Fair Woodworking

April 13, 2017

The 3 Minute Dovetail Challenge

Filed under: dove tail,dovetail,Fair Woodworking & Hand Tool Blog,Skill development,Video — fairwoodworking @ 8:13 pm

Seven months ago I got a little hooked on cutting fast dovetails. You may think it’s silly, but it’s no different that racing the 1/4 mile or timing how fast you can complete a level on your favorite video game. Shortly after I started, I competed in the WIA Handtool Olympics and was very surprised when I won the Dovetail competition with a time of 5 min 41 sec.  That is a good time, even a very good time, but for some reason I didn’t believe it was what should have been a winning time. I’ve written before about how I’m not really comfortable with the idea that as a joke, I have blown way out of proportion.

You do realize you are reading the immortal words of The Champ right?

By the time I’d returned home from WIA, I’d become very dissatisfied with my accomplishment, although I was still thrilled with the Bad Axe Saw I won! I knew I could do better, I needed to do better to feel that I’d earned one of the nicest saws I’d never paid for.

Since that time I’ve cut countless dovetails in secret. I’ve studied tape both my own and that of the masters, I’ve tried new techniques, and reworked old ones. Really, I’ve a little bit obsessed on a silly little task to see what I, an ordinary guy with very ordinary skills, could do.

I had to bite my lip when I discovered that a regular guy could get under the 4 min mark. I had to sit down and stare at the wall for a while, when I reached 3 min 30 sec, and wonder how this was possible. I remember the day I discovered that I was just 9 seconds short of Mike Siemsen’s time, and had to go back to re-watch the video to be sure it wasn’t running slow. (In Mikes defense, if you have ever really watched that video, you will see that Mike made a couple mistakes he’s probably never made in the past ten years, and had it not been for that, he would have come pretty close to Franks time.)

Somewhere during this process, I had passed that arbitrary number that I thought was a “respectable” winning time, but there was still the Holy Grail. My hero! Frank is the supreme grand poobah of dovetails.

And that was my White Whale.

When you get in to the 3 min mark, every movement counts. The 3 min mark is a time I hit a lot for a good long time. Really after that point you feel like you have to take the rotation of the earth into account to improve. 2:36 is a time that I knew had the potential to elude me for years.

If you’ve watched the video you now know that just about anything is possible.  As I mentioned in the video, it was just a test run. I’d hit a bit of a wall and as I mentioned, I have found that recording a run gives you a chance to see what you are doing wrong.

Apparently I did something right this time, but I also saw some little nagging issues that I’ve been working on resolving.

I know I goof off a lot here on the blog and on other forms of social media. I talk a lot of trash, and claim to be some big shot. I’m just having fun. Most of what I say is at best a partial truth, but this next statement is as real as I can make it.

There is an amazing amount of skill locked inside of your hands. It will remain locked until you put in the work to release it. No amount of positive thinking will do what a little hard work and determination will do.

You can’t because you don’t, not because you don’t believe. Belief comes from seeing the accomplishments you previously thought were impossible.

I’d also like to give a shout out to those of you out there in Instagram land that seem to have grabbed a hold of this idea and are diving into this challenge already. Watching you guys (hopefully one day it will include some girls) fills me with glee. Let’s make the next Handtool Olympics a blood bath of killer times!

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January 26, 2017

5 Dovetail Techniques and Tools You Don’t Really Need. 

As the Undisputed Dovetail World Champion, I feel that I have a duty to give back of myself to the dovetail world. It’s the least I can do to with the position I now hold.

Ha, ha. Ya right.  Just as soon as I’ve finished getting my nails done.

Really I’m just thinking back to when I first dreamed of the day I’d be a real woodworker that knew the “Dark Art” of dovetails. It’s funny now how mystical they seemed at the time. One of the reasons they seemed unobtainable was that it seemed to require so many tools. I’d attended the demonstrations, watched the videos, and I’d sat through the sales pitches. I did the math on what my first set of dovetails would cost in tools, and at over $800.00, I’d still be without a workbench, a marking knife or even a mallet.

