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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello all,
I have just recently decided to get into some woodworking and have decided to fashion some sort of dovetail box. I'm currently practicing on the joint itself. Using a bandsaw and a chisel, I have become somewhat satisfied with the progress. However, no matter how slow I go, very slight imperfections continue to arise. By slight, I would estimate gaps of no more than 1/64", probably less without purchasing a micrometer. These are not mistakes, but something I'm assuming happens to anyone who is not a god. From 3' away it looks decent, but up close I'm still unhappy. All of the vids I've viewed so far seem to yield the same type of result, sometimes worse. Yet, the pics I've seen of finish work seem completely flawless. Furthermore, all the research I've done only covers actual gap filling i.e. 1/8"+ but nothing regarding hairlines...
Finally, my questions:
Am I being too critical or do I actually need more practice?
Do these gaps go away after glueing? After finishing?
When I move away from Fir and onto hardwood, will this problem get better / worse?
My first post, please be kind yet brutally constructive and thanks in advance :)
 

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What you are experiencing with the dovetail is the main reason the dovetail joint is still popular. It was developed in response to poor adhesives in centuries past and became a telltale sign of the craftsman. When people would inspect a cabinetmakers work they looked to how well his dovetail work was done to evaluate the mans work because it's difficult to make a good joint. The quality of the dovetail became foremost in determining the quality of the furniture. Even today with the advent of modern adhesives where the joint is no longer necessary people are still looking for the dovetails as a sign of quality even though with the equipment in the factories a chimpanzee could make perfect dovetail joints.
 

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Hi I hope you don`t mind if I point out what I think your doing wrong.It`s one or possibly two things.

First dressing the wood to get face side and face edge,if you look at the profile of the wood you can see that the edges have been removed this is called removing the arris and is done when the wood is milled to stop the edges breaking of the wood.

At this stage of your development in woodwork you should be working at every thing to give you the best possible chance, that means flat,straight,square,your looking for clean crisp joints.


Read this thread right to the end to understand face side and face edge. http://www.woodworkingtalk.com/f5/motice-tenon-how-52790/

The second point and this is where I think you are going wrong is under cutting the bass line.
I don`t know how you are cutting out your bass line,if it is with the band saw then you are just slightly over cutting the line.
If it is with a chisel you may be trying to chop to much off all at once,when you use a mallet on a chisel the bevel on the chisel causes the the chisel to go back wards and you could be under cutting the bass line.

Read this thread to see how you can use a block of wood to help you stay on the line.
http://www.woodworkingtalk.com/f11/hand-cut-dove-tails-new-guys-35853/

I use a dove tail saw to saw down to the bass line then cut just above the base line with a coping saw and trim it of with a paring chisel so that I cut the knife line in half.

It`s no good saying it looks good from 3`away you may as well say it looks good to a blind man on a galloping horse.
At the beginning you should be heading for perfection in time you will get there, but near enough will always be near enough.

Your aim should be for the three S`s Square,Sharp;Shoulders.Split all your knife marks with a chisel and you will get there.
Enjoy your hobby Billy.
 

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I'd say your off to a great start. For me If I build with hand cut doves I feel having most of the cuts true to be spot on. There's something to be said about the time you put into it. Perfect requires to much time for me. Time is money.

Al

Friends don't let friends use stamped metal tools sold at clothing stores.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
WOWEEE! This is a great site :D Thank you all so much for great replies and so darn timely. Well above and beyond what I had expected. Special thx to Billy. I didn't mind the "pointing out" a bit, in fact that's exactly what I was trying to encourage. The mortise n tenon thread was interesting but honestly a bit above me at this point - I'll be sure and revisit that. The DT thread was amazing and your finished pic on the thru DTs has really inspired me - I was beginning to believe all the other pics out there were via router (maybe they were). Was so happy to see that perfection can be achieved by hand. It's precisely the type of work I'll be striving to create.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 · (Edited)
Hi Billy
couple of questions in regards to your thru DT thread if you don't mind
1) in regards to the base line and the chisel width, are you using a small width (i.e 1/4") to put a minimum amount of stress on the wood or a maximum width (i.e largest width that will fit in the pocket) to maintain a straight line? ...hope that makes sense
2) is it customary to finish board edges with a pin, half pin ...tail, half tail?
Thanks again
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Call me crazy but I don't like the traditional dt joint. Half dt, sliding and other varietes I love. I just think they're kind of overated now. So many other interesting things can be done.
Thanks Gideon,
I'm working towards my first project and in selecting I was immediately struck by the thru DTs especially when two different species were joined together.
Also, thx for the FB link. That is some truly impressive and unique work. Folks like you give us novices motivation and inspiration :)
 

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I do not think you are being too hard on yourself. You can do better. With practice and the right process and tools you can make dovetail joints you will be proud of up close. I recommend you change your approach and tool selection. I could be totally wrong but I think it’s near impossible to cut a high quality tight fitting dovetail joint using a band saw, (I expect to get disagreement here) unless you’re just getting close then paring the final lines with a sharp chisel. You can reliably cut right on the line with a hand saw. I recommend you get a western or Japanese tenon saw, a set of Chisels and a good sharpening method and practice, practice practice. Practice sawing a straight line down the middle of a knife line, stopping on both sides on a base knife line. Then, once you are confident you can reliably split a knife line and stop on a dime, then start practicing with making the whole joint. Learn from each line you cut, take that learning into the next cut. Once you are confident you can cut and pare the joint reliably you can start including the joint in projects, then you get bragging right. Good luck, it's not as long a journey as it sound.
 

