Saturday, April 19, 2014

April Meeting Blog

Our April meeting began with 30+ members and guests in attendance.  Really good attendance again, Jamie jokingly said she may have to knock down a wall to get all of us together, and there was a full house:

    After our customary, round robin self introductions we had a short business section.  A couple of items discussed were the voluntary dues of $20.00.  Next month will be the last time they'll be collected and all of those monies goes to maintain the MeetUp site, pay for any outside speakers, and also fund the end of the year Christmas party.  That is the years highlight with food, social time, and gift certificates to Lee Valley.  Last year we gave out about $400.00 worth.  Your name is automatically entered into the drawing when your a dues paying member and additional entries are given if you do a demonstration for the group.
    The Makers Faire was held earlier this month.  It's a new event designed to draw people to the downtown area.  One of our members, Tom McGrady, had a booth set up featuring his Las Vegas Swings.  His goal was to attract the attention of Zappo's since there "corporate vibe" is a laid back one and he did!  Last I heard they were scheduled to come to his shop to see all of his work and (finger's crossed!) place an order with him.  Here is a LINK to his website, his work is fantastic.
    Bill Patten brought in his magnetic, resaw fence for his bandsaw that was talked about during Joe's bandsaw demonstration.  No picture of his but here's a LINK so you can buy one of your own!
Farmer's Markets are a place where some of the members have set up booths to sell their work.  They work but you do have an initial cost of tent, display shelving or table, and entry fees. Pete Hauser mentioned that he could possibly get members a booth space at Tivoli Village for free or a reduced price that would include those items.  Contact him if you're interested in doing that.  Speaking of Pete, he brought in this checkerboard for show and tell.  I noticed that Ed also had bowls that he turned but the darn, featured speaker took so much time the show and tell section of our meeting was cut short --- sorry about that!

    When the subject of showing and selling our work came up the question was how do you find out about these things if you're interested in them.  One good source for us here in the western USA is a magazine called Woodworkers West.  It's relatively inexpensive and is full of all sorts of information pertinent to us, here is a LINK to their website.
    The last bit of business came about when someone asked what the best way to store lumber is.  Do you lay it flat?;  do you set it upright?; store it under the bed?; etc.  In the discussion that followed I was reminded of Jamie's statement: "ask 10 woodworkers the same question and you'll get 12 answers!"  I think the bottom line is that you have to store it based on your space and work habits.  I'd love to a basement like James Krenov has in his book but I'm stuck buying just enough for my current work and then trying to figure out what to do with the usable scraps.

I had the honor of being the featured presenter at this month's meeting and first of all I want to tell you how I appreciated your attention and interest in it.  When Jamie asked how many of you had ever hand cut dovetails very few of you raised your hands.  They are a very traditional joint and modern technology allows us to do similar work in quicker ways.  With routers,  jigs, and computer guided tooling the hand cut work is becoming rare.  I'm among those furniture makers that really enjoys the process of the work, although it may get frustrating!

Before I began there were a couple of things that generated some questions.  One of those is the portable bench I used.  This is one I use for carving, joinery, routing, etc. I like that it's portable and it brings the work closer to me. Being in my sixth decade the higher working height keeps me from having to struggle straightening up after being bent over the workbench!  I made this bench from plans in Fine Woodworking Magazine by Jeff Miller.  This was the March/April issue of 2005 so you can probably find them online in their archives.  Another question was regarding the tools.  My advice to students is to buy the tools as you need them.  It's foolish to drop hundreds of dollars on a set of chisels and dovetail saw when you're not even sure you'll like the work.  My first joints were cut with the same Stanley plastic handled chisels I used as a carpenter in the early 70's.  As my interest and skills progressed I invested in better tools -- that's what I'd suggest you do too.
     I'll briefly explain the process I went through at our meeting with the help of these photo's.  As usual, Lupe has done an outstanding job documenting what I showed plus she took this really video that's posted on YouTube.  She edited it and it will give you a good idea of what I did and jog your memory. Here's a LINK to that on YouTube.  I was glad that Jamie asked how many of you had ever done hand cut dovetails and there wasn't an overwhelming majority.  I hope my demonstration didn't overwhelm you but instead inspires you to try to make them on your own!  I love this craft and am happy to be able to share it.

Wood Prep and Lay-out

Setting the Angle
The slope of a dovetail is referred to as 1:6 and 1:8.  That's set with a sliding bevel square by drawing a perpendicular line on a board.  Next you measure out 1" at the bottom and also measure 6" or 8" up on that line.  With the sliding bevel square you connect those two points and there's your angle.  There are numerous dedicated dovetail markers on the market or you could make your own.
    The first step to the process is having your pieces absolutely square and the opposing pieces must be the exact size.  For boxes and drawers I prefer to cut the groove (dado) that will house the bottom before I begin cutting the joinery.  The advantage to me is that you now know which part of each board will be at the bottom and inside.  Keeping track of which board goes where and marking them for their final position is critical.  The other reason for cutting that groove is to accurately lay out the tails to conceal it.  
Length of Dovetail on Front
The drawer front  needs to have the thickness of the drawer side and the length of the dovetail scribed on it.  Customarily, 1/3 of the thickness of the front will remain to conceal the dovetail.  The trick I showed you was using a 1/4" piece of plastic to set the marking gauge first.  Since my piece was 3/4" thick that's the 1/3 and a line was scribed from the front face.  Next, I re-set the marking gauge to that line from the inside of the drawer.  That setting was scribed onto the drawer sides to establish the length of the dovetails.
Length of Dovetail on Side
The last mark that needed to be scribed is on the inside of the drawer front and that's the thickness of the drawer sides.  To do that, gauge the thickness directly from the side piece and transfer it to the front.