It took a few years to be able to afford all the tools in the “beginner” set, but along the way I managed to find an affordable mallet (no longer available), and a marking knife. $500 later I had a usable workbench as well.

All told, it must have been about 5 years from the day I discovered the idea of dovetails to the day I cut them, and that’s just silly.

It didn’t need to be that complicated.

  1. You do need a workbench, and if you don’t have one, I’d highly recommend downloading The Naked Woodworker video. Had I just had access to this one resource when I first started, I’d be years ahead of where I am now as a woodworker.
  2. You will need a vise, or holdfasts like are shown in Mike’s video above.
  3. You need a Dovetail saw. Duhhh…. You can’t go wrong in product or price with the Veritas Dovetail Saw
  4. You need a Chisel. Ya, just one chisel, if you have a set already, please don’t throw the rest away, but if you don’t, just get one 1/2″ chisel. That’s all you really need to get started. Again, you can’t really go wrong with Narex if money is tight.
  5. I like using a Fret saw to remove the waste. Rob Cosman sells a pretty good one on his web site,  although I’d personally pass on the Hockey tape…
  6. You need a square. Would you believe you can lay out your dovetails with just a square? Ya! I’ll show you how later, but even the angles can be laid out fairly accurately with just the tip of your finger and your average square.
  7. You need a pencil. I like using a mechanical pencil because the mark it leaves is uniform. It never dulls, so it fits everywhere the same, line after line, after line.
  8. You need a mallet. NOT a carvers mallet, and NOT a hammer. I like a larger mallet, or even better, a mini sledge.

Oh and one last thing…. You NEED flat and square material. As a beginner, this should be the most challenging thing to get your hands on, but the flatter and the squarrrr’errr your material, the better off you will be.

That’s it. That’s all you really should need to get started, but there are other tools you will see out there, all of them I use regularly, that you don’t really need to have to get started.

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  1. Dividers – Dividers are great, but they add steps to your layout. If money is tight, you can get by for now without them.
  2. Rebate plane – First introduced to me as the “140 Trick” it’s used to make a shallow rabbet on the back of your tails. This aids in holding them against the pin board so it doesn’t slip while transferring the layout. It’s a really good trick when done properly, but Rebate planes are tricky to set up, and learning to use them well can be a hard learned skill. Again, it’s a great trick, but if done incorrectly will make learning dovetails all the more difficult.
  3. Marking knife – I found using the marking knife the most difficult skill to master with dovetails. It’s a real trick to mark all your lines accurately without accidentally moving the tail board out of alignment, and really that is a big reason people use the 140 trick. If you just want to cut some dovetails, the transfer is way, WAY easier with a pencil. You can learn how to use a marking knife later if you want.
  4. Dovetail marker – Remember how I said you can layout your dovetails with just a square? I’d much prefer to use and Dovetail marker as it is way easier, but if you don’t have one yet, don’t let it stop you.
  5. Marking gauge – You use a marking gauge to create the base line for your dovetails and also your pins. I have a few of them and they are great, but lately, for through dovetails, I’ve just been using my chisel.

Again, they are all great tools to have, they are all very, very useful, but you don’t really need them to learn how to cut your first dovetail.

If you would like to see how you can cut a reasonable dovetail with just 8 simple tools, I made yet another dovetail video.

Enjoy…

September 10, 2016

The Man in the Mirror

Short story, I’m a lame techno geek, and I’m too easily obsessed with things that probably were intended to just be fun.

See? That wasn’t so painful?

Ok. Long story?

Hand tool skill is the culmination of many finer, smaller skills that can really be a trick to pull together. As a beginner I was just happy if I didn’t cut myself. As you improve, your internal skill monologue grows, and good motions are obvious in a sea of bad motions. That is if you can remove yourself from the task at hand and watch yourself working. Unfortunately, that level of self awareness is pretty much impossible so you really only have two options. Get someone as skilled as you or better to watch you work, or film yourself with your handy digital camera as God intended.

