Fair Woodworking

June 14, 2012

The Dovetails ugly step sister

Filed under: dovetail,Mortice and tennon,Picture issues,Skill development — fairwoodworking @ 4:25 pm

EDITORS NOTE *** This post is experiencing 3rd party photo hosting “issues”, that will be addressed as time allows. ***


These days, it’s all about the dovetail. It’s the sign of modern day craftsmanship, and has become the decorative accent in many of our projects.

For me, as of late, it’s not only been decoration, but also the motivation for the projects I’ve been making. For me it’s been necessary because I really want to master them like any other skill I’m learning, but as great as they are, their uses are fairly limited. Not everything can be built in the shape of a simple box.

The mortice and tennon joint, while much less sexy, opens a world of possibilities, and its high time I get on it.

When I cut my first dovetails, it was very stressful. I was not confident with any of my tools really. It took a terribly long time, and the end result was just as bad as everyone else does the first time…

Here, sawing the tenons was no different from many other sawing activities I’ve done recently. When ever I try something new, I’m glad I didn’t short cut any of them.

Same thing for cutting the shoulder. Cross cuts are more difficult I find, but I’m getting better.

Chopping out the mortice was much like chopping out the end of a stopped groove, but I’ll admit I avoid stopped grooves as much as I can. The mortice chisel does not yet feel like an extension of my hand, but thankfully it is not foreign either.

You will have to use your imagination for the fitting process. This part kicked my butt, and pictures were the last thing on my mind. Trimming the shoulder is not something I’m accustom to, and I felt like I would go back and forth over trimming one side, then the other.

Thankfully, my cutting of the tennons were nearly dead on, and only needed a shaving off for it to fit.

In the end the shoulder fit pretty tightly, but not perfect. Livable for the first time.

The through tennon was a decent fit as well. A little gappy on the ends, but again, passable for a first try.

But this is where it all falls apart.

The darned joint is hopelessly out of square.

It’s interesting to me, that the flaws and difficulties I had seemed directly proportional to my skill level.

Now don’t write that off as a stupidly obvious observation. Using my hand saws whenever possible, even if it was quicker or easier with a power tool made the tennon sawing a snap. The tennon was not what made it out of square.

My occasional use of the mortice chisel, made the work comfortable, but still lacking in skill of any kind with it left me with a crooked mortise.

As for the trimming of the shoulder? I had to have trimmed at least an 1/8″ off the shoulder before I got it right. That would have been fatal if it was for a real project.

Those little skills compound.

Anyways, the next night I tried it again.

The tennon went well.

I took extra pains with the mortice.

Trimming the shoulder was a little less of a gong show.

Just about perfect, but not quite.

But I’m getting there.


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