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

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AndyT

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Back on the w-i-p story, I seem to have taken something of a mishmash of photos, duplicating some jobs and missing others out. So, as anyone reading this will already know something about dovetails, I offer some selected photos to give an overall impression.

This part of the making was all about paring, assembly, dismantling, paring, assembly, paring, then stopping at what I hope was good enough.

One thing that bothered me as I tapped away yet again with my Thor hammer or an ordinary hammer and a block of wood, or gripped one end in the vice and levered at the other one, was that I knew I had read that dovetails should not be test assembled. In this joint, they must be, to get the mitres right. Even Custard doesn't get them to fit straight from the saw, first time. This is what Ernest Joyce wrote in his big book on Furniture Making:

When all the cutting has been finished the dovetails can be tried together, but they should never be knocked fully home until they are glued up, for it is axiomatic that a good dovetail only fits once.

Maybe that will do as an excuse if my joints turn out a little less than perfect? :wink:

So - paring the sockets. I settled on doing these horizontally, using a Moxon style vice to bring them up to a comfortable level where I could see what I was doing. The walnut is a bit weak - if I tried to chop too much, divots would pull out leaving nasty gaps,

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so I used a fine old chisel, sharpened frequently and took little cuts.

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To cut the mitres just needed a bit of freehand sawing outside the line. Not so bad on the bottom where there is a whole line to follow, a bit harder on the top of the moulding. Writing this up afterwards I realise I could have used a mitre box or block, but never mind.

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This is a preliminary fitting:

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There's clearly quite a bit of wood to be pared away, but at least the angles look right.

This was the setup for paring, which I really enjoyed doing:

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I already knew that a standard technique for an ill-fitting mitre is to push the joint together as tight as it will go and run a fine saw down the joint. Fortunately, I managed to produce an ill-fitting mitre, so I was able to try this out:

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What you can't get from that last photo is the sound of the saw being forced down into the wrong bit of the joint and my late realisation of that fact. :oops:

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This shows the joint closed up a bit, plus the dark gash of evidence below.

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The underneath is a bit tidier, but shows where I marked the mitre wrong earlier.

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My next job was to prepare some little slivers of walnut. Top tip: don't tidy away any scraps until the whole project is safely finished.

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It was also a good time to fix another blunder, where I had failed to position the groove for the bottom inside the dovetail. You can see here that there's a hole at the end of the groove where it falls too low.

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The solution is to glue a scrap in place, wedged with other bits and pieces.

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Then when the glue has dried

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plane it down with the ideally sized tool for the job

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so there is enough wood for a complete tail.

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It's a good job I'm not trying to earn a living doing this!

The end result is a joint which closes up a lot better all round:

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And here - tada! - is the whole thing, with eight ends all dry fitting together, if I choose my camera angle right.

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Stay tuned for the next instalment - and find out whether I remember to make and fit a bottom before I glue the sides together!
 

AndyT

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Orraloon":2fz0ya11 said:
Fixing mistakes is an essential woodworking skill.
I like your different take on the moxon. Adjustable height.
Regards
John

I take no credit for the Moxon vice - it was a wonderfully generous present from another member on here, which I have enjoyed using again and again.

Klaus wrote a detailed review of the first version here -

very-special-double-screw-vice-t89941.html

I don't think Douglas is making these any more, but if you can make anything similar, you won't regret it.
 

AndyT

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Having managed to make the sides fit together, I needed a suitable bottom. I'd made the 6mm groove to suit an offcut of ply, so just needed to cut it the right size. I don't like measuring things I can't see, but recently I watched Paul Sellers demonstrate a useful method. He just took two thin strips of wood, cut them to about the right size, then bent them into the grooves. Then he trimmed back a bit so there was just enough free play side to side and end to end, giving him the required dimensions of the panel. I had recently been playing about with a "chip plane" which cut the right sort of strips and these were just behind the bench, ready for use.

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I could then cut my bit of ply, measuring it directly, with no numbers needed.

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Later, looking at it again, I changed my mind. It's the sort of cheap ply where the face veneer is paper thin. I could have left the old stain and varnish as it was but decided against it.

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Fortunately, one of my boxes of useful scraps had a little left-over bit of an old drawer front which was nearly the right size. I had deep ripped it to make thin panels. A couple of old nail holes won't hurt at the bottom of a box and the decorative bead would disappear.

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A little planing, a little sawing to size,

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filling (with sawdust and glue)

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and sanding

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and it was good enough.
I don't know what the wood is - it's tight grain, not too hard and a bit yellowish. Basswood/lime maybe? All sorts of stuff got used in Victorian furniture.

One little problem I faced was that having malleted the box together for its last dry fit, there was no way I could pull it apart by hand. I thought of reversing some clamps into spreader mode - but the space inside the box was too small.

My solution was an assortment of offcuts, folding wedges and two hammers.

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Phew!

I was a bit worried that the joints would be too tight to assemble. Would the glue work as a lubricant or would the water in it make the fibres swell up tighter?

To avoid the worst of the problems, I very slightly pared down the joints in the two corners that had stayed together during my dismantling.

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The new bottom was a little bit tight in places, so I checked it for fit on each side and took a few passes with a side rebate plane.

