• We invite you to join UKWorkshop.
    Members can turn off viewing Ads!

Mitred dovetailed walnut box w-i-p, hand tools

UKworkshop.co.uk

Help Support UKworkshop.co.uk:

AndyT

Established Member
Joined
24 Jul 2007
Messages
12,027
Reaction score
494
Location
Bristol
In these strange times, when we have to stay in so much, I reckon it's a welcome luxury to be able to turn aside from the news and get down to the workshop. I want to put some of my ever-increasing assortment of old tools to work, and use up some of the useful wood I have been hanging onto.

But what can I make, that's a bit challenging and will fit in the furnished house?

I decided to make a box.

This is a view of the corner of our hall.



I didn't make the rather fine mahogany chest of drawers - that was made by a dear friend of mine. But I did make the horrible bodged pine box next to it.



In my defence, it was probably in about 1990, when I had just bought my new Record 044C plough plane - the one with the blue plastic handle - and was trying it out. After spending many years in a dark corner it was pressed into service as a practical way of holding umbrellas and a rolled up bicycle mat. But I have had a bit of practice in the last 30 years and might be able to make something better now.

So this project is to be a box of similar size, but more in keeping with the surroundings.
I'm a few days into it, but haven't finished yet, so helpful comments are welcome. I'll write this up in my usual way, with probably too many words and too many pictures and a few digressions about the tools, for those who like such things. Progress will be glacially slow, but I am guessing I'm not the only one with no need to hurry at the moment.

I have a nice piece of walnut which Custard gave to me, when he so generously gave me more than enough wood to make a table.

I thought it might be interesting to make a box using secret mitre dovetails. I've only ever done one of these - as a practice exercise to see how hard it was - and it wasn't great. So before ruining all the nice wood, I took some measurements, sketched out a box, and started on a dry run practice joint. I allowed myself a little offcut from the board, conveniently removing a large knot from the main project.



This needs a moulding on the top edge, to match the plinth of the chest of drawers. One advantage of the secret mitre dovetail is that it can accommodate a moulding nicely. So I measured the moulding and set to.

As D_W mentioned the other day, a wooden moving fillister plane is a useful plane to own and a pleasure to use. Here it is making a rebate along one edge. (Ignore the position of my left hand; this is a posed photo and the other one is holding the camera.)



This is a perfectly ordinary example from the Birmingham maker CT Onions, who traded from 1894 to 1904. I bought it to use and because I like the name and the trade mark.





I made this rebate down from the face of the board rather than from the edge, thinking that a shallow wide rebate is quicker than a deep narrow one, but I am unsure of that sort of thing.
I cut the second rebate with a metal equivalent - a Faithfull 788 - but forgot to take an action shot of it. (I'll make up for this later, don't worry.)

Here's the board with two rebates on.



You can see that I have also added pencil marks, by running the pencil along in my fingers. Something else I failed to photograph, having no third hand to hold the camera.

Next step was to mark a cove with a washer at each end



and then use a rebate plane to cut the long arris off at 45 degrees. This is the sort of thing that is remarkably easy to do with hand planes. You can just make a fence with your fingers and get enough accuracy - with no time wasted setting up a fence or a depth stop. This photo shows what I mean, though it's on the longer piece, later on, and the hand positioning is misleading.



After that, I swapped over to a round plane, a number 8 with the Moseley mark on it. Moseley were at this address between 1862 and 1880, though the name remained in use well into the 20th century, under Marples' ownership.



Again, just holding the plane and making a fence with the fingers, you can start to make a shallow cut which then steers the plane as you work back to the full length.





The result was this:



which is within my comfort zone and good enough for a trial run.

I'll leave it there for now, so stay tuned for the next instalment in which I attempt one of woodwork's least popular joints.
 

Phlebas

Burbling Pixie
Joined
16 May 2019
Messages
144
Reaction score
6
Location
The debatable lands
Oh goody. I do like your w-i-ps.

Thought about that joint, but never really saw the point. Maybe you'll convince me of its utility and/or value, and I'll have a go too (but I still think I'll be somewhat short on the skills side).
 