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Hi how you remove the waste from the joint more or less decides what size chisel you use.If you chop the waste out you will use a wide chisel but keep your chisel off the base line and don't forget when cutting the pins one side is narrower than the other.

I cut the waste away with a coping saw but in both cases you want no more than a 1/16" of the waste left by the base line.The base line should be marked out with a striking knife and if using a wide chisel you can now place the chisel in the knife mark and just tap it down,not bash just tap,do this half way down turn the piece over and do the same from the other side.

As said I use a coping saw to remove the waste then with a narrow paring chisel place it in the knife mark and just gently press it into the joint,the sharpest part of a chisel is the corner so I sweep the corner into the joint and the waste just peels a way tun it over and repeat.

A paring chisel is a different animal to a bench chisel its thin has a honing angle down to about 20 degrees and is never hit with anything its a real nice tool to use.

As said earlier the tools need to be sharp,when sharp they don't put stress on the wood.You need to know what sharp is,a little test pick up a piece of paper in your left hand hold the chisel in your right hand now run the chisel down the paper and slice a piece of paper off,if it cant do this then its not sharp.

Take a walk over to the hand tool forum and look up sharpening threads or just ask they are a friendly group of people over there.

On a draw with half blind dove tails I like to finish the top off so the draw face runs right through and does not look chopped up.
On the bottom I like to finish of with a half tail so when the groove for the draw bottom is cut its not visible from the out side.

Sorry I may have confused you with the mortice and tenon thread but face side and face edge is a basic principle of wood working and no matter whether you use machines or just hand tools every wood worker needs to grasp that principle.

Here is an excellent thread by Sawdust factory showing just what face side and face edge are. http://www.woodworkingtalk.com/f11/winding-stick-build-thread-54433/

I hope that explains the point enjoy your hobby Billy.
 

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I agree with Billy's explanations. Your DT's look a whole lot better than mine did when I was learning. Yours looks very good. You might be too critical. One point I'd like to bring up, is that there is a difference in handcut, and machine made DT's. I feel like handcut should look like handcut.

If you don't plane/surface and joint the lumber, whether it's pine or walnut, you will get a variation between the edge of the DT and the face of the lumber. If you started off with squaring what would be the top edges of the parts, you wouldn't have that notched intersection.






.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I do not think you are being too hard on yourself. You can do better. With practice and the right process and tools you can make dovetail joints you will be proud of up close. I recommend you change your approach and tool selection. I could be totally wrong but I think it’s near impossible to cut a high quality tight fitting dovetail joint using a band saw, (I expect to get disagreement here) unless you’re just getting close then paring the final lines with a sharp chisel. You can reliably cut right on the line with a hand saw.
Hi Fallbrook
thank u much for the hard honesty on my practice work, I had a feeling there was room for improvement :) it was tough to guage my work against pics found on the internet alone, especially without taking the time to glue/finish.
Also, choosing the road of hand vs power was a debate I went through initially. Most of the books and vids screamed handsaws. I'm a window/door installer by trade for 20 years now and have spent so much time installing trim (standard and custom) with power saws. To be honest, I've always viewed handsaws as relics ...until now. Needless to say, I've never used them - yup not even once. So my ultimate decision was to stay with what I was most adept. I figured I could get a start on a couple projects and jump on that road later if needed. However, today I just moved from Fir to Oak and could immediately see some differences. For instance, the bandsaw tended to jump off my line easier with the increase of resistance to being cut and hacking away at my pin board (with my very modest set of w/w tools >.< ) was basically impossible. So ultimately, I'm moving back to the fork in the road and reconsidering the path most traveled. Thx for the feedback :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Hi how you remove the waste from the joint more or less decides what size chisel you use.If you chop the waste out you will use a wide chisel but keep your chisel off the base line and don't forget when cutting the pins one side is narrower than the other.

I cut the waste away with a coping saw but in both cases you want no more than a 1/16" of the waste left by the base line.The base line should be marked out with a striking knife and if using a wide chisel you can now place the chisel in the knife mark and just tap it down,not bash just tap,do this half way down turn the piece over and do the same from the other side.

As said I use a coping saw to remove the waste then with a narrow paring chisel place it in the knife mark and just gently press it into the joint,the sharpest part of a chisel is the corner so I sweep the corner into the joint and the waste just peels a way tun it over and repeat.

A paring chisel is a different animal to a bench chisel its thin has a honing angle down to about 20 degrees and is never hit with anything its a real nice tool to use.