For the past week I’ve been practicing cutting fast dovetails to compete in the Handtool Olympics at the upcoming Popular Woodworking in America, and I’ve found right off the bat it was less about working fast as it was removing every best practice that was not absolutely necessary.

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No Marking gauge

No dividers

No Dovetail markers

Marking knives are a no, and…

My beloved shallow rebate on the back of the tails?

Gone.

Heck! Tails first is even out the window since I’m pretty sure pins first is faster.

All I’m left with is a Dovetail saw (no crosscut saw), a fret saw, one chisel, a pencil and a mallet.

I feel like such a minimalist!!!

Once I got comfortable, I was sure I could be faster, so I tried to work quicker, and wouldn’t you know it? My times got slower… How could that be?

What I’m coming to realize is that speed is not about rushing so much as it is about removing the slow bits. The hesitations, the missteps. When you make a mistake or are inefficient with your movements the penalty is wasted time, and possibly the need to fix a mistake.

So I got out my camera and shot this little video. It’s pretty easy to see where I’m loosing time.

How I handle the wood, keeping track of what side is the inside, and what is the show side. – If you always place each piece down exactly how you will need it, you don’t have to rearrange later.

Hesitations and lurches with the saw. – I’d thought my sawing skills were pretty solid, and they aren’t really that bad, but it still isn’t a true extension of my arm.

Transferring the pins to the tails. – What a mess, I really need to relax at this point.

How I handle the chisel. – I’m actually pretty happy with it. I feel I’ve really improved in that part although I totally blasted past the base line on one spot of the tail board.

Anyways, feel free to have a look and see if you can pick out some of the flaws in my actions, then chuckle to yourself when you see that I split the pin board.

Ah well. It happens some times.

Who would have thought I’d have so much fun practicing?

 

If you want to see how the pros do it, watch Mike Siemsen go head to head with Frank Klausz.

August 8, 2016

Neil Cronk – Bad with a secret, pain in my side.

Filed under: I Think I'm Funny,Video — fairwoodworking @ 10:46 pm

Remember back in the good old days when you could tell a friend a secret and you knew it was safe with them? Well perhaps I just don’t know who my friends are, but you would think he’d have the decency to keep quiet about one of the greatest finds of the ancient world.

The Ancient Art of Zig-Zag Rule Charming.

About 2 years ago I discovered some old text in a dusty basement that has completely changed my view of hand tools.

The old ones are alive!

And this video proves it!

Thanks for spilling the beans on my research Neil.

We are no longer friends.

 

Editors note 08/09/16 – For the sake of journalistic integrity, of witch I have none, and just in case any of you are taking any of this seriously, Neil is one of my best friends. It is in response to a tweet he made yesterday that went something like this. “ From what told me in DMs is his next vid is going to have all original mouth harp music.”

Thanks for the inspiration Neil. 

Can you believe I slammed out that sweet harmonica solo in one take??!!!???

 

August 7, 2016

How I flatten a board. THE MOVIE.

Filed under: Skill development,Video — fairwoodworking @ 6:37 pm

So yesterday, as I came to the end of my day, I finished with resawing some boards that will ultimately become the raised panels for a frame and panel back I’m doing. I find resawing to be very stressful to the wood itself, and it takes a day for it to come to grips with its own new existence.

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With nothing left to do but one final sweep up, I often will sit back on my shop stool and enjoy one last of my favorite songs, or two.

Today, with the boards nicely bent out of shape, they have come to grips with their new thinness, and are ready for flattening once again.

As I was working I started thinking about one of my most read posts. It’s an overly wordy, post with a million and one pictures on flattening a board that I still think does not fully capture my process, and when I say my, it is my own way of flattening, that I developed, on my own through trial and error.

I don’t know if anyone has ever been able to decode that post, but when I’ve shown people in person, they seem to get it a little better.

Since you all can’t fit in my shop at one time, I thought it may be better if I grab the camera, and its freshly charged battery, and shoot a quick video.

3 hours later….

Here you go.

How many of you caught me break my own rule, and mistakenly plane the wrong place?

Ya well screw you. It’s flat now isn’t it?

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.

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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.

 

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