AndyT

Established Member
Joined
24 Jul 2007
Messages
12,027
Reaction score
494
Location
Bristol
On with the practice run.
I cut the srap in half and, noting the need for properly square ends, shot them on my new shooting board with a plane that I bought new only a few years ago.



Not all my tools are old, but this nice sharp marking gauge is



and I used it to mark the thickness across the ends.



This gauge was one of several from the same owner, all with neatly sharpened pins that make as fine a line as I could wish for.

I marked and then sawed the rebate



and laid out the joint using a simple dovetail template and leaving the moulding in the mitre.



You can see I was a bit confused about whether to mark a half or a full pin at the top, despite having a copy of Hayward's "Woodworking Joints" nearby.

I'd also forgotten to make the groove to hold the bottom before cutting the board in half, so I put that right using a little Record 043. It comes in handy when there's only a tiny bit of space to hold the wood down and still leave room for a plough.



I chiselled out the sockets and did what I could to mark the tails on the other half.



Then I cut the mitres, sawing away from the line



and did some more chiselling.



I can't decide whether I prefer doing this vertically down onto the bench or horizontally, as here. I think horizontal is a bit better as I can get the work closer to my eyes and peer into the sockets.

I tried an initial fitting with some chalk on the sides in the hope that it would rub away in the tight spots, but frankly it was not much help.





Here's the fit so far. It's a bit rough where the slightly brittle walnut has crumbled away but most of that should disappear in the mitre.



Here's a clumsily posed photo of the piece in a mitre chop, with just my left hand paring away.



and some more of the same



This is how it looked fitted. Close but not good.



There's a chunk missing at the bottom where I pared too much away.

The inside is no better



What I was finding really frustrating at this point was that it was impossible to see what was stopping it closing up nicely. The gaps looked parallel so I took some wood off the ends of the pins, hoping this would let them bottom out properly.



I deepened the sockets a little too. This was the result - closer but still not right.





And it had taken ages! I didn't keep a note of the hours spent, but the pictures in this post were not even taken on the same day. I'd had enough. But I did follow through and glue this experiment together, so I can use it to try out finishes and error concealment.



So, I think I start to see why so few people bother with this joint. Maybe some day I shall try again and make a better job, but for this project I decided to switch to the slightly more normal mitred through dovetails, which I will cover in the next instalment.

Some of the work on those will be rather similar, but I hope the result will be a bit more respectable. I haven't actually finished it yet, so I might regret saying that.

Or maybe this will serve as a corrective to the demos by people with proper skill levels. :)
 

Sheffield Tony

Ghost of the disenchanted
Joined
2 Aug 2012
Messages
2,078
Reaction score
89
Location
Bedfordshire
Somewhere on YouTube I watched a video of a Japanese woodworker making a small chest of drawers with wide mitred dovetail top corners. He made it look easy - I guess he had a lot of practice ! He used a small plane to plane the mitres.
 

AndyT

Established Member
Joined
24 Jul 2007
Messages
12,027
Reaction score
494
Location
Bristol
I think I remember the same video. The whole 2 ft wide sides fitted perfectly, first time, straight from the saw.

But you have done the secret version, haven't you? How was your experience?
 

AndyT

Established Member
Joined
24 Jul 2007
Messages
12,027
Reaction score
494
Location
Bristol
MikeG.":1tww4bo7 said:
Excellent, Andy.

Pins first?.........People have died for less!! :)
But sir, there's no choice on this one! :?
 

Sheffield Tony

Ghost of the disenchanted
Joined
2 Aug 2012
Messages
2,078
Reaction score
89
Location
Bedfordshire
AndyT":ht9x1wzt said:
I think I remember the same video. The whole 2 ft wide sides fitted perfectly, first time, straight from the saw.

But you have done the secret version, haven't you? How was your experience?
I've done them a few times. First go was when I first read about them when doing O-level woodwork. Got to give it a go. I made a pair of book shelves for my room, from oak boards 7" x 3/4". A horizontal shelf of course, joined by secret mitred dovetails to an upright bit at each end to serve as a book end, and with a brass keyhole slotted plate on the back for invisible wall mounting. They are still in my parent's house, with books on them, so not fallen apart yet ! They would have been cut with just a tenon saw and chisel, all I had at Dad's.

