Contact Info

Some people are wondering how to contact me….well, I’ve got a new email address and also will soon be launching a new site. I figured I’d start using the new email though, so here goes….

If you have questions, inquiries about sharpening services or restoration, or just want to chat about saws, feel free to email me at:  matt@thesawblog.com

Thanks!

-Matt

Published in: on August 16, 2011 at 8:47 am  Leave a Comment  

Dovetails a la Underhill….

It was my birthday last week, and despite being buried in saw work, I figured I deserved some woodworking time on my special day. So, I took a couple hours to make some new bookshelves I need for our living room. My collection of woodworking and history books is growing by leaps and bounds (when I’m not in the shop, I always have my nose in a book) and I’m running out of places to pile them up.

So, I came up with a quick and simple design for some dovetailed shelves that would also let me try out a dovetailing method I read about in one of Roy Underhill’s books. Roy is my absolute woodworking hero and I adore his work. Ever since I read about this particular method of cutting the tails for a DT joint I have wanted to try it. What struck me about his method, which I’ve never read or seen anywhere else, is that besides the base line, there is no marking involved for the tails. So all you need to make them is your board and a saw. No knife, no pencil, no DT gauge or bevel gauge and no dividers or rule to lay out the spacing. You don’t mark the tails at all…you just cut everything by eye. Cool, right???

So let’s get to it and you’ll see what I mean…

After I mark the baseline for the thickness of the stock on the tail board, I clamp it up in my Moxon twin screw vise. In my mind, for a 9 and 1/2 inch deep bookshelf case, I see three large dovetails joining each corner of the case. It’s with this layout in mind that I begin…

To start the first tail, I grab my saw and make a shallow kerf to define the edge of the first tail by drawing the teeth back along the end grain. As you can see, there’s no mark what so ever for the tail cuts…I just guesstimate about 3/4 to an inch in from the edge of the board and pull back to establish the cut line. And this is the great part of Roy’s method…you lay everything out by eye and don’t mark anything…

Then, I switch to the other side of the board to define the cut line for the edge of the opposite tail. Same thing here….eyeball about an inch in and draw the saw back to establish a kerf line….

The trick here is to use the shiny saw plate to ensure that this kerf line is square. You can see the reflection of the board on the saw plate, and once you line it up equally in the reflection, you know you’re square and you draw back the teeth to mark the kerf.

Next, I cut the kerf defining the size of the first tail. I estimate about two inches from the first kerf and draw back with the saw…

Now the same thing with the second tail…about two inches wide…

We’ve now defined the width of our two outside tails and can focus on the middle tail. I define the middle tail about 3/4 of an inch from the right side tail…

And the other side as well…

And here’s the tail cuts kerfed out and ready to be cut…

Now I’m ready to cut my tails…and here’s the fun part. Again, there’s no marking here…no definging the slant of the tail with a knife line or pencil mark. I just estimate the slant of the tail by eye and tilt my saw accordingly, then start cutting. And once you’ve cut a few dovetails, you’ll get to know how the saw should feel for the proper angle…in fact, there isn’t really a “proper” angle at all. Its more of an angle that can be too sharp or not sharp enough. As long as you stay inside of those outside parameters, you’re dovetails will be just fine. So here goes…

Place the saw teeth in the first kerf, angle it slightly to the right and start sawing…

I make all of the right slanting tail cuts together…1, 2, 3. Here you can see the angle I’m cutting at a bit better…again, I’m just going by feel here…

I make the last right slanting tail cut, then go back and make my left slanting cuts to complete the tails. Here they are all cut…

Not bad for no layout marks…and man was this quick!

Now its a simple matter of cutting the rest of the tails for the case, removing the waste and paring to the baseline. After that, I match up my tail board to my pin board to mark the cuts with a pencil, and then it’s dovetailing as normal. Of course, I don’t mark the pin cuts on the face of either board….I just mark the slope of the tail on the end grain and saw straight down. But like I said, that’s all standard dovetailing…its really the lack of making any initial lay out marks that makes this method so freakin’ cool!

Now I know what you might be thinking….your probably telling yourself that this is cazy…how can you ensure that all of the tails are even and spaced properly???  How can you ensure that your tails are going to be uniform and perfect and esthetically pleasing????

Here’s the thing…dovetails don’t have to be perfect. In fact, they are more historically correct and look better when they are not perfectly sized and laid out. You want machine shop precision in your woodworking? Get a Shopbot and make your furniture like a cyborg…lifeless and dead inside. Me…I like traditional and human. And once you see the finished product, I think you’ll agree…dovetails laid out and cut by eye are very pleasing. It’s all about letting go of your precise marking gadgets and letting your sense of natural proportion take over. Your brain is surprisingly precise without any guides. Plum, level and true are pretty well programmed inside you. Let go and allow yourself to know them and you’ll spend a lot more time sawing and chopping and less time marking and measuring.

Still don’t believe me? Here’s the case glued up and trimmed flush ready for planing…

I’m pretty pleased with this method…thanks Roy! 🙂

And since this was so much fun, I ended up making a second book shelf…and this one was even quicker. The whole thing went together from 8 foot planks to a  glued up case in about two hours.

After I finished the first one, I decided to dress them up a bit with some nice simple crown molding and base quarter round. Even though it covers up the dovetails, they were a little too plain for our living room…

‘Til next time!

🙂 Matt

Published in: on August 12, 2011 at 7:48 pm  Comments (11)