The Society of American Period Furniture Makers

Tools and Techniques => Period design and construction => Topic started by: Jeff L Headley on August 23, 2012, 08:35:01 PM

Title: Dovetail
Post by: Jeff L Headley on August 23, 2012, 08:35:01 PM
How and why?
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jeff L Headley on August 23, 2012, 08:51:15 PM
How would you cut a dovetailed joint today? How and why? Every one has a secert. We use a mortiser to clean out between the pins.
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jeff L Headley on August 23, 2012, 09:34:05 PM
Always use a cutting gauge, not a marking gauge! Then alway saw to the line with no clean up needed.
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Mickey Callahan on August 24, 2012, 09:25:19 AM
OK, I'll be the first to take the bait! A sharp! and properly shaped marking gauge works for me. Kind of hard to use a mortiser if your pin and tail spacing is tight but I understand its advantages when applicable. I occasionaly do the same for half-blind dovetails.

Mickey
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jeff L Headley on August 24, 2012, 05:08:18 PM
Mickey, Thank you for your reply. Another question to all is what type of knife do you use to mark your pins and tails? I do not like two seperate right and left angled marking knifes. What a waste! But there is nothing wrong with that. It should be what you are used to.
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jeff Saylor on August 24, 2012, 06:02:09 PM
Nowadays, I almost always hand cut dovetails.  I do have a leigh jig that occasionally gets used  (usually where dts are hidden). Believe it or not, after hand cutting dts enough, it often takes longer to get out and set up the jig and router than it takes to just lay them out and cut them by hand!
 I'm a "tails first" kind of guy so when marking the pins I have a pfeil marking knife that I hardly ever use.  A good old exacto knife works for me.
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Johnny D on August 24, 2012, 10:30:27 PM
Jeff:
1.) Thanks for all you do in the forum.  You're keeping it alive
2.) Dovetails all hand-cut. Tails first, pins marked with scalpel
3.) Waste between tails removed with small coping or jewelers saw, capable of right angle turns.  Sawed close to line, cleaned up with small customized chisel with edges ground at a bevel to avoid bruising corners.
4.) Rip saw lines on tails untouched with chisels
5.) Saw lines on pins kept away from line, cleaned with chisel
6.) Waste between pins removed initially with pig sticker mortise chisel, refined with chisels, under surgical light, often with magnification
7.) No test fitting
8.) Big half pins
9.) On drawers, as you can see in the 2nd photo, small bevel on bottom edge of face to avoid hitting blade
10.) Dovetailing takes me an average of about four hours per drawer.  I don't do this for a living.
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Johnny D on August 24, 2012, 10:33:32 PM
Pic of bottom half-pin
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jeff L Headley on August 24, 2012, 11:10:09 PM
Johnny, A dovetail only fits once, or at least that is what I have been told. After over 35 years I am still trying to find that perfect joint
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: FrederickH on August 24, 2012, 11:32:50 PM
I use a knife marking gauge for the layout of the tails/pins and then marking out the tails with a marking knife. The waste is removed with a coping/dovetail saw, followed with a shape chisel.
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jack Plane on August 26, 2012, 04:12:20 AM
I only know how to cut dovetails by hand... tails first (except when making sliding, tapered dovetailed joints). I use a cutting gauge for the base lines and when my eyesight was better, I did use a homemade double-sided knife, but now I use a tapered pencil. I remove the majority of the waste with a coping saw and then take two chisel cuts to pare back to the line. No other paring ? dovetails always fit better straight off the saw.

I know some people drill the majority of the waste out of the sockets when making half-blind dovetails, but I get a bit medieval on them with a chisel before finally paring them (undercut) back to the lines.

I aim for a fit whereby I could forego glue: I can assemble a drawer side into a drawer front that's held in the vice and then flick the back end of the drawer side and listen to it vibrating like a tuning fork. I seldom pre-fit dovetails (unless posing them for a photo), but I like to know that I can if necessary without any detriment to the joint.

I cut half tails or full tails on the bottoms of drawer sides to suite the period of the piece.
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jeff L Headley on August 26, 2012, 05:30:42 PM
Jack Plane, I am interested in your sharp pencil. I got a posting offline about a pencil. Could this be an English trait. We are mostly taught in the states to use a knife line. Pencil lines can be deceiving unless you have cut hundreds (or more likely Thousands) of dovetails. Some in America, feel if you are not living on the edge then you are taking up to much space. Please take this comment in the humorous manner it was meant. A sharp pencil can give an extremely fine line also to trim to. I don't use a pencil but I do highlight my knife line with a pencil line so I can see to saw to. I also use a, beveled on both sides, "Dull" knife. I will set a knife tick in the outer ( or inner depending on how you look at it) point of each dovetail to set my knife to square down. This tick also works to start my dovetail saw. I am a tails first cabinetmaker because of only one reason. ?
While doing drawers I will set a line up block in the slot for the drawer bottom to help me line up the drawer sides to lay out drawer fronts and backs. How far up from the drawer bottom of your drawer will  you set the top of your drawer bottom dado (slot)?  Queen Anne, Chippendale and Federal (What do you call Federal (1780- 1825)? This question might depend on the period the drawer is being made.
Different angles for different woods!! We use the same angle for both hard and soft woods ( Walnut, Cherry, Maple, Mahogany, with poplar White pine, and Yellow pine secondary). We are located in the Central Eastern Coastal region of the States.
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: pampine on August 26, 2012, 07:04:57 PM
My first set of dovetails made 30+ years ago I marked with pencil and pared out with a chisel (hey, I had 2 of them, so it was probably a 1/2"). It turned out perfectly fitted. The main thing about this first set was that I realized it didn't much matter that the first side, tails in my case, was marked at all since the second side, pins, were marked from the tails; so I started freehanding the tails first. For a couple of reasons: first, I can gang cut tails; and second, they all line up (ala Jeff). I still use chisels for paring/chopping the waste, although now and then I use much smaller chisels, often skewed or fishtail for hidden dovetails.