Here's some still in use in my house, though I made it as a student long, long ago. It's part of a HiFi stand - the end frames form handles to lift the lot, which could lead to an expensive crash if the joints failed - so there is a small twin dovetail hidden in that mitred joint.

20200404_203555.jpg


I've done them infrequently enough that I don't have any fixed methods, it is always slow, and never fits perfectly without several trial / adjustment cycles !

Really liked your moulding though - amazing what a good result you can get from a few woodies and a good eye.
 

Attachments

AndyT

Established Member
Joined
24 Jul 2007
Messages
12,027
Reaction score
494
Location
Bristol
Sheffield Tony":2ihxmwqf said:
Somewhere on YouTube I watched a video of a Japanese woodworker making a small chest of drawers with wide mitred dovetail top corners. He made it look easy - I guess he had a lot of practice ! He used a small plane to plane the mitres.
If we are thinking about the same video it could be this one

[youtube]Q6xP9ShD4rk[/youtube]

It includes some lovely freehand work and the simplest possible workholding - to saw the dovetails he just leans the board against the end of his planing board, on the floor, and holds it with his foot.

The rest of the build is available, but split across several short videos.
 

AndyT

Established Member
Joined
24 Jul 2007
Messages
12,027
Reaction score
494
Location
Bristol
Ok, on to part three. I decided to swap to through mitred dovetails, so I could see what was going on. I can follow Custard's really useful demo how-to-cut-mitred-or-mitre-dovetails-wip-t112467.html.

I've had a go at these before - but that was a variant where there is a half pin at the end. (It's shown nicely on the late Jeff Gorman's really useful "Woodworker's Notebook". This site has moved from its old location and is now at https://jeffgorman.uk, and well worth bookmarking.)

It's important to get a clear view of how the pieces should look, before cutting anything in the wrong place, or all the way through when it should only have been half way. And as my joints will have a big moulding all along one edge they won't be quite the same as Custard's demo.

Time for another rehearsal!

I didn't have any more suitable bits of walnut (not without wasting a good bit) so I used a little bit of mahogany and a scrap of pine.

As before, they needed a moulding along one edge. I cut the first rebate with the moving fillister, as before. For the second one I used a simpler technique. You run a marking gauge along where the rebate is to go, making a deep, clear line.



Then, using an ordinary wooden rebate plane, lean one edge onto the line and make a cut.



Gradually deepen and straighten up until you are cutting down vertically.
Stop when you get down to the mark you made earlier, which I omitted to mention.

Plane away the arris, then guide a round along in the centre of the angled flat



and check against the pattern you require.



Repeat all this on another piece. Follow Custard's instructions carefully, and get this.



I found this a really useful aid in understanding what the cuts looked like before embarking on the real thing.

So, going a little bit slower for a while, let's prepare the board. It was already pretty well straight and flat but it was a little bit too wide. Just for fun, and because I wanted to show it off, I used this new-to-me panel gauge to mark the width. It's another one-handed posed photo but you get the idea.



It's a lovely example, with a boxwood insert in the fence.



As far as I know, these were one of a handful of tools which were traditionally user made and so don't appear in catalogues or turn up with commercial makers' names on. There's quite a bit of variation in the elegance of the shape and the skill level of the maker.

With the width marked, saw to size, plane, get it all true.





Mark the rebates, plane the first one with the moving fillister as before.
This time, take a bit more care to get the final size correct.







Of course, there's no necessity to use so many different planes, but if you have them, you might as well use them and explore what purposes each one is best for.

This time, to mark the depth of the second rebate I used this little all-metal marking gauge, which is handy for getting into tight corners. It's a conventional pin gauge, not a wheel, just marked "MADE IN SHEFFIELD ENG." I think it's a copy of the Stanley no 90, but without the graduations, and is probably from the early C20th.





This picture shows the first stage of making the rebate by following the gauge line



To mark out for the chamfer, a pencil line is needed, not a gauge line.



Then the washer



the round



and it's done.





The other side needs a groove to take the bottom of the box. As the grain is a bit uneven, a deeply marked line helps stay on track.



With a nod to the old nasty box, the 044C comes out to play, but with a replacement wooden handle which is much less slippery than the plastic original.





