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Just4Fun

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I might have missed this, sorry - are these skinny dovetails any easier/harder than chunkier ones? Any difference in strength? I'm guessing from the 22 year old ones that they're entirely functional...
In theory I see no reason why they should be any easier or harder to cut than wider ones but in practise I find them harder. I don't understand why and it could be just me.

I would expect - but don't know for sure - that a strength test would show the really skinny ones to be weaker. I don't think that is important though. In a typical drawer or box application ultimate strength is not needed and any tight joint will be strong enough, particularly with modern glues. A really skinny pin often looks more elegant to my eyes and this seems to be the fashion in recent years, but it is really up to you. Make what you like.

Edit: Jacob beat me to it, more succinctly to boot.
 

Jacob

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In theory I see no reason why they should be any easier or harder to cut than wider ones but in practise I find them harder. I don't understand why and it could be just me.

I would expect - but don't know for sure - that a strength test would show the really skinny ones to be weaker. I don't think that is important though. In a typical drawer or box application ultimate strength is not needed and any tight joint will be strong enough, particularly with modern glues. A really skinny pin often looks more elegant to my eyes and this seems to be the fashion in recent years, but it is really up to you. Make what you like.

Edit: Jacob beat me to it, more succinctly to boot.
It's an old fashion - you see it in a lot of old furniture. Sometimes done for trim appearance but also I guess because it's slightly easier to cut a pair of sides together with just one kerf to start off each pin hole.
There's some interesting sites out there, showing the variety, e.g. Drawer Front Dovetail Evolution
I hit on this one this morning:
Maramureș, northern Romania. Dovetail joints on the corner of a traditional old timber house in the village of Botiza

Screenshot 2022-01-16 at 10.21.21.png
 
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Kaizen123

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Fred, that is certainly a safe approach and I probably did it that way when I started. The disadvantage is that it is making work and not really developing skill. It is quicker (not actually important to me) and I find it enormously satisfying to cut straight to the line so the joint goes together with no additional "fettling" of the sides with a chisel. This of course requires accurate saw cuts that nobody can expect to do without practise, but you will never be able to do that if you never try.

Try marking out a series of parallel cuts (angled like on a dovetail) just a few mm apart on the end of a piece of scrap, then saw against the line. I bet when you have done 20 you will be pretty close & consistent. Then try an actual dovetail cut direct from the saw. You may surprise yourself.
That last attempt at a dovetail I did (#3) I managed to pretty much do most of it with the scrollsaw. Or at least did the lion's share of it and it did make me think that would be possible just to cut it with a fine saw at that angle. Take a bit more skill and I am REALLY enjoying chiselling. It's very satisfying. But yes, I do want to try do one just with a saw but I'm waiting on my Japanese jobby to tackle that.
 

Sporky McGuffin

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Just a particular style and very common. No easier/harder, except you only have to have one straight kerf to start it off, instead of two.
For most purposes strength isn't much of an an issue with DTs unless for heavy loads such as water tanks, ammo boxes and similar, when equal sized pins and tails are presumed stronger.

Thank you - and apologies, I think you've posted exactly that before, quite possibly in this thread!
 

Derek Cohen (Perth Oz)

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I recently posted a picture of a travel box I made for a set of chisels I take to demonstrate at wood shows and joinery workshops. It replaced this box, which was originally made to house 5 chisels, and was now too small for the 7 chisels that need to be stored.

Original box ...

Veritas-Chisel-Review-html-m17c99c48.jpg


Veritas-Chisel-Review-html-190af34b.jpg


As an aside, the narrow tips are harder to make as the sockets are more fragile when clearing the waste from the corners. In terms of overall strength, narrow dovetails (often called "London" dovetails) are no weaker than wider dovetails. I think that they just look more elegant.

Anyway, the other reason I wanted to make a new chisel box was because I thought that this one, made 10 years ago, was a little too "in your face". I was planning to be at a workshop (this past Saturday), and wanted the new box for then. The new chisel box is actually many times more complex to make. However, only experienced dovetailers will know this. :)

This is the new box ...

4.jpg


11.jpg



Why is this box so much more difficult?

The dovetails in the first box look impressive because they are half blinds and because they are pointy "London" style. But they are still just half blind dovetails and, because the tail is hidden inside the socket, I described these as 1 Dimensional.


Final8.jpg


Now take the through dovetail. It is open on two sides. Both sides are open for scrutiny. Therefor I would refer to these as joinery in 2 Dimensions ...