As said earlier the tools need to be sharp,when sharp they don't put stress on the wood.You need to know what sharp is,a little test pick up a piece of paper in your left hand hold the chisel in your right hand now run the chisel down the paper and slice a piece of paper off,if it cant do this then its not sharp.

Take a walk over to the hand tool forum and look up sharpening threads or just ask they are a friendly group of people over there.
http://
Hi Billy
Thx for another reply :) Good tips helped me out today. I was leaving at least 3/16" on the base before chiseling. Cleaning that down to 1/16" made a huge difference.
Also I transitioned into Oak today for the first time and now see just how important it is to have sharp chisels. I purchased a new set from "the big orange home improvement center" today, and right out of the case they were about as sharp as my fingernails >.< so yup, next stop is the hand tool forum as you recommended for sharpening techniques.
This paring chisel I've been putting off until I can make the trip out to Rockler. Working on the Oak, I can no longer hack away with what I have laying around. Thanks for keeping tabs on this post :) Oh nice thread on the winding sticks too :D
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
I agree with Billy's explanations. Your DT's look a whole lot better than mine did when I was learning. Yours looks very good. You might be too critical. One point I'd like to bring up, is that there is a difference in handcut, and machine made DT's. I feel like handcut should look like handcut.

If you don't plane/surface and joint the lumber, whether it's pine or walnut, you will get a variation between the edge of the DT and the face of the lumber. If you started off with squaring what would be the top edges of the parts, you wouldn't have that notched intersection.
Hi cabinetman
thanks for the compliment :) I did indeed walk in here thinking I had somewhat of an edge over novices due to me being a tradesman. I suppose that's slightly true, but overall not so much after viewing all of these incredible pics of members' work, expensive tools and handcrafted tools. Gotta start somewhere though right? I can see where square on all counts is important. Was easier in my line of work where guess, check, and cut a little more was the way of life. Thx for the reply :)
 

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THL, you are doing well and have been given some great advice already. The pine is fine for practice, but it doesn't have the same feel as hardwood. You can certainly cheat a little more on pine as the wood itself can be forced to compress :shifty: thus closing up some of those gaps, i.e. if you make the joint tighter than called for.

Sharp layout lines and careful sawing to the line or leaving some line showing and refining with sandpaper or careful paring are other options.

Most importantly though is just practicing and perfecting the technique. You don't want to keep repeating bad steps.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Okay so hopefully I'm not exhausting this thread >.> Someone just head slap me if I am. As mentioned above, moved from Fir to Oak today. Huge differences - some good others not so good. Overall, I found it's easier to get crisper lines and the wood itself holds up better to the stresses of chiseling (no mashing, crumbling or tear out). Adversely, I feel like I went from working with butter to hacking away at concrete. Also, without the compression capabilities of Fir, my first practice fit was a nightmare - super loose and way ugly. I had a second go as mistakes are just another notch in the belt :) Not ready for my project yet, but definitely falling in love with this joint - super strong and beautiful (...when perfected that is)!
Things needed desperately (aside from everything)
1. some kind of worklight - anything better than the ambient light floating in thru the obscured garage door windows
2. a workbench - yup been working on the concrete slab :(
3. chisel sharpening techniques/ability
4. paring chisel
Thanks all for your feedback :)
Enjoy the rest of your weekend!
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Hi Chop
Sorry, I was posting as u were replying. Funny though, with a couple of your points, it's like you were standing over my shoulder. Thanks for the reply and yeah people have been tremendous here. I'm very lucky to have stumbled on this site, and yup I try to learn from all my mistakes - no point in paying for the same thing twice. I wish I was a better student though :( for some reason I always seem to need to make the mistakes others warn me not to make... Enjoy your weekend :)
 

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Hi Chop
Sorry, I was posting as u were replying. Funny though, with a couple of your points, it's like you were standing over my shoulder. Thanks for the reply and yeah people have been tremendous here. I'm very lucky to have stumbled on this site, and yup I try to learn from all my mistakes - no point in paying for the same thing twice. I wish I was a better student though :( for some reason I always seem to need to make the mistakes others warn me not to make... Enjoy your weekend :)

The best learning experience is making the mistakes, as long as you can recognize them and learn from them. From what you lasted posted, I will offer this: If you are mashing away at the wood, you are approaching it wrong. The wood is to be pared down slowly, you can't expect to hog away large chunks of wood with your chisel. Small, thin layers at a time. These thinner layers tend to come apart cleanly and more easily. And yes, this goes hand in hand with a scary sharp implement! The new photos are good, keep up the practice. :thumbsup:
 

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Hi twohourslate,
My pleasure. I saw you were asking for honest feedback.



I took a hand joinery class at Palomar three years ago and was amazed and delighted with my dovetails at the end of the course. So I summarized the class in my note to you. My first try was pretty much comparable to yours. Didn’t take long to improve significantly. Nowadays I’ll stack my dovetails up against anyone’s. Really feels good. Practice, you’ll be amazed how quickly they get better and better.
 
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