've spend doing it. I'm pretty sure you'll be chuckling to yourself in about 6 months when you remember your first dovetailing attempts.

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