Fair Woodworking

April 9, 2017

Consider pins first with a withering eye

You are not getting any younger. Unlike myself who is ageless and perfect, you are getting older with every word you are reading. And so, I don’t want to waste anyone’s time with same old arguments in pins vs tails.

Actually that’s not true.

Although whenever I’m looking to make a dovetail look or fit really good, I’ll pretty quickly go to tails first. But in the case of the historically accurate dovetail, good enough was good enough for 99% or possibly even 100% of the time. I think perfect dovetails, as much as I love them, are a modern misinterpretation of a historically un-exotic joint.

Recently while discussing the low Roman work bench the thought came up that on such a low bench, it’s nearly impossible to transfer from tails to pins because it’s so low and doesn’t have a vise.

So there you go.

Strike number one for tails-first. You need just the right type of bench to transfer. Conversely you could transfer from pins to tails while sitting on the sidewalk nearly as easily as any of your most functional workbenches. Now that I think about it, I can hardly think of a step in tails first that doesn’t call out for a better tool or a slick new idea to make the next step easier. You need a vise, and some thing to rest the tail board on while you transfer so the other end doesn’t wobble in the air. You need shallow rebate, you need a thin marking knife, you need dividers. And that all seems odd seeing as they are promoted by being easier than pins first because you don’t have to perfectly cut to the lines on the tails.

As true as this is, I gotta stop you for a sec…

Are we not woodworkers? Are we not to at least some degree Handtool Woodworkers? Have we not belittled power tool only types with how we don’t need to know the angles of cuts because we just strike a line and cut to it? Is not the line of the dovetail striken, striked, struck… for our sawing pleasure?

Yes, with all the gizmos, tails first is easier for beginners, but you should only be a beginner in the beginning. Once you get some experience, sawing to a line shouldn’t be that difficult. We really need to get past this very weak argument.

Ever try to saw to a knife line in bad lighting? That’s right. You need a work light to get that sweet raking light. But you only need the raking light for the knife line. In most woods a pencil line is easier to see, especially as you get older and your vision starts to fade. But a pencil won’t fit between the tails when we do those smart looking narrow London pattern dovetails. Not a problem if you’re pins first.

It’s just a thought.  I’m probably wrong. But what if the predecessors of our hard core pins first advocates didn’t really care what method was easier for the apprentices to learn. What if what they really cared about was that their method be possible no matter where the next job took them. Good bench, no bench. Good raking morning light, or a grey cloudy day. Young clear eyes of an apprentice or the weak old eyes of the master.

As I’ve gotten older, and I resisted accepting that I may need reading glasses. Switching to pins may be worth considering for my withering eyes.

Ahh… Who am I kidding? I got two work lights. I can see anything!!!

And this bench! What can’t it do?

And that reminds me!

Why the Hell would I be transferring pins OR tails on the sidewalk?

Honestly? I don’t know if I ever will strictly choose one or the other.

February 25, 2016

Hey you kids! Get off my airspace!

When I started this blog some 4 and a bit years ago, it was all about me. I started it to fulfill a need to document my journey in woodworking.

My blog, about me, for my sake.

Me, me, me, me, me.

Over the years, I’ll admit that I’ve gotten a little distracted with petty man crushes, sharing what I’ve learned, and the promotion of getting out there and meeting other woodworkers.

For this I am very sorry.

I meant no harm in it all, but in truth, I must admit I have strayed from my sacred task.

I forgot who the most important woodworker in my life was.

That woodworker is me, and so I owe myself one very sincere apology.

So let me return to the golden era of fairwoodworking where I was content to post what ever tickled my fancy, not for the good of mankind, but for my sake. So that in the years to come when I lack the strength to work in my shop, I can still look back and marvel at how truly brilliant I really am. “What a fine lad”, I’ll say as I struggle to impress an uninterested nurse.

Those will be good days.

It hasn’t happened for a while, but every now and then I get the urge to make a video. Lately it hasn’t so much been videos, but honest to goodness feature films. Unfortunately, I had no script or even a worthwhile story line.


I did however stumble onto some really great soundtrack sounding music, and I have a video camera, so how could this go wrong?

What ever could go right while chopping out the waste from half blind dovetails?

How can that be interesting?

What can you learn from watching my video nay Feature Film?

Don’t care!

This is my blog, and I’ll make videos of what I want.


August 1, 2012

Piston fit drawer

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


I wouldn’t say I’m the type to get too attached to my projects.

Not normally anyways, but from time to time, without meaning too, a bond forms with a project.

