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Help with Dovetails

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Dan2019

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Evening all,

Could someone please advise why the below is happening, I have cut out the waste but when it comes to chiselling clean the wood seems as if to tear out and comes out in lumps, I have sharpened the chisels on a whetstone and and also used a diamond pad, the chisels feel sharp and have even cut me a few times , I just don't understand why I cannot get a clean cut
 

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Blackswanwood

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It looks like you are working with softwood which can be a bit of a pig unless your chisels are very sharp. Have you tried sawing out the waste and the paring down to the line?
 

MikeG.

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That's pine, and that's what it does.

The way to mitigate the issue is to use a really small chisel. I use a 1/4" chisel in pine when cutting across the grain, and it has to be razor sharp. It looks to me like you are using a half inch chisel, and that won't work well. I doesn't matter how you sharpen it, just so long as it is as sharp as sharp can be. Sneak up on the line using the rule of halves........in other words, keep halving the distance to the line until you can't take any more without getting to the line.....and only cut half way through from each side.

Despite this ultra-cautious approach, and despite having the sharpest tools in the world, you'll probably still pull lumps out. Be aware of that, and be sanguine about it. That surface doesn't add to the strength of the joint one iota. What counts is the tightness of the long-grain face-to-face junctions, and that the cross grain junctions are neat on the surface. If you can do half decent dovetails in pine you can do them in almost any other timber with one hand tied behind your back.
 

MikeG.

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By the way, if you are cutting yourself with chisels you are doing something wrong. You might want to spend a bit of time with a more experienced guy who might be able to sort your technique out. The pointy end of steel stuff always wins in a contest with skin.
 

MikeG.

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Just to show you that what you are experiencing is almost unavoidable......



But they turned out OK:



I made those a few weeks ago. Note the broken out lumps in the middle of the end grain. It's in the middle because I am careful to only go in half way from each side. And I've made one or two dovetails in pine in my time:

 

thetyreman

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cutting dovetails in pine is a real test of skill, @dan2019 it just looks like the chisels were simply not sharp enough from those pics.
 

Dan2019

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Thank you all for the quick and very helpful responses, it was starting to send me a little mad
 

John15

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Welcome to the forum Dan.
As members have stated above, cutting dovetails is difficult in softwoods, especially if you are new to it. I'm a few steps up the woodworking ladder but still don't attempt it.
You can get much better results with hardwood such as Oak. It's more expensive but your results will be more reliable and rewarding and could avoid the risk of you giving up through disappointment.
Good luck.

John
 

Nelsun

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It can be done and I say this as no great dovetailer so don't sweat it. I did these as my first real shot at dovetails a few years ago. I'm not as chuffed with them now as I was back then but hey ho. As others have said, sharp chisels, sneak up on your lines and use hardwood if you can ;) Also, check out a Paul Sellers dovetail video. He describes a way of nipping out the edges in a softly softly way which is likely what helped me without my realising it at the time.
 

AndyT

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When I last tried dovetails in pine, I found that it really helped to grind a chisel down to a shallower angle.
Not sure of the exact numbers but I think it would have been about 20° grind and 23° bevel, rather than the normal 25 and 30.
 

MikeG.

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Although pine can be a challenge, I would certainly advocate that a beginner uses it to the exclusion of almost anything else for quite some time. It's cheap, so mistakes aren't important. I worked exclusively with pine for many years before I plucked up the courage to buy some ash, then found that easy, and bought some oak. As I said, if you can work OK with pine you can work with anything.

It seems to me as though the pine in the OP might be constructional timber......CLS, because of the rounded-over edge on one of the pieces. This stuff is the worst of the worst. I suggest buying "PAR" (planed all round) Redwood which will give better results. Better builders merchants should hold decent stocks.
 

Lons

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+1 to what Mike says about CLS!

I've used thousands of metres of the stuff in construction and even there where accuracy is much less important even simple half lap joints don't cut cleanly. It does the job it's meant for but it really is cr*p.
 

woodbloke66

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MikeG.":nozey4yg said:
Although pine can be a challenge, I would certainly advocate that a beginner uses it to the exclusion of almost anything else for quite some time. It's cheap, so mistakes aren't important. I worked exclusively with pine for many years before I plucked up the courage to buy some ash, then found that easy, and bought some oak. As I said, if you can work OK with pine you can work with anything.

It seems to me as though the pine in the OP might be constructional timber......CLS, because of the rounded-over edge on one of the pieces. This stuff is the worst of the worst. I suggest buying "PAR" (planed all round) Redwood which will give better results. Better builders merchants should hold decent stocks.
Agreed, pine with widely space annual rings is a nightmare. Look for stuff with very tight growth rings (slow grown) which is lightyears away from the quick grown stuff. It's out there, but you've got to go and hunt for it - Rob
 

Mr T

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Hi Dan

I notice you are in Leeds, if you think it may be to do with how sharp your chisels are I could give you a few pointers, I have a workshop in Ilkley if you would like to call in sometime. Although it's a long time since I cut dovetails in pine.

Chris
 

MikeG.

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Mr T":1o71u41e said:
......... I notice you are in Leeds, if you think it may be to do with how sharp your chisels are I could give you a few pointers, I have a workshop in Ilkley if you would like to call in sometime........
Do NOT turn this down, Dan. Chris is one of the leading teachers of woodworking in the country.
 

woodbloke66

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MikeG.":1g1o0d4b said:
Mr T":1g1o0d4b said:
......... I notice you are in Leeds, if you think it may be to do with how sharp your chisels are I could give you a few pointers, I have a workshop in Ilkley if you would like to call in sometime........
Do NOT turn this down, Dan. Chris is one of the leading teachers of woodworking in the country.
If Chris is offering to show you how it's done, I'd agree, grab the offer with both hands - Rob
 

Bm101

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Wow. What a coincidence!
I too am quite near Leeds living in close by Hertfordshire.

It might not sound that close but in comparison with say Marsaille it's a bit of a surprise you haven't already popped round for half a cup of sugar at some point.
I reckon 18 - 24 months of close personal supervision on a nine hour day to day basis would give me a rough idea of getting started.
To save on costs I could provide my own sandwiches, thermos of single malt and tent. If there's space outside your house (on your drive???) I might even be able to borrow a caravan from Bill and Ida at number 72.
No pressure mind.
See you soon. (Just loading the roof rack now). So about 5 and a bit hours what with traffic.
Regards
Chris
 

Trainee neophyte

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If we are all competing for a chance for free instruction in the dark arts of dovetailing, would a holiday in greece be of interest? All the olive wood you can shake a stick at, and you can send the less wood-enthused contingent to the beach while we play with chisels. I'll need to build a new workshop, so I look vaguely competent, but I need one anyway, so good excuse. See you in the spring :)
 

Farm Labourer

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I spent last week with Chris Tribe in Ilkley and he's an absolutely first class chap, a good teacher and patient beyond belief! Unfortunately, he's retiring in March - so you really would need to be mad not to grasp his offer with both hands very soon!

If you are a tall gent, one of the higher benches has the most beautiful and scary sharp Ashley Isles chisels. His jazz play-list is rather epic, too.
 
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