Drawer-B10.jpg


The new box has mitred through dovetails, which are used to hide the grooves for the bottom and the sliding lid. These mitres add a big jump in complexity - a third dimension. Each of these sides must come together at the same time, otherwise there will be gaps at the side and front. In other words, joinery in 3 Dimensions.

This is a model of mitred through dovetails ..

AnotherCoffeeTable2_html_m5cd482de.jpg



This is the new box before glue up ...

1.jpg


Rob Cosman was asked to demonstrate a mitred through dovetail. He declined, saying that he had never made one. I understand and accept this. It is not a joint to teach a beginner.

There are other dovetails, but for another time.

Regards from Perth

Derek
 
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Kaizen123

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I actually quite like the look of the first picture with 3 joints close together and then a gap at each end. Looks masterful.
 

paulrbarnard

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I recently posted a picture of a travel box I made for a set of chisels I take to demonstrate at wood shows and joinery workshops. It replaced this box, which was originally made to house 5 chisels, and was now too small for the 7 chisels that need to be stored.

Original box ...

Veritas-Chisel-Review-html-m17c99c48.jpg


Veritas-Chisel-Review-html-190af34b.jpg


As an aside, the narrow tips are harder to make as the sockets are more fragile when clearing the waste from the corners. In terms of overall strength, narrow dovetails (often called "London" dovetails) are no weaker than wider dovetails. I think that they just look more elegant.

Anyway, the other reason I wanted to make a new chisel box was because I thought that this one, made 10 years ago, was a little too "in your face". I was planning to be at a workshop (this past Saturday), and wanted the new box for then. The new chisel box is actually many times more complex to make. However, only experienced dovetailers will know this. :)

This is the new box ...

4.jpg


11.jpg



Why is this box so much more difficult?

The dovetails in the first box look impressive because they are half blinds and because they are pointy "London" style. But they are still just half blind dovetails and, because the tail is hidden inside the socket, I described these as 1 Dimensional.


Final8.jpg


Now take the through dovetail. It is open on two sides. Both sides are open for scrutiny. Therefor I would refer to these as joinery in 2 Dimensions ...

Drawer-B10.jpg


The new box has mitred through dovetails, which are used to hide the grooves for the bottom and the sliding lid. These mitres add a big jump in complexity - a third dimension. Each of these sides must come together at the same time, otherwise there will be gaps at the side and front. In other words, joinery in 3 Dimensions.

This is a model of mitred through dovetails ..

AnotherCoffeeTable2_html_m5cd482de.jpg



This is the new box before glue up ...

1.jpg


Rob Cosman was asked to demonstrate a mitred through dovetail. He declined, saying that he had never made one. I understand and accept this. It is not a joint to teach a beginner.

There are other dovetails, but for another time.

Regards from Perth

Derek
Love the mitered through dovetails. I use them a lot. Here are some on a set of signal repeater panels I made.
tempImageQn8tnZ.jpg

tempImagenoqhEL.jpg


tempImageP7kAzM.jpg
 

Devmeister

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Once upon a time it was secret dovetails for drawers. Especially if it had a front fitted.,
Times have changed. My dad taught me as a kid. He was a gentleman woodworker who struggled. I learned from kluau
Brilliant vid from Klausz. I'm sort of getting there but not quite as snappy!
He does pins first but I reckon most trad workers did sockets first - because you can do two sides clamped together in one op and speed things up. You can see it on old drawers where the little variations on one side match the other side exactly.
PS he does it sideways but easier turned facing the bench I think. And if you are doing a lot have a high stool - lot of leaning forwards etc gets uncomfortable, back ache etc, sitting down and you can be at it all day, perhaps.
Another thing is to set the gauge line slightly over so the ends stick through by half a mm or so, then plane them flush after the glue is dry, for a perfect appearance.
Times have changed. My father taught me as a kid and he was a gentleman woodworker who struggled. As a computer engineer I mastered the art from guys like Kingshot, Becksvort and Klausz when he had no grey. When my mother died I returned to work in the woodworking industry doing luxury high end commercial fitment. I became a bad ass in the world of CNC working on jobs costing into the millions of US dollars.

what resonated was Kluasz’ comment on hand work being production work. In drawe work where dovetails were needed, we found router jigs to be a pain. We had a Maureen Johnson CNC dovetailer.

Drawers had to fit the case they were intended to be fit in. Getting the half pins right and getting the traditional look right was a real pain in the ass. The CNC dovetailer cut two pin socket boards that were offset. You didn’t really have a pin board and a tail board. Often you had half pins done wrong and that mass production look clients didn’t want. So we sold the CNC dovetailer.

we then tried using the Lieigh D4 with porter cable 690 routers. It solved the half pin issue for the most part and got us the variable spacing we were looking for.