This becomes a problem when you are making it for somebody else.

In these cases, to let go hurts the heart like the time your dog ran away, or you lose a family air loom, or when you discover you are out of milk after you’ve already poured your cereal.

As with a number of other things I make, this was being donated through my woodworking club to go to our local children’s hospital in their annual fund-raiser. I’ve been trying to improve/learn a better sense of proportion so built the carcass  based only on proportions. There was no functional purpose driving the dimensions.

As soon as I committed to the dimensions, and started cutting my tails I became convinced that I was building a very funny looking box.

It can be a little deflating when this happens, but I chose to take a deep breath, and just try to survive the experience, like when you make a wrong turn in a bad neighborhood, or when uncle Jerry beats you to the bathroom.

The quality of the pine I was using was a little suspect, and almost too soft to work with, and not just a little ugly, but I tried to make due. You know you are going to have a hard time when a freshly sharpened blade still allows tear out in BOTH directions…

Despite my concerns, as the assembly came together, I found I’d become enamored with just about every aspect, every dimension of the finished project.

How can you not fall in love with a project when it motivates you to make new tools, learn a new form of dovetail, as well as mortice & tenons? With all that, I also wanted to try out making a true piston fit drawer. As cool as all the other stuff was, it’s nothing compared to a well fit drawer!

But is the finished project as sweet as I seem to think it is? Or is it as dumb looking as I thought it would be originally? I’m struggling with objectivity here.

Is this a case of love being blind. You know, like when a parent can’t see that their kids are funny looking, or when your lucky underwear becomes a bio hazard.

So presentation day comes along, and it’s time to say goodbye. When we all got together, each one of us had to give a few words on what we made. While I was demonstrating how smooth and awesome the piston drawer action is, I accidentally let it slip that it was going to be a little hard to let this one go.

Later, being the only hand tool guy in the group, it’s not unusual for a small crowd to gather around whatever I’ve made. Mostly I think it’s because they can’t believe anyone could actually make something with only handtools, but this time it was different. This time they were debating what to do with this little box. The consensus was that while it was really cool, and the drawer was kind’a fun to play with, no non-woodworker would pay more than $5 for it.

In the end the others approached me to ask if I wanted to take it back. In exchange I could then make something less personally significant.

Clearly design is not my specialty…

But no matter, it sits on my desk now. It’s empty because I really have no need for such a little drawer, but every now and then, I pull the drawer open so I can close it again. You can feel the resistance of the air as it rushes out of the bottom.

5 bucks….


I should also mention that although the drawer slides very smoothly, I found that the air pressure gave it enough resistance that you had to hold the carcass when you opened it. I ended up buying some rubber bumpers to give it traction.

I think I paid $2.99 for the bumpers.

Five bucks?
No, no. I’m fine…

March 9, 2012


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


Hand tools are better than power tools!

They are better because they are slower, and that gives you time to ponder many things. The freedom to ponder your next step, and solve problems before they happen.

Yes hand tools are better.

In being slower, they are faster because you don’t have to fix mistakes caused by the rush, rush of power tools.

Hand tools are better…


Seems I’ve spaced my pins too close together, and my fishtail won’t fit…


Knitting is better than…

March 2, 2012

First halfblind Dovetails

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


With new tools come new tasks.

Having completed making both a set of Skew Chisels and a Fishtail, there was no excuse not to give halfblinds a try.

The sawing is a little more difficult than through dovetails, but similar in nature to sawing mitered dovetails. Having essentially two versions of the same tool, I thought it best that I give both a try.

First I tried the Fishtail. The entire process was trial and error, but I got through it pretty well. Will need to improve the gaps along the tops of the tails. The Fishtail worked pretty well I thought, but having never used the skews I had nothing to compare to.

The second halfblind gave the Skews a chance to win my heart. I’m all for dedicated tools, so I can see an easy victory here.

I pick up one of the Skews and go to work cleaning out one of the corners. Give a little pare along the base line, and then move to trim the angle cut off the pin… Hmmmm…. The skew angle is backward…. Set down the one and go to work with the other for a sec. Now I need a square edged chisel. Put down the skew, and grab my regular. Now I need the skew, no wait, the other skew.

With all the picking up and putting down, it’s a wonder I didn’t cut myself. It really took no time at all for me to see how much more effective the fishtail is for halfblinds.  It does the work of both skews without any transition time, and still works fine as a square edged chisel.

I really can’t see ever using the skews for halfblinds again, but I’m sure they will come in handy some day .

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