Happy new year

…to all of you! My new year is going to become an interesting one, I’m quite sure about that. For now, I don’t have much time for woodworking, unfortunately, but that should get better in a few months. Well, maybe, we will see.

This weekend, I finally managed to spend some time in the shop – at temperatures well below zero. Working with steel tools is not really a pleasure when they’re freezing cold. Since I don’t have time for a  proper project at the moment, I figured that I could just as well venture my first steps in dovetail land – the result of which you see on the right. (As if you hadn’t already seen first dovetail attempts often enough…)

I’m not completely unhappy with the joint, but without doubt there’s a lot of room for improvement. I’m really puzzled about the size of the gaps – given the amount of force (i.e. the mallet) it took to drive the parts together.  I was closely following the tails-first approach, described in detail by Tom Fidgen in his book; at least, I now have kind of an idea about the workflow, and the critical parts in particular.I especially liked the method for laying out the tail spacing and size with a divider, that was easy, fun, and resulted in precise markings.

I’m less happy with the precision of my sawing – but part of it is contributed by my leg vise which I haven’t presented here yet. The board that I used for the vise has warped since I installed it and requires a touch-up with a selection of planes. Consequently, the vise definitely lacks precision and doesn’t grip firmly enough for precise sawing (I can’t even saw precisely enough when the workpiece is properly secured.  But  that’s a different problem altogether). And there’s definitely some practising to be done with the chiseling…

At least, I got my hands on wood again, and a lot of fun it was, too. So much for now – thanks for reading!


~ by Michael on January 2, 2011.

8 Responses to “Happy new year”

  1. I will never complain again about my shop being in the low 50’s (F). I can’t imagine what it is like trying to work with tools that might freeze to you. I think the dovetails look ok. I just got back from a museum where I saw a bureau that had dovetails way worse looking then these.
    I’m trying to do dovetails and my gaps can be rented out as garage spaces. Wish I could blame something but its me not practicing when I can and should.
    keep it up

  2. Hi,

    Im no DT expert but…. while still considering that you have presented a jolly good 1st effort, I would offer up the following advice. The gaps in your DT appear to be from over trimming the tail and socket parts of the DT at the large shoulders of the joint (the wider part of tail/socket) The inner part of the tail/socket is probably nice and tight, hence the use of the mallet+heavy blows.

    Next time, just cut the DT with the saw, try the fit, note the high spots of wood, remove the parts and take away very thin slices of waste – continually trying the fit as you go.

    It will take a while for your hand and eye to feel/see when you have removed enough waste so just keep practicing.

  3. Ralph, Peter, thank you very much for your kind and encouraging words! I can gladly report that my second set of dovetails which I finished two weeks ago looked way better. Not only did I saw much more precise, I also managed to identify the high spots better. (Paring away on the wrong site only enlarges the gaps…)
    However, with the shop being unheated, I caught a cold that knocked me out for the whole week. So I guess I have to postpone further practice until it gets warmer again.

  4. I think you and I are in the same boat, Michael. I’ve converted a empty room in my row home basement into a hand-tools-only woodshop. To small and close to neighbors for power tools. I also like how you’re taking it as it comes and not rushing out to buy every new hand tool that comes.

    I think your dovetail looks good for the first one. Even if a woodworker has all the right tools and techniques it still requires the skill, and, to be honest, I think skill has do with mostly muscle memory. Once a woodworkers muscle get used to the angle of the saw or chisel or whatever, things start lining up. That’s been my experience anyway.

    Keep up the good posts. –Alex

  5. That is a fine first dovetail! I just went through this, doing Schwarz’s “dovetail month”. Mine are still not perfect but the sad truth is that I really didn’t feel like I could make decent ones until about #25 or so. It sounds like a lot, but it is actually a bit of fun and the time flies. Indeed, antiques often have pretty gappy joints; I think this is because the joint was meant for structure (as yours above no doubt offers) and were not really meant to be admired. That said, the modern preference for airtight joints is a good one because it does force you to learn craftsmanship. Have you done the “night of a 100 saw cuts”? If you feel you are having trouble with precision sawing, just mark and saw a ton of lines! Do stick with it though; while still a beginner, my current dovetails are 100x better than my first, and they get better each time. There are a lot of nuances not possible to learn from reading, and the only solution is to spend the time.

  6. I think it came out great for a first try. Much better than my first. and second. and third tries.

    I also have an unheated shop, in my garage. I don’t get any practice in the winter time since I can’t stand to be out there with the cold tools. And of course, it’s boiling hot in the summer, so some days are cut short then as well.

    So I guess I have a lot of excuses.

    I need to get a lot more practice in, like Rob suggests.

    I know it works – I have no drill press, so I drilled about 200 holes a few days to prep drilling out an axle of a wooden gear I made – the improvement was awesome. Final result wasn’t machine-perfect, but it was enough that the wobble was well within my required tolerances.

  7. small white font on black background is extraordinarily difficult to read!!!!!!

  8. zzzz

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