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This is a user made copy of a Stanley 98. Here's a close-up and the other side, in case I can inspire anyone to make their own:

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You don't need much in the way of materials!

Then it was a quick once over, sanding the inside surfaces of the box with Abranet

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followed by a proper tidy up of the bench. I know that it's sensible to tidy before gluing up, but it feels like a displacement activity. Still unsure of how much heavy clamping would be needed, I got some clamp heads on short bars, some heavy F clamps and some blocks of wood with parcel tape on them. I took off all my identifying labels so that the masking tape didn't get pressed onto the walnut and mark it, laying out each piece in its proper place instead.

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I was even calm enough to take a picture during the process showing how much Titebond liquid hide glue I used, painted onto all the mating surfaces with a little paint brush.

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The box slid together obediently with just a little persuasion from the soft side of my Thor mallet.

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Mike, I hope you are not too disappointed that I did remember to slide the bottom into place!

Then it was into the clamps, ready to wait until another day. :D

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MikeG.

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Excellent Andy. I'm enjoying this one. I've actually done very few boxes myself over the years. I shy away from them for no good reason I can think of. I guess one reason is that I'm not a big fan of figured wood, which seems to generally be the territory for small boxes.......and the absence of which I think means this project looks like being a success.
 

AndyT

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Last gasp! The really impatient can scroll down, the rest can read on...

With the glue dry and the box out of the clamps, I did a bit more cosmetic work on the box. I glued little slivers of wood into the bigger gaps and forced sawdust mixed with glue into the smaller ones. Then I left it so the glue could dry.

This is what it looked like - not much of an improvement!

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Time for some smoothing work, with this strictly non-exotic UK-made 1960s Stanley no 3 with a lightly cambered iron. At times like this a decent sized vice is especially handy.

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Walnut does plane very nicely.

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A few pages back I showed this mistake

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You were all too polite to say so, but I should have cut end, side, end side; not end, side, side, end. If I had been cutting plain mitres the order would have mattered so that the grain could follow round the corners. But there's another issue with a hand-cut moulding - any small discrepancies will be greater if the cut ends are not next to each other. This picture shows what I mean - that dark line is not a gap, it's a vertical surface, showing where the moulding is bigger on the end than on the side.

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The solution is simple; plane down the steps in the rebates

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Plane the moulding a bit more with the round, then tidy up with some sandpaper round a bench dog:

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I wanted to stain this walnut quite dark, to make it tonally similar to the mahogany chest it will stand next to. So I did a test application onto my experimental secret mitre dovetail corner. I was using some Mylands water based stain that Custard gave me when I was making my little walnut table. It's good stuff and gave me enough coverage in a single coat

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so I carried on and did the box as well.

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I did something that I have done before but don't recall being suggested as good practice - I lightly sanded all over but left the sanding dust in place. I hoped that the stain would force some of it into the remaining crevices and help fill them in, and I think it did help.

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Here it is today, fully dried, out in the sunshine in the back garden.

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And here it is, getting the first of many coats of shellac

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So there we have it, just about finished

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I shall give it a few more coats, lightly sanding back from time to time, but it won't look significantly different enough to make it worth another photo.

Then I shall patiently leave it for a week or so to be sure it's all properly cured before giving it some self-adhesive pad feet and a waxing and installing it in its dark corner, where nobody will ever give it anything more than a passing glance.

Thanks to all for sharing the long, rambling journey, and special thanks to Custard for providing the materials.
 

Phlebas

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AndyT":ueh9wy4v said:
Then I shall patiently leave it for a week or so to be sure it's all properly cured before giving it some self-adhesive pad feet and a waxing and installing it in its dark corner, where nobody will ever give it anything more than a passing glance.

Ah, but you will give it more than a passing glance, each time you walk by. And that is the point, ain't it?

Thank you for putting in the effort to do the thread. Having done it a couple of times myself I know how onerous it is.

And I think you have convinced me that there is no rational basis for a secret mitred dovetail. So I'll probably give it a go. Nothing as contrary as folk.
 

AndyT

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Exactly so, Phlebas. Ordinary people don't really see wooden things properly, do they?

And if I can inspire anyone to have a go at the secret mitre dovetail -or even start a fashion for what shall we call it, "inverted propotions" will do - it's all been worthwhile.
 

AndyT

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MikeG.":2u0j4uzy said:
Walnut is sooooooooo nice to work with! You should make a lid, Andy.

Well I could do that, but I'd have to make the box about three foot tall - this is where it's going and what will go in it!

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thetyreman

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that's amazing andy, I like how there's just a hint of figure in the wood as well, looks really classy =D>
 

Sheffield Tony

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The result looks good, worth the trials and tribulations. Thanks for sharing - especially for being honest enough to show the mistakes and fixes, so much more useful than just pretending everything went swimmingly !
 

AndyT

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Ok everyone, here are the final photos of this epic project. I feel a bit frivolous making and posting something as unnecessary as this, but it's no more trivial than watching TV or doing a crossword, and as far as I know those activities continue in these strange times. Anyhow, here it is. The shellac has hardened and any roughness has been knocked back. I put a little wax on. And now it can gather dust unseen for years to come!

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