 Cutting the Joint -- Tails First

Both Sides ready for Lay-out
    There's an ongoing debate among woodworkers as to what cuts first, pins or tails?  I'm a tails first kind of guy so that's how I teach it.  I always encourage students to try both and then use the method that feels best to them.  Lay out of the tails will depend on your skill level and what you're after.  I like to vary sizes and spacing as proof of them being hand cut.  Other's like to make the tiniest pin possible to show their skill.  I find it easier to saw accurately by clamping both sides together and cutting them at one time.  I usually clamp  them with a parallel clamp (forgot it at home!) and put the outside faces on the inside.  This way I can see the groove and being face to face minimizes tear out while cutting.  For a simple piece like this I laid out the sides to conceal the groove as my main goal.  Next I located the center and measured out about 1/8 to give me a fairly small pin there.
Cutting the Tails
Practice cutting before you start out on the real thing.  Allow the weight of the saw to carry it through to the line and don't force it.  If you practice, in time you'll develop muscle memory that will yield square, consistent cuts.  A little bit of beeswax works wonders on saw blades and plane bottoms as well.  A few asked where I got mine and if you do a Google search you'll find many vendors for a block of it -- lasts forever!  Start the saw at an angle and concentrate on duplicating the tail angle as you cut squarely across the top.  After those cuts you need to remove the outside pieces with a saw.  I like to cut a slight V-shape with a chisel before using the saw, that will help you get the saw started.  The inner waste is chiseled out.  Again, if you cut a V-shaped cut on the shoulder line like I demonstrated it'll be easier to remove that waste.  That V gives the bevel of the chisel some clearance and helps you cut a good shoulder.  Once things are square and looking good it's time to transfer the tail board over to the pin board for cutting.

Cutting the Drawer Front Pins

Drawer side ready for Scribing
The traditional way is to use a plane laying on its side. then adjust the drawer front in the vise level with the plane.  I prefer using a block of wood like in this photo.  This was always somewhat tricky since you needed to make sure things were lined up squarely.  Unless you use the Stanley 140 trick I showed you by rabbeting the front of the drawer things are hard to control.  Here's a LINK to a blog I did a few years ago on how you can do this trick without the Stanley, skewed rabbet planes.  If you don't have a tenoning jig you can carefully guide the board, upright against your rip fence.  I'd recommend making a jig that fits over your fence and supports the piece to be safer.  
Easier Transfer Jig
A better way to support the wood while transferring your tails is with the jig I showed.  It insures that the front and sides of the drawer are aligned.  To transfer these markings I recommend using a marking knife as it gives you a physical groove to saw to rather than a pencil line which can go away.  

Always mark your waste as soon as you lay things out --- trust me on this one!
Transferring the Tails

Chopping shoulder, Tape used as a depth gauge
Now we are ready to cut with a dovetail saw.  The technique here is cutting on the waste side of the line. After carefully cutting to both shoulder lines and inside the waste area it's time to chisel things out.  I demonstrated two methods, one where you chop on the shoulder, then come from the end of the board to remove the chip.  

The other is making a series of cuts down to the line with a smaller chisel, gradually working your way back to the shoulder line.

Fishtail Chisel
Once the bulk of the material is removed it's time for trial and error refining of the joint.  Honestly, I'm running out of words here!  For the corners it's best to use a pair of skew chisels or a fishtail like I use from Lie-Nielsen.  This is a wonderful tool for this job, here's a LINK to it.  The sides of the board can be trimmed with smaller chisels and you'll find you have more control cutting across the grain.
Trimming Sides

Remember the piece of plastic I set my marking gauge to at the beginning?  This is used to help you cut a smooth area for the dovetail to fit into.
Trick to a Smooth Web

Although it's not quite ready for prime time, here's what I accomplished by the end of the day.  Keep in mind that these require concentrated effort to accomplish successfully.  Usually the only audience I have is my radio!  If you enjoy the process of woodwork then this may be your next challenge.  Consider making the holding jig using dovetails or even a simple bench hook --- anything to get the practice and develop your "muscle memory".  Here is a picture of one of the drawers of my current project:
Sapele front with Maple sides
An alternative joint you can use for drawers is this one, here the drawer front is rabbeted and the sides are doweled to lock the two together.  By using a contrasting colored dowel this becomes a strong and decorative joint.

Once again, I appreciate the attention you all gave me during this complicated demonstration.  Trying to recap it all in writing for the blog makes me realize just how complex this process is!

1 comment:

  1. Hello all you Sin City Woodworkers... I miss you guys! For anyone who actually remembers me, this is Zac Higgins. I was a member a couple years ago, but moved to Northern Nevada.

    I have been meaning to get in touch with all you awesome woodworkers for some time now, but didn't know how best to do it. I didn't realize there was a blog, so this is great!

    I have so many things to say, but I'll keep it fairly short and sweet... I have to commend you all for the growth and exciting stuff you do at the meetings. I really wish I could make them, but an 8 hour drive to and from the meetings just isn't in the cards! Great job with the monthly topics, I love to read the highlights after.

    For anyone who is interested, I set up a blog too and post weekly on what I'm up to in the shop. I also have a YouTube channel, but all the videos are on my site too. Stop by and say hi if you get the urge. The site is

    Great job documenting everything, especially to John and Lupe. Great video footage, and great write-ups!

    I miss you all, but I am hoping to be able to drop in and say hi soon. Keep up the excellent work!