How to chisel out dovetail waste.

Or how much I hate my coping saw and my inability to saw with it. 

I really have tried the coping saw method. It’s just not for me. I also refuse to buy a 100 plus dollar fret saw, which would be more than all 5 or 6 of my old distons combined, just to go faster. So instead, again, I follow the sage method of Mr. Sellers. In all his dovetail work I see him use a knife wall and then slowly chop and chisel. Flipping the board to go half way through from both sides. Works fast enough for me and I don’t have to use curse words for sawing into one of my tails. Now here’s the glamour shots.

Step 1. Knife in the waste using the face edge of the board. Lay the actual pin board flush to the edge. Use your fingertips to ensure the flushness. Reach in with a marking knife and make a nick like your trying to reach almost under the pin board. Then use your square to mark just the lines under the waste going around both sides while registering your square on the face edge and face. Some people I’ve seen just mark all the way across or use a marking gauge. My work is bad enough so I don’t want a line across the tails making it look worse. Also, go shallow with the first knife lines and then go back in and deepen them. Less tendency to wander this way.


Step 2. Go in with a small chisel, mine is 8mm, and make a tiny cut to relieve the edge of the knife wall so it doesn’t move too far back. I’m working in pine and my wall will compress if I don’t do this. If the wall moves back too far this will show as a gap.

Step 3. Chop and chisel out the waste. Only go half way from each side. If it’s pine, take shallow cuts or you will blowout the end grain inside the pin socket from chopping down too aggressively. Don’t ask how I know this. I’m not telling. Eventually the waste pops out. Try not to force it out. You may have to push it back in from the end to get them to slide out.

Waste right after chopping through.

I used a small screw driver to tease out the waste. 

One more case side to do and then on to pins… whoppie! 
Ps. I don’t have to tell you to sharpen up your chisel and strop it before you start right? I mean I sharpen up before I tie my sneakers in the morning. Another lesson I learned was that it is really true that sharp tools make the job easier. For me it let’s me focus in making the cuts. Before I got the sharpening religion I would be distracted from the work. I would be thinking about why my cuts were off or why I had to push so hard or do I need a bigger mallet. It never occurred to me that if my chisel was sharp I wouldn’t even be thinking about it I would be focused on the wood I was trying to remove. Now I sharpen alot and keep the strop on the bench next to me and touch up often. With the strop touch up I find I dont have to go back to the stones during an operation very often. Anyhow, just food for thought. 
Thanks for reading. 

Chris Barnes 

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How to gang cut case dovetailsĀ 

Or… how I sort of did it.

Following Paul Sellers method for dealing with boards that cup, I clamped some boards to the back to flatten them out.

I had not intended on attempting to gang cut the dovetails. I was simply trying to mimic Paul’s method for using one set of layout lines to ensure the exactness of the others. After clamping and rotating several times I decided, what the heck why not gang cut them. I only marked out the angles all the way in one face. Paul is all the time saying he only needs one set of lines. I realized today why he does this. For one thing, cutting from the show face ensures any blowout or inconsistencies are on the inside. So on the backside I only had a line for the depth.

Saving a little time only marking out on one face.

I then tried to cut straight across before following the rake of the dovetail. Paul says this helps ensure the tails are square.

Cut straight across for a few strokes before trying to follow the angle.

This was really fast. I was surprised how fast the cuts went. I think having the wider registration surface helped. Maybe it’s just in my head and I am actually improving. And yes, I still put fancy little X’s in the waste. I’m still too new not to get confused and cut NOT in the waste side. Please don’t think too ill of me for my eastern saw. I have several very dull western dovetail saw relics. My saw sharpening skills, however,  are nonexistent so I resort to this saw. Chris Schwarz recommended this saw type a long time back to get you started cheaply and I’ve stuck with it. I cant help it, it cuts great and very fine. I’ll get all my western saws going someday Thanks for reading. 

Chris Barnes 

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Laying out dovetails with dividers and a diagonal line.

So tonight I had one of those moments. I’ve been struggling to figure out how to layout the dovetails for my laundry cabinet. I was inspired to build it after watching Ralphs build over at the accidental woodworker blog on blogspot. I too had been re watching Paul Sellers layout case piece dovetails. On his joiners tool chest he draws a 22 inch line diagonally from the corner where his depth line is across to the other side and then sets his dividers to 2 inches and steps off the center points for all the pins by walking the dividers along the diagonal line he made. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out where he got the number 22 and why 2 inches. Then it hit me. He wanted a number evenly divisible into 22 so he could get 11 tails. Genius. So now all I had to do was figure out how many tails I was brave enough to cut. 11, no way. Hmm. I’d cut 4 for the till I made for my slapped together tool chest. I eyeballed these and they look horrible. So I decided on 5. Now I knew how to do it. I almost ran to the shop. I drew a sketch and then went to the board. I drew a 15 inch diagonal line from the right side bottom to the other edge using a tape measure and a straight edge. Then I used a ruler to set the dividers to 3 inches. I held one edge right on the edge of the board and the other leg in the line and pushed in to make a mark. Then I stepped it off. Next step is to transfer the marks to the top using a combination square against your face edge. These marks are the CENTER of your pins. Now I marked an eight inch on either side, because that’s what Paul did, to get the sides of my tails. Now I used my 1 in 7 dovetail template to draw in my dove tail angles. Finished up square across the top and you’re done. It took me longer to write this post than to do it. I know it’s a small thing, but I feel like I gained a superpower. Now I can do any number of tails I want. Hope this helps someone. I was struggling to get it, but I am kinda slow šŸ˜‰

My fantastic sanity check drawing for the procedure I was about to do. It’s ok. I’ll look back in my shop note book one day and remember when I first learned how to do this.