But the D4 has one pain in the buttocks. The two diagonal joints are equal but not interchangeable with the other two diagonal joints. So you had to set up a mirror set up on the other side of the jig. Not always perfect and your now limited to only 12 inch drawers creating issues in medical and legal fitments where drawers can exceed 12 in in depth.

so we had a come to Jesus meeting and decided to attempt an up to date hand approach. The Homag CNC cost 200,000 US dollars and ran two shifts per day. Clogging up production with dovetail drawer parts was not an option. So we CNC cut parts for a saw jig for the bench crew.

The bench crew got LN dovetail saws, Irwin plastic chisels and we bought one tormek grinder. We had 6 bench stations.

Each job is different even with some similarities so setups on a jig would always require test cuts and setups. Time and money. The number of parts from one setup was not worth the cost of each setup.

So each bench guy would quickly mark out a tailboard and clamp as many as four to six tail boards together. Hand layout made the bottom dado location brain dead simple. With the MDF saw guide, it took 5 min or less to cut tails on as many as six tail boards at a time.

The boards were stagger clamped to the bench and the waste was chopped no more than half thru. Boards flipped and the remainder of the waste cleared.

The less experienced would do tail boards while the more experienced did pin boards and half laps.

we billed 20 min per thru drawer and 40 min for the upgraded half lap drawers. Shop time was not cheap but our clients were happy to pay for our work.

while we did more melamine drawers than traditional drawers we did have the traditional drawer down.

so I have to smile sometimes when I hear others comment on the new methods of drawer construction and why it’s obsolete to do things with 200 year old skill sets. Dovetailing drawers old school is far from obsolete and no modern method has come about to replace it. It is a skill set worth mastering and that hard to master.
 

Adam W.

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Seeings we're having a show and tell.......Mine are so good, they are invisible, beat that!


IMG_3213.JPG


They are even more invisible now that I have painted it black....


IMG_4621.JPG

The lid glows nice in the sunlight too....

My uncle would never show off his dovetails, as he thought they was common. How times change!
 
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Devmeister

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I recently posted a picture of a travel box I made for a set of chisels I take to demonstrate at wood shows and joinery workshops. It replaced this box, which was originally made to house 5 chisels, and was now too small for the 7 chisels that need to be stored.

Original box ...

Veritas-Chisel-Review-html-m17c99c48.jpg


Veritas-Chisel-Review-html-190af34b.jpg


As an aside, the narrow tips are harder to make as the sockets are more fragile when clearing the waste from the corners. In terms of overall strength, narrow dovetails (often called "London" dovetails) are no weaker than wider dovetails. I think that they just look more elegant.

Anyway, the other reason I wanted to make a new chisel box was because I thought that this one, made 10 years ago, was a little too "in your face". I was planning to be at a workshop (this past Saturday), and wanted the new box for then. The new chisel box is actually many times more complex to make. However, only experienced dovetailers will know this. :)

This is the new box ...

4.jpg


11.jpg



Why is this box so much more difficult?

The dovetails in the first box look impressive because they are half blinds and because they are pointy "London" style. But they are still just half blind dovetails and, because the tail is hidden inside the socket, I described these as 1 Dimensional.


Final8.jpg


Now take the through dovetail. It is open on two sides. Both sides are open for scrutiny. Therefor I would refer to these as joinery in 2 Dimensions ...

Drawer-B10.jpg


The new box has mitred through dovetails, which are used to hide the grooves for the bottom and the sliding lid. These mitres add a big jump in complexity - a third dimension. Each of these sides must come together at the same time, otherwise there will be gaps at the side and front. In other words, joinery in 3 Dimensions.

This is a model of mitred through dovetails ..

AnotherCoffeeTable2_html_m5cd482de.jpg



This is the new box before glue up ...

1.jpg


Rob Cosman was asked to demonstrate a mitred through dovetail. He declined, saying that he had never made one. I understand and accept this. It is not a joint to teach a beginner.

There are other dovetails, but for another time.

Regards from Perth

Derek

SWEET!!!!!!!!
Lovely work done in real wood with skill and care to solve a practical problem. I absolutely love it!!!!!!
 

Jacob

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Times have changed. My dad taught me as a kid. He was a gentleman woodworker who struggled. I learned from kluau

Times have changed. My father taught me as a kid and he was a gentleman woodworker who struggled. As a computer engineer I mastered the art from guys like Kingshot, Becksvort and Klausz when he had no grey. When my mother died I returned to work in the woodworking industry doing luxury high end commercial fitment. I became a bad ass in the world of CNC working on jobs costing into the millions of US dollars.

what resonated was Kluasz’ comment on hand work being production work. In drawe work where dovetails were needed, we found router jigs to be a pain. We had a Maureen Johnson CNC dovetailer.

