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So this Dovetailing business?...

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Devmeister

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I'm going to throw my hat in the ring by saying that a gauge or square was not used for cutting dovetails by joiners in the past.

My reasoning:

They knew how to cut square.
If they could skip a step to make the job more efficient, they would.
Why would they bother to mark out the dovetails angles and square when all they needed was a gauge line to work down to and one part acts as a templet for the other ?
Your reasoning is spot on and my proof is in two parts.

1). I have access to originals and I have seen this to be the case.

2). The drawer bottoms were solid wood. They were not finished as evidenced by rough tool marks done by either a scrub plane or a badger.

I have seen the same to be true with a 1774 Hepplewhite Bombay chest.
 

Jacob

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....

And crucially, if you couldn't cut square you wouldn't get a job as a joiner and you'd be sweeping the floor instead.
Or in another shop, if you couldn't do quickly and effectively, even if a bit roughly....
 

Jacob

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.....

2). The drawer bottoms were solid wood. They were not finished as evidenced by rough tool marks done by either a scrub plane or a badger.
.....
Talking of badgers - friends of mine in France have charming ancient furniture and they say the backs/bottoms etc look as though attacked by bears. :oops:
 
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Devmeister

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England was the center of the universe for high end work at the time. The Germans were influenced by religious viewpoints which would spawn the shaker and Amish schools of design.

The top end tools reflect this. As much as I love my original Stanley’s and LN tools, nothing cuts hardwood like an English infill!

Have guys seen a modern craftsman screwdriver with its plastic handle? No Accident! That is a London pattern! My Sorby chisels have that handle done in boxwood. Octagon sides with turned ends.
 

Devmeister

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Talking of badgers - friends of mine in France have charming ancient furniture and they say the backs/bottoms etc look as though attacked by bears. :oops:
That is indeed true. They didn’t have the modern machines we have. In the few reproductions I have done, not many mind you, I actually used a LN scrub plane on these surfaces to get rid of machine marks to make it more realistic. It the only time I have used the scrub plane.
 

Devmeister

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Talking of badgers - friends of mine in France have charming ancient furniture and they say the backs/bottoms etc look as though attacked by bears. :oops:
By the way, a badger is not an animal. It is an English plane with a wood body about the size of a Stanley or record #5 with a wide mouth and often a curved blade. It takes a really thick shaving. It can take a board dow to thickness fast!
 

Devmeister

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Skip to around the 8:00 minute mark to see the dovetails on the drawer of a John Towsend desk:


This is a wonderful look at Townsends work. I didn’t know that Townsend used this much mahogany which was pricy back then. His dovetail work on this piece was outstanding. I am tempted to say his works trumped the chippendale work I have seen. Really impressed.
 

Jacob

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This is a wonderful look at Townsends work. I didn’t know that Townsend used this much mahogany which was pricy back then. His dovetail work on this piece was outstanding. I am tempted to say his works trumped the chippendale work I have seen. Really impressed.
Nice work. I've never seen that set-in bottom detail. It would do fine for light work as in this desk. The actual runner surface would be much wider than the sides of the drawers and be supporting the bottoms directly.
The DTs look about 1:5. Did nobody tell him the "correct" angles? :ROFLMAO:
 

Adam W.

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Or in another shop, if you couldn't do quickly and effectively, even if a bit roughly....
They were probably doing piece work anyway, and if you were slow, you were just taking up valuable bench space which could be occupied by someone who was faster.

I'm sure that it was quite a brutal time to be working in.
 

Jacob

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I am confused. How do you cut two sides together when cutting pins first? I have occasionally done it when cutting tails first, but pins first?
I assume Devmeister meant tails first which means pin holes first, but we could be talking at cross purposes!
 

Jacob

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This is a wonderful look at Townsends work. I didn’t know that Townsend used this much mahogany which was pricy back then. His dovetail work on this piece was outstanding. I am tempted to say his works trumped the chippendale work I have seen. Really impressed.
Just had a closer look at the vid.
Spectacular piece of furniture but I'm not so sure about his drawer details being at all noteworthy.
Lots of emphasis and craft skill devoted to the visible fronts but the rest although very neat is not special at all, just done practically and simply. In fact the glued and nailed on runner (12 minutes in) is a very cheap detail.
And that's how it is with masses of furniture at every price level.
In fact highly finished backs, undersides, largely out of sight including dovetails, is often the mark of an over-enthusiastic amateur, which Townsend definitely was not!
 
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CStanford

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This is a wonderful look at Townsends work. I didn’t know that Townsend used this much mahogany which was pricy back then. His dovetail work on this piece was outstanding. I am tempted to say his works trumped the chippendale work I have seen. Really impressed.

