Critique my dovetails - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 10 Old 12-30-2012, 02:02 AM Thread Starter
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Critique my dovetails

Hi All,
I just finished up my first set of dovetails. To practice, I used 0.5x6" poplar from a big box store. I'm not real happy with the final results. 1) I didn't keep a straight edge on the tails and pins. 2) there is a large gap between the pin board and tails. 3) Cleaning the waste on the on the pin board did not go smoothly, see pictures.

A few questions. How important is a dovetail saw? I only have a miter saw from HD.The saw seemed to work okay; expect for a few operator errors. Any tips on fitting and cleaning? Any other advice?

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post #2 of 10 Old 12-30-2012, 03:21 AM
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I've only tried dovetails twice, and they weren't much better than yours. Still working at it myself. Are your chisels sharp? I sharpened mine until they started shaving, and I noticed a huge difference when removing material.
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post #3 of 10 Old 12-30-2012, 08:02 AM
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I am certainly not a dovetail person but,,,,,,,,,,I think that is an excellent first try. Just keep at it till all becomes natural movements.

Do like you always do,,,, get what you always get!!
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post #4 of 10 Old 12-30-2012, 08:23 AM
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Not bad at all. Those look like they would hold a piece together nicely. I agree with the previous post about checking you chisels. If you use a knife to mark your lines it help a bit with the tear out. A sharp marking gauge for the depth line should work well too.
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post #5 of 10 Old 12-30-2012, 02:20 PM
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I'd agree with the others and say that is a respectable first try. The first thing I'd say is that a dovetail saw will improve your cuts, but is not absolutely necessary. The best thing to do no matter what saw you are using is to always make sure you are cutting to the waste side of your mark and then trim to fit as needed.

Marking accurately is very important, especially when marking the pins from the tails you have cut. I almost always use a marking or striking knife for those marks. It is also very helpful if you have some way to clamp the two boards together when marking the pins.

Many people will use a coping saw or a fret saw to clean out most of the waste before chiseling, that will speed up the process of removing waste. I usually don't as I make a lot of small boxes (~4-5" square) and don't have room to saw the waste. When you are chiseling waste, don't try to cut all the way through from one side. Alternate small vertical and horizontal cuts with the chisel until you are about halfway through the waste and then flip the board and work from the other side to complete removal. Trying to remove too much at once can make a real mess.

Finally, there are a couple of excellent tutorials here on hand cutting dovetails that will give you many more tips, just do a quick search and you should find them.

Good luck and keep practicing.

"Good Behavior is the last refuge of mediocrity" -- Henry S. Haskins
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post #6 of 10 Old 01-01-2013, 05:06 PM
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Like others have said it's a good first try. Your chisels are not sharp enough at all. You can tell by the crushed wood fibers. It's important to have a quality marking knife that is sharp, and it's also necessary to have a good saw. If you don't use a quality saw, it can walk/wander from your line. You are also cutting below your marked line, so you need to work on your saw control a little. That will come with practice.

If you want o.k. joints, use a pencil. If you want good joints, use a sharp pencil. If you want great joints, use a knife.

If you haven't already done so, take a look at some of Rob Cosman's videos on You Tube. He is the hand cut dovetail master. Watching him is how I learned, then I just cut lots and lots of dovetails. Just like anything else hand cut dovetails take practice to master.

Everyday I walk out into the shop I grab two pieces of scrap wood and cut a dovetail. At the end of the day before I leave the shop I always sharpen something before I walk out. It might sound crazy, but it helps a lot. I got this tip from a old timer that taught me a lot of the things I know today. When he first told me that he does that I thought he was crazy. I no longer think that.

Mike Darr

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post #7 of 10 Old 01-01-2013, 10:49 PM
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You have to get a good saw. If pros can't cut dovetails without them how will you. I also agree with the rest, your chisels are not sharp. His is something you will have to learn how to do also. As far as the first try. You are miles ahead of 99% of us.


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post #8 of 10 Old 01-02-2013, 12:27 AM
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You are very brave to post close ups of your hand dovetailing. I give you points for effort but your not yet ready for prime time.

The first thing I would do is change your layout. I think keeping the pins fairly skinny and the tails wide gives a more handmade look.

It looks like your angles on your tails vary. I think you need to buy or make a dovetails layout template. I made mine out of black locust. Kind of looks like a little "T" square except at an angle and has shoulders to rest against the end of the drawer side. As others have said, careful layout is paramount. I use a hard leaded draftsman's pencil (4H) and keep it sharp. IMHO it works better than a knife because its more forgiving and you can erase it if you make a mistake.

Poplar is a fairly soft wood and the fibers can crush easily. A sharp chisel is a must and not too wide, 1/2" is the widest I'd use even if you tails are 2" wide. If you cannot shave the hair off the back of your knuckle just by pushing on it with your chisel, it's not sharp enough.

I find it easier to use a dozuki in softer woods but I like a traditional DT saw for hard wood and it takes practice to get the technique down. A light pressure draw back at about 45 degrees to drawer side to get lined up and then a fairly aggressive forward stroke should cut the sides of your tails in about four of five strokes. I use a coping saw to remove most of the waste on through DTs and cut to within 1/16 of the bottom of the notch. If I'm doing a bunch of drawers, Ill cut the tails on my band saw with a fine tooth blade using a special sled with preset angle stops. Why not, the look is the same but is more accurate than doing it by hand. With half blinds you still have to cut all the sockets by hand. Angled joints are easier by hand because its just too complicated to set up using machinery.

On half blinds I clean out most of the waste with a fortsner bit on the drill press before I go at it with my chisels. On half blinds, I always cut the tails first and then use those to layout for the pins. On throughs it doesn't really matter which you cut first but you should always use the first to mark the second.

Lay out your tails so it hides the dado for the drawer bottom in the drawer front and back.

On softer woods I cut to leave some of the pencil line if I can because the wood will give a little but in hard woods I cut through the center of the pencil line.

Practice, practice, practice.


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post #9 of 10 Old 01-03-2013, 12:04 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the advice. I've been working on the dovetails every night after the kids go to bed.

I've started using an x-acto knife for the markings. I've found that my saw or me can't make square cuts. When I try to clean them up with a chisel makes them worse.

I've also been working on sharpening my chisels, but I'm currently limited on sharpening hardware.

Back to more practice.
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post #10 of 10 Old 01-03-2013, 08:59 AM
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If you are limited on sharpening equipment you can get by pretty good with a sheet of glass and some sandpaper. There are some videos on youtube that show how to do it. One of the advantages to using a knife for marking is, it gives a cut to put your chisel into. That will be a big help in keeping things square.

Keep practicing and you will be great at it in no time.

Mike Darr
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