Drawers had to fit the case they were intended to be fit in. Getting the half pins right and getting the traditional look right was a real pain in the ass. The CNC dovetailer cut two pin socket boards that were offset. You didn’t really have a pin board and a tail board. Often you had half pins done wrong and that mass production look clients didn’t want. So we sold the CNC dovetailer.

we then tried using the Lieigh D4 with porter cable 690 routers. It solved the half pin issue for the most part and got us the variable spacing we were looking for.

But the D4 has one pain in the buttocks. The two diagonal joints are equal but not interchangeable with the other two diagonal joints. So you had to set up a mirror set up on the other side of the jig. Not always perfect and your now limited to only 12 inch drawers creating issues in medical and legal fitments where drawers can exceed 12 in in depth.

so we had a come to Jesus meeting and decided to attempt an up to date hand approach. The Homag CNC cost 200,000 US dollars and ran two shifts per day. Clogging up production with dovetail drawer parts was not an option. So we CNC cut parts for a saw jig for the bench crew.

The bench crew got LN dovetail saws, Irwin plastic chisels and we bought one tormek grinder. We had 6 bench stations.

Each job is different even with some similarities so setups on a jig would always require test cuts and setups. Time and money. The number of parts from one setup was not worth the cost of each setup.

So each bench guy would quickly mark out a tailboard and clamp as many as four to six tail boards together. Hand layout made the bottom dado location brain dead simple. With the MDF saw guide, it took 5 min or less to cut tails on as many as six tail boards at a time.

The boards were stagger clamped to the bench and the waste was chopped no more than half thru. Boards flipped and the remainder of the waste cleared.

The less experienced would do tail boards while the more experienced did pin boards and half laps.

we billed 20 min per thru drawer and 40 min for the upgraded half lap drawers. Shop time was not cheap but our clients were happy to pay for our work.

while we did more melamine drawers than traditional drawers we did have the traditional drawer down.

so I have to smile sometimes when I hear others comment on the new methods of drawer construction and why it’s obsolete to do things with 200 year old skill sets. Dovetailing drawers old school is far from obsolete and no modern method has come about to replace it. It is a skill set worth mastering and that hard to master.
Interesting stuff thanks for that.
It's the "production" stuff which interests me - "ordinary" furniture made in batches, not one offs.
I'm hoping to do the 5 or 6 drawers in a chest in a week or less - I'll have to up the ante and aim at your 40 minutes each!
 

Devmeister

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Interesting stuff thanks for that.
It's the "production" stuff which interests me - "ordinary" furniture made in batches, not one offs.
I'm hoping to do the 5 or 6 drawers in a chest in a week or less - I'll have to up the ante and aim at your 40 minutes each!

what I found difficult in the early days was keeping a mental picture of the anatomy of a tail joint straight. What is a tail board? what is a pin board? What is a socket? Etc! You need to burn these images into your mind forwards and backwards.

If you have to think your not there yet. A typical furniture drawer will accept three to four tails. Forget about precise division.

you will have a feel for the half pin. Choose a number that feels good and looks good. Using a square or your fingers mark a straight line down from the half pins.

then place stile at an angle so that your divisions land on say three even numbers. Adjust the angle on the rule so that the divisions land on full tick marks. Mark these.

Now, Kingshot always said…the chisel gets the benefit of doubt. The tail board holds the negative pin. It must be chopped out. So choose a reasonable chisel width.

place the chisel in the middle of your mark lines. You now establish the width of your negative pin.

when you first mark out, you have a gage line defining the length of you tail. It is based on the thickness of your pin board. Add a tad onto this if you wish to flush the tails later.

a line drawn from this gage line from your chisel mark at an angle of your tail determines your tail.

if you mark out the width of you negative pin neck opening and draw the line, you get your tail but the angle can vary, not always 6 or 7 or 8 degrees etc.

likewise you can mark out the neck opening to be pin narrow and use a dovetail marker to mark backwards to you tail board gage line. This too establishes the size of your tail but may require multiple chisels on the chop out.

if your thinking about fixed and fast rules, there are none. How fluid you get depends on the job, your comfort level for the task and lazy you wish to be.
 

Devmeister

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In theory I see no reason why they should be any easier or harder to cut than wider ones but in practise I find them harder. I don't understand why and it could be just me.