This piece realized $1.9 million at auction. Interesting details on some of the more or less hidden areas of the piece:


Christie's also handled the auction of a Goddard secretary which fetched a little over $12 million at auction. I believe it was purchased by Israel Sack. The Goddards and Townsends were related by marriage and both had operations in Newport, RI.
 
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CStanford

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Just had a closer look at the vid.
Spectacular piece of furniture but I'm not so sure about his drawer details being at all noteworthy.
Lots of emphasis and craft skill devoted to the visible fronts but the rest although very neat is not special at all, just done practically and simply. In fact the glued and nailed on runner (12 minutes in) is a very cheap detail.
And that's how it is with masses of furniture at every price level.
In fact highly finished backs, undersides, largely out of sight including dovetails, is often the mark of an over-enthusiastic amateur, which Townsend definitely was not!

I don't think customers at the time bought furniture based on how drawer dovetails looked. The ones in the video were certainly neat enough to do their job. One hoped that one's house guests didn't go around opening the drawers of furniture to see what the dovetails looked like. If a piece didn't make a statement as it sat in the room (drawers closed!) it didn't sell. The rest was just more or less standard cabinet work, and I'm sure a premium was put on speed. There were literally dozens of cabinetmakers in Newport RI at the time. If you were slow, you'd better have been making something worth the wait.

My link to the portion of the video showing the drawer was mostly to show the spacing. A rank beginner could probably cut the joint in the video within their first year or two in the trade. Certainly somebody starting out now could, with all the helps and aids available and no apprenticeship which started with much more mundane tasks. Now, you can skip right to dovetailing if you choose to.

We've all seen beautifully dovetailed drawers on ghastly pieces of the most boring and mundane furniture imaginable. It seems en vogue at the moment.
 

Jacob

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......One hoped that one's house guests didn't go around opening the drawers of furniture to see what the dovetails looked like.
You'd be surprised! I had my stuff in a local show and was amazed at the number of old chaps who came and went straight for my dovetails, even criticising them for being incorrectly angled! :ROFLMAO:
If a piece didn't make a statement as it sat in the room (drawers closed!) it didn't sell. The rest was just more or less standard cabinet work, .....
Exactly.
 

D_W

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This piece realized $1.9 million at auction. Interesting details on some of the more or less hidden areas of the piece:


Christie's also handled the auction of a Goddard secretary which fetched a little over $12 million at auction. I believe it was purchased by Israel Sack. The Goddards and Townsends were related by marriage and both had operations in Newport, RI.

that is a handsome piece of furniture. Look at the smoothness of all of the show areas, but it's not a bland smoothness. It's crisp. Near perfection.

The mellons and a few others here own a lot of furniture in that class (nobody else could afford to, I guess) and loan it to the Carnegie museum. When you see it in person, if the quality of the workmanship and the crispness of the details don't grip you, you have to be dead.
 

D_W

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You'd be surprised! I had my stuff in a local show and was amazed at the number of old chaps

They're not old enough - most of the "old timers" here never did fine work. My grandfather is long dead - his buddy made a living making fine cabinets and clocks. I didn't see much evidence of hand work - production hand workers were long gone. The fellow I'm talking about made near visually perfect pieces, but they definitely had the power tool taste (they weren't fat and out of proportion, just very smooth looking with very perfect even finishing work, etc). I guess that was the thing in the 1950s or so - the somewhat modern take.
 

CStanford

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You'd be surprised! I had my stuff in a local show and was amazed at the number of old chaps who came and went straight for my dovetails, even criticising them for being incorrectly angled! :ROFLMAO: Exactly.

Dovetailing has definitely become a top-ten hobby.

If people were given a choice between being able to create truly inspired designs OR being able to cut flawless dovetails I think 65%+ would choose the latter.

I tend to run hot, cold, and in-between on James Krenov's work depending on my mood, but I have taken note that some of his most famous pieces had side-to-top joinery of simple dowels. He didn't want dovetails to interrupt the look and dowels were more than strong enough for the application. There is most definitely a message in there. He was certainly not challenged by the cutting of dovetails. He just didn't shoehorn them in wherever he could have.
 
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Just4Fun

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I think dovetails look ugly so I avoid them whenever possible.
I really enjoy cutting dovetails so I include them whenever possible.

Oh wait ... I am starting to see my problem.
 

Adam W.

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Luckily most of my dovetails are as big as your hand and can't be seen, as they hold buildings together and go together with a satisfying CLUNK!
 
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