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So this Dovetailing business?...

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Kaizen123

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I'm in the shed today finally learning to dovetail or at least trying to teach myself the extreme basics of it.

I've done the tail piece I think... Took 2 attempts because the first piece I blew out the back face of the wood with the chisel. There must be a technique to avoid this right? This is legitimately my first time really picking up the chisels for anything other than planing a bit of here and there. Any advice on this? I ask because I almost did the same on the second piece but got away with just a chip.

Going to do the pin piece now. The pin piece definitely seems a lot less intimidating as I'm just doing one dovetail in the middle of a 100mm width piece of wood. No idea what the wood is but I'm starting to think it's mdf. It was an old babies cot I've taken apart.

Is there any wisdom people could give on how to tell if the cut is actually straight? I've not got the eyes for that. Do you not really know until you try to fit it in?

Thanks.

I've gone to far into the cut on the back right hand side... Any point in continuing or do I start again?
 

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Jameshow

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I always do the tails first and then mark them onto the pin board.

Cut down the waste side of the line and coping saw the bottom before trimming with s sharp chisel.

Other with more experience will be along shortly.

Cheers James
 

Kaizen123

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Thanks @Jameshow I've totally butchered it but I'm going to keep trying! I have realised my mistakes in it and if I write them down I might just not forget them.

It is in anyway and it holding together but there is a lot to be said about the cleanliness of it to say the least!

Also I watched a video on it and the chap said to always chisel a bit of extra meat out of the middle that isn't seen is that common practice?
 

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Jacob

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Waste of time DTing mdf - you need some real wood.
Workpieces on the bench (on a clean bit of mdf if you have any) and chiselling downwards, vertical. Half way through on one side, then turn over and half way through again.
 

Kaizen123

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Right good to know. I've got some pine left will that be sufficient? Or I've got a bit of Meranti?
 

Jacob

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And don't bother fiddling about with a coping saw. If you get the chiselling right the waste will drop or push out. Or you could cut the sides of the pinhole down to the line and then one or two more cuts short of the line, through the waste, then easier to knock out after chiselling.
The saw cuts need to be fractionally over the line by as little as possible, so you don't have to clean out the corners.
 

Kaizen123

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I did find the coping saw quite a challenge. I was cutting triangles out as it doesn't seem to want to bend too much for me. Feel much more in control with the chisels just need to pay more attention to the lines I think and get the knack of chiselling straight.
 

danst96

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Don't be discouraged by your first attempt. Just keep practicing. I tried my first dovetail over Christmas and it came out like this 🤦
Screenshot_20220114-070557.png

Not my finest work.

This is attempt number 3. Still not amazing but clear progress, not just in how it looks but how comfortable I was doing it, the speed and enjoyment. To some this is probably rubbish but I'm quite pleased with my 3rd ever dovetails
Screenshot_20220114-070625.png

Screenshot_20220114-070629.png
 

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TRITON

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Practice in pine ;)
Easier to come by, easier to work. But at the same time is softer so when cleaning up if you try to lever out chippings it will crush the edges and look pants. You can easily see where you're going wrong because of that, and with pine its easier to do,doesnt take as long
Then move to hardwood.
But as above Practice,Practice,Practice.

Using one of the very fine Japanese saws you can actually do the tails and not bother with any cleaning up if you can cut them squarely. Then just transfer them through to the pin piece and go from there. I believe this is probably the easiest way. As trying to catch a tiny sliver to get to the line can be problematic at best, plus the grain can run so you slice deeper in that you intend.

Depending on how accurate i really need to be, after marking out I use a scalpel to go over the lines to give the clean sharp edge. You can also use a piece clamped on over each line to give the chisel a 90deg edge to slide down and keep the chisel straight and not angled in so the bottom of the tail is parallel to the top. This simple jig can go a long way to preventing any gaps.

What happens when its not 100% 90deg is you need to make the pins bigger and while the tail slips in easier, the outside facing is all gaps. so when transferring tail too pin, the tails need to be dead square.

1/2 laps are the easiest to practice on.
Thus -
image030.jpg
 

recipio

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One tip I've used is to cut to the ' inside' of the pencil line. If you try to split the line the set on the saw is actually taking too much off either left or right. Of course when I got a Woodrat I abandoned hand cutting. :rolleyes:
 

D_W

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And don't bother fiddling about with a coping saw. If you get the chiselling right the waste will drop or push out. Or you could cut the sides of the pinhole down to the line and then one or two more cuts short of the line, through the waste, then easier to knock out after chiselling.
The saw cuts need to be fractionally over the line by as little as possible, so you don't have to clean out the corners.
I use a coping saw - I wouldn't follow jacob's advice if you intend to do dovetailing in hardwoods (like case sides in the future, or boxes. )
 

Jacob

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DTs are a bit like sharpening - there are a lot of opinions out there and you have to tread carefully!
A typical trad chest of drawers could have 100 or more DTs done entirely by hand. These must have been done very quickly and efficiently. Question is, how?
Looking at old furniture several things stand out - the saw cuts were nearly always done freehand with minimal setting out, they were all over-cut to varying degrees, the other marks always deeply cut with cutting gauges no pencil lines involved, coping saws were not used, socket sides always undercut, they last 100s of years sometimes even without glue, and so on!
 
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D_W

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As to getting the hang of dovetails, just actually do them. If you make a case and you might screw it together but you're not in a hurry, dovetail the case. At some point, it becomes point and shoot unless you only do it infrequently and need to have some sort of special method.

If the sawing seems hard, do some work with hand tools when you don't need to (cutting boards, etc) and dovetail sawing will become sort of reflexive.
 

Kaizen123

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I was thinking the same thing @D_W in terms of learning. If I try to get to a level where I feel I've sort of got the knack then I reckon just dovetail everything I do for a while.
 
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