I would expect - but don't know for sure - that a strength test would show the really skinny ones to be weaker. I don't think that is important though. In a typical drawer or box application ultimate strength is not needed and any tight joint will be strong enough, particularly with modern glues. A really skinny pin often looks more elegant to my eyes and this seems to be the fashion in recent years, but it is really up to you. Make what you like.

Edit: Jacob beat me to it, more succinctly to boot.
Your correct to a point. The strength of a dovetail joint is firstly based on the surface area of the long grain contact between the tail and pin sides.

Then you need to consider where and how your long grain fibers are anchored.

in the tail, you have a rectangle holding your primary long grain fibers. If you increase the tail angle, you pick up short grain unanchored fibers that can shear off; hence the adherence to 6 7 or 8 degrees with 7 degrees being the accepted compromise between soft and hard woods.

in the pin, your anchor point is not a rectangle but a lopped off triangle housing the main long grain fibers. The bulk of which are in the bottom wider section. As you get into the narrow neck, there are fewer and fewer fibers and if you push this area into a triangle you can imagine that the loss of long grain fibers is very small.

so the bulk of the heavy lifting is done by the fibers nearest the widest area of this feature. So pushing the neck opening into a pin does not have as much of an effect as you think.

in the 18 century, exposed end grain was considered obscene. That is why you see joints like the secret dovetail. Today, exposed hand cut dovetails are a design feature. It’s an expression of high quality in a world dominated by the disposable furniture of IKEA, etc.
 

Devmeister

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Your correct to a point. The strength of a dovetail joint is firstly based on the surface area of the long grain contact between the tail and pin sides.

Then you need to consider where and how your long grain fibers are anchored.

in the tail, you have a rectangle holding your primary long grain fibers. If you increase the tail angle, you pick up short grain unanchored fibers that can shear off; hence the adherence to 6 7 or 8 degrees with 7 degrees being the accepted compromise between soft and hard woods.

in the pin, your anchor point is not a rectangle but a lopped off triangle housing the main long grain fibers. The bulk of which are in the bottom wider section. As you get into the narrow neck, there are fewer and fewer fibers and if you push this area into a triangle you can imagine that the loss of long grain fibers is very small.

so the bulk of the heavy lifting is done by the fibers nearest the widest area of this feature. So pushing the neck opening into a pin does not have as much of an effect as you think.

in the 18 century, exposed end grain was considered obscene. That is why you see joints like the secret dovetail. Today, exposed hand cut dovetails are a design feature. It’s an expression of high quality in a world dominated by the disposable furniture of IKEA, etc.

The difference between a box joint and dovetail joint is that one is a locking joint. The box joint is insanely strong because of its huge long grain glue area. But it is entirely based on the glue joint. If the glue fails the joint fails.

the dovetail joint locks in one direction usually against the axis of load. So we see 200 year old drawers still holding together even though the hide glue failed decades ago.

But box joints are very hard to do with hand tools and extremely easy to do with machines.

min my shop, partly based on a 1940s to 1950d pattern shop, I use box joints to be period correct. In the wood part of the shop, I will use dovetails where I can cuz they are easy and traditional.

items like fake oak timber’s which are for looks, they are either mitre folded or doweled cuz they are not visable. I admit to making some decorative timber’s from veneer clad MDF to reduce cost.
 

Devmeister

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Just a particular style and very common. No easier/harder, except you only have to have one straight kerf to start it off, instead of two.
For most purposes strength isn't much of an an issue with DTs unless for heavy loads such as water tanks, ammo boxes and similar, when equal sized pins and tails are presumed stronger.

Agreed. It’s a style thing. I have looked in old literature to find history behind this but have not found anything yet. The problem with time is that time often takes unique skills to the grave. The traditional metal machine world is the worst. We have lost so many older machinists and subsequently their skills. Some of my machines are English wadkins from the 1940s. Restoration is often a struggle as you wonder how The Green Lane Works did things.
There were three major schools of thought. English-Germanic-French. While there was overlap there were also differences. You can see some differences in the workbenches. Rubo versus scandavian versus English. Same with toolboxes. When the American school of thought came front and center, we saw a huge change. The machine mind set. Woodworking moved more towards traditional pattern making. Benches changed, toolboxes went toward the machinist box style and dovetails became more utilitarian if not replaced by the box joint.

so today, we seek design features to capture an allure that tracks one of these historical features. So not only do we need the skills but an ability to apply those skills to obtain the subtle features were after.

In some heavy timber dovetails, you often have one or two heavy tails. In an attempt to increase strength, minor dovetails were added to the larger dovetails. So now you have the hounds tooth dovetail. You see this often on high quality wooden workbenh elements.
 
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