So that's done. Ready to start? Not yet. We need a 45 degree guide block. A bit of 2x3 studding is planed straight, cut off at 45° in the mitre box



planed and checked



Stay tuned for more!
 

AndyT

Established Member
Joined
24 Jul 2007
Messages
12,027
Reaction score
494
Location
Bristol
Before I get on to the proper dovetailing, a little digression on tools.

This was how I cut the trial mitre dovetail, to make sure I was cutting in the right places.



Nothing unusual about that. I was using a nice little dovetail saw that I was given recently.



Sheffield made by W Tyzack Sons & Turner, marked with the Nonpareil elephant. Nine inches long, 16 tpi, very comfortable open handle, two split nuts holding firm.





From the appearance, I'd guess it could have been made any time from say 1900 to about 1925.

But there's another clue - this saw was retailed by RH Warlow of Bristol.



BSSM reports Robert Henry Warlow in directories between about 1902 and 1914, in Castle Street which was one of Bristol's main shopping streets at the time.

That's slightly disappointing, as I was hoping it might have been sold from this shop in Colston Street, which although it's now a good bookshop which retains the old metal sign on the front. The shop is just across the road from Bristol Design.



However, the 1902 Kelly's directory shows that the Colston Street premises were run by Thomas Warlow, not Robert. I really haven't spent very long finding out this trivia even though, like everyone else, I do have some more time on my hands than usual. Just long enough to establish that they were in the same family, came over from Pembrokeshire and also had an ironmonger's in Gloucester. So the local connection is clear enough for me, and I can say with confidence that the saw is at least a century old. :)

And while I'm on the subject of saws... I'd also like to mention that when I got onto cutting the walnut board into four pieces to make the box (yes, I'll get back to the box soon) the saw I used was this one





which is of similar age, was also sold in Bristol, and used to look like this before I rescued it.



Old tools are not just for collecting!
 

AndyT

Established Member
Joined
24 Jul 2007
Messages
12,027
Reaction score
494
Location
Bristol
Just finishing off this digression on the Warlows, I have one other tool sold by them. I was given it by a friend who was going to throw it away, because of the damage at one end.

It's a five foot / 60 inch rule.



Clearly made by Edward Preston of Birmingham



and sold by R H Warlow



I had trouble finding it in the reprint of the 1909 Preston catalogue, but it is there, in the Supplement, where it is identified as a Glazier's Lath, priced 41 shillings per dozen - quite a pricey item when an ordinary quality carpenter's four fold rule was 5 to 7 shillings a dozen.

I've wondered if I ought to repair the damage, but so far I have left it as it is.



I wonder if it is boxwood? I imagine even back in the 1900s, getting boxwood in pieces this long with straight enough grain must have been quite difficult. Also, the catalogue consistently lists almost all of the wooden rules as boxwood, but doesn't do so on this page. And there's no stamp on the rule itself to say "warranted best box" which I have seen on other rules. What else might it be?
 

AndyT

Established Member
Joined
24 Jul 2007
Messages
12,027
Reaction score
494
Location
Bristol
Meanwhile, back at the bench, I cut the board into four bits and shot all the ends nice and square.











Some of you will have spotted a mistake in there, but never mind, I'll get over it later. :roll: Any answers?

So, from here on it was largely a repeat of the rehearsal. Marking out the width



and laying out the pins (with a white crayon background to make the pencil marks easier to see.)





There's another mistake there as well. :oops: More later.

I'd used a nice fine dovetail saw to cut down on the pins. Trouble is, the kerf is finer than a coping saw blade. I could have run the saw down anyway, trying to enlarge on the waste side only, but it's just as quick to cut down the centre and then out to each side.





Of course, I had to compare that no-name cheap coping saw frame with this one.



I think I do prefer it. It's a small Marples turning saw, but I made a new, shorter crossbar for it, to suit the length of a standard coping saw blade. It gives decent tension and is still quite light weight.



With the ends of the box done, I could transfer the marks to the sides, before cutting any mitres. I clamped the ends in place, carefully lined up square.



For marking the tails I got best results with this little home made knife. It has a pair of single bevel edges,



so you can rest the right end against the side of the pin and know that you are getting in close.