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Bookcase finally done

Just need some help cleaning the stacks of books and loading it up.

Glued it up yesterday.

Didn’t have enough clamps. Used screws on middle shelves to hold while the glue dried and than took them out and patched them before sealing with shellac and then staining with watered down red barn paint. Used slowest drying Tight bond I could find.

Predrilled pilot holes.

Very happy that this shows the grain.

Thanks for tuning in. I’m very happy. Hopefully, my next furniture piece won’t take me a year.

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How to cut a long grain dado for bookcase kick plate.

Or. How I cut it adapting Paul’s method of using knife walls to cut dados. Tools used, knife, chisel, router plane. 

Step 1. Layout the dado and put a knife line on the front face line only. Pencil in the back line to “get you in the ball park” as Paul Sellers says.

Step 2. Mark out the depth on the end grain and then pare off the end just a little to prevent blowout. Pine is soft. Blowouts happen. If you have one just super glue the blowout back in and move on.

Step 3. With the bevel facing the direction of travel begin mortise like cuts along the length. Take as small a bite as you can and be patient. Stop about an eighth from the end so you don’t have a mishap and slice in too deep.

Step 4. Turn your chisel 90 degrees and gently slice across the little bit at the end. 

Step 5. Tease out the sliced end bit with your chisel or knife by slicing across where you just made your tiny 90 degree cuts.

I had a little blowout in the corner, but since I’m not to full width yet I was ok. That part will come out when I use the kick plate to get the actual width of the dado.

Step 6. With the bevel of your chisel down work back along the dado and wiggle out the waste you just chopped. It looks ugly but be patient. You’re getting there.

Step 7. Gently repeat your bevel down chopping making sure you don’t go too deep. I didn’t even use a mallet. Just hand pressure. A sharp chisel will slice down very nicely. 

Step 8. Tease out with your chisel bevel down again. Be very careful not to dive too deep. You should not have to use much force at all if your chisel is sharp. If you are pushing too hard try stopping and run your chisel over the strop 30 times.

Step 9. Use the actual board that’s going into the dado pushed up along the face edge to mark out the back with a knife. You can see from my pencil line that I was way off. This method works every time and ensures tight joint faces and a self supporting fit. It’s worth the effort, from my point of view. You are using handtools to get better control and precision so take the time to do it. It seems to me the joints will be stronger, thus the overall piece of furniture will be better and last longer. Maybe, I’m spitting in the wind but it makes me feel better. See how I knife the back line in and then deepen the knife wall.

Push the actual board you will use tight up against the front wall of the dado on the show face.

See how my pencil line is different from my knife line. If I cut both walls to the pencil lines I’ll be off. I don’t know how this one was wider, usually you find the knife wall ends up being inside the pencil line. Either way this method practically guarantees a self supporting fit.

Step 10. Deepen the knife wall with several gentle cuts, then use your chisel to make many little cuts along the waste. Your patience will pay off. Don’t try slicing off the long grain. Odds are you will go past your knife wall or undercut the joint and have a loose joint. We didn’t get this far to screw up now šŸ˜‰

Step 11. Almost done. Use your bevel down method now to slice off the waste till you are down to meet the bottom made from your other work. I had to make 3 passes to be safe. When you are done it should look something like this. The picture looks strange because of the angle, but the dado running left to right is the one we just made. I smoothed out the bottom gently with my bevel down chisel.

Step 12. Fit your board. At this point resist the urge to pare out the dado. If the board is too tight take a thin shaving or 3 off the non show face until it fits snuggly and is self supporting. It should look something like this. Notice how the shoulder on the show face is crisp and I am square.

That’s all she wrote. Good luck and go slow. Thanks for reading. Feedback welcome.

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The best strop I’ve ever seen.

In case you have gotten strop fever like the rest of us, but still have some leather duck taped to a pine cut off like I do, check out this 19th century master piece. Another shop project to add to the list. My strop below.

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Paul Sellers inspired bookcase kick plate Dado done.

One more to go.

I wasn’t prepared for how much different it is to try to cut a Dado along the grain. The fit is snug thanks to Paul’s cut the face and then measure the back line of the dado with the board inserted. I’m amazed how this works every time. I can hear him saying, “self supporting”. Mine is self supporting so I give myself credit for that and the front joint line is pretty crisp and the board sits in square. Time will tell when I go to glue it up.

I used the router plane to make sure the short dado was at the same depth as the shelf dado. One done. One more to go.

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