I'm working pins first this time because I want to follow Custard's instructions, but I must admit that I find it a bit strange. My main gripe is that I'm working from the inside of the box, when normally I would be lining up my "best" cuts on the outside, with any little wobbles inside. But it makes sense, since the mitres can only be cut from the inside.

Also, I marked the verticals on the inside only. When cutting down, I can only ever look at the end and the near side, with a few checks to see if I am near the baseline. If I marked a line on the back I wouldn't be able to correct a cut and steer towards it so I see no point in drawing one, and just rely on the saw plate being flat. Is this daft? What does anyone else do?
 

MikeG.

Established Member
Joined
24 Aug 2008
Messages
10,158
Reaction score
661
Location
Essex/ Suffolk border
AndyT":c3uk6y3e said:
........When cutting down, I can only ever look at the end and the near side, with a few checks to see if I am near the baseline. If I marked a line on the back I wouldn't be able to correct a cut and steer towards it so I see no point in drawing one, and just rely on the saw plate being flat. Is this daft? What does anyone else do?
I do the same, with the caveat that I don't mark a vertical for each cut. With a pair of closely spaced cuts such as between pins, I just draw one vertical somewhere in the middle between them as a bit of a visual guide. I reckon you, me, and most regular hand-tool woodworkers could cut pretty much spot-on vertical without any lines at all, particularly in a wood without an obvious grain to drag your eye and your saw slightly off line.
 

Phlebas

Burbling Pixie
Joined
16 May 2019
Messages
144
Reaction score
6
Location
The debatable lands
AndyT":3a5desox said:
What I was finding really frustrating at this point was that it was impossible to see what was stopping it closing up nicely.

And it had taken ages! I didn't keep a note of the hours spent, but the pictures in this post were not even taken on the same day. I'd had enough.

So, I think I start to see why so few people bother with this joint.

Or maybe this will serve as a corrective to the demos by people with proper skill levels. :)
I refer my honerable colleague to my earlier comment. I don't see the point of the joint unless you really are showing off. (A trait to which I am no stranger, but there are limits)

Good on you for trying though. And your alternative solution will look nicer to my mind.
 

Sheffield Tony

Ghost of the disenchanted
Joined
2 Aug 2012
Messages
2,078
Reaction score
89
Location
Bedfordshire
I would disagree. Secret mitred dovetails aren't for showing off - they are secret, after all. They are for you to be quietly smug about whilst no-one else knows they are there, nor why your furniture stays together ! :D Showing off is better achieved with nice, wide boards connected by a long line of gap-free dovetails, fully exposed for people to marvel at.

Andy, am I right in suspecting that the slightly unconventional proportions of your dovetails wasn't entirely planned ?
 

AndyT

Established Member
Joined
24 Jul 2007
Messages
12,027
Reaction score
494
Location
Bristol
Ah, good point about secrets for those who can make them work!

Proportions - not sure really - I was just trying to keep it fairly simple, with enough space for chisels on tails and pins - if I'd put an extra one in it would have been a bit fiddly. Or is that not what you meant?
 

Sheffield Tony

Ghost of the disenchanted
Joined
2 Aug 2012
Messages
2,078
Reaction score
89
Location
Bedfordshire
Wide pins and narrow tails is opposite to usual fashion ? Especially real show-off dovetails with tiny pins :wink: I was wondering if you'd meant them to be the other way around.
 

AndyT

Established Member
Joined
24 Jul 2007
Messages
12,027
Reaction score
494
Location
Bristol
Sheffield Tony":19xp8smn said:
Wide pins and narrow tails is opposite to usual fashion ? Especially real show-off dovetails with tiny pins :wink: I was wondering if you'd meant them to be the other way around.

Ah, I see what you mean now - another reason why I don't like doing pins first!

I think this might be the first and last time I do so. :evil:
 

Phlebas

Burbling Pixie
Joined
16 May 2019
Messages
144
Reaction score
6
Location
The debatable lands
Sheffield Tony":ecfizkcu said:
Secret mitred dovetails aren't for showing off - they are secret, after all.
Not when you post them on a public forum.

(Do please take that in the flippant sense in which it was intended).
 
Top