As to marking, I use pencil or knife, whichever is handier and/or small enough for the dovetails in question. My only foreign influence was years later, maybe 10 years ago, Jim Kingshott, who I'll forever regret died before I had a chance to meet him.

Pam
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jack Plane on August 27, 2012, 04:10:07 AM
Jack Plane, I am interested in your sharp pencil. I got a posting offline about a pencil. Could this be an English trait. We are mostly taught in the states to use a knife line. Pencil lines can be deceiving unless you have cut hundreds (or more likely Thousands) of dovetails. Some in America, feel if you are not living on the edge then you are taking up to much space. Please take this comment in the humorous manner it was meant. A sharp pencil can give an extremely fine line also to trim to. I don't use a pencil but I do highlight my knife line with a pencil line so I can see to saw to. I also use a, beveled on both sides, "Dull" knife. I will set a knife tick in the outer ( or inner depending on how you look at it) point of each dovetail to set my knife to square down. This tick also works to start my dovetail saw. I am a tails first cabinetmaker because of only one reason. ?
While doing drawers I will set a line up block in the slot for the drawer bottom to help me line up the drawer sides to lay out drawer fronts and backs. How far up from the drawer bottom of your drawer will  you set the top of your drawer bottom dado (slot)?  Queen Anne, Chippendale and Federal (What do you call Federal (1780- 1825)? This question might depend on the period the drawer is being made.
Different angles for different woods!! We use the same angle for both hard and soft woods ( Walnut, Cherry, Maple, Mahogany, with poplar White pine, and Yellow pine secondary). We are located in the Central Eastern Coastal region of the States.

Jeff, I take a normal wooden pencil and plane opposite sides to a long slow point which reaches into even the finest dovetails. The lead is somewhat vulnerable, but if the end grain of the stock has been planed, the lead normally doesn't break. I can no longer see knife marks at a distance I'm comfortable sawing at.

I was asked recently to describe the method I use to make drawers, so I posted a summary on my blog here http://pegsandtails.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/constructing-a-mid-eighteenth-century-drawer/ (http://pegsandtails.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/constructing-a-mid-eighteenth-century-drawer/). I use a wooden block or key to align the drawer sides with the drawer fronts.

I blogged about furniture periods some time ago too. http://pegsandtails.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/the-queen-is-dead-uh-long-live-the-queen/ (http://pegsandtails.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/the-queen-is-dead-uh-long-live-the-queen/) Please take it in the spirit it was written!

I also use the same (in theory) angle for all dovetails, though I don't know what the exact angle is; I place a series of pencil dots at the points I want the dovetails and luckily my saw remembers the correct angle.
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Mickey Callahan on August 27, 2012, 10:14:44 AM
I generally use a draftsman's mechanical pencil with 2H or 3H lead lead on light colored wood such as poplar or pine. Using a light touch, the pencil also allows one to extend the lead to reach into tight spots when necessay. However, its important to keep the lead sharp just like any other tool. I also use a marking knife on darker woods such as mahogany or walnut where a fine pencil line is hard to see. I have a marking knife made by the Swiss company Pfiel that I particularly like but I've been known to use an Xacto knife with a #11 blade also. Like Jeff says, it all depends what you get use to using. From there you adapt to making it work.

I'm a pin first kind of guy. My reasoning is that there are ways to easily assess and correct the walls of the pins that generally must be square to the end of the board before you can rely on making an accurate ajoining tail(s). Once one develops good layout and hand sawing skills, it really doesn't matter which you do first with pins and tails. I've been teaching beginners for over 25 years and haven't had one yet that couldn't master hand-cut dovetails using this approach. For the most part, woodworking is nothing more than a lot of repetitive processes. The more you do it, the better you get.

Mickey
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jeff L Headley on August 28, 2012, 06:15:09 PM
Here was my dovetail square (square might be a loaded description). I have shown this before. It is 34 years old. I lost it last year during one of our talks. If anyone has found it I would greatly appreciate it's return. We (Steve Hamilton made this one) made these back in the 70's and thought this could be of interest and then thought no one is interested in this. We missed the boat! We do have other tricks of the trade.
I have found a knife line (which could be highlighted by a pencil) adds to help define my dovetail saw line. The knife tick and then the knife line helps me to set and cut an exact saw line with my dovetail saw. I have also never cut anything than hand cut dovetails.
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jeff L Headley on August 28, 2012, 06:37:14 PM
Let talk sliding dovetails. Straight or tapered? Drawer rails or case construction. Both sides angled top and bottom (as commonly seen in New England) or single sided (as seen in Virgina)
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jack Plane on August 28, 2012, 06:59:04 PM
The only time I've seen parallel sliding dovetails is for affixing the ends of drawer dividers (rails) into carcases where the short length (2" ? 3") makes them relatively easy to assemble. Anything over that length really necessitates tapered dovetails ? always with the flat on top.
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jeff L Headley on August 28, 2012, 10:31:21 PM
Sliding carcass dovetails by their nature are beveled (I agree top side flat and easily adjusted to fit for rails (blades) and bottom and then covered by a 1/4 to 5/16" strip). I tried fitting a bow front chest with what I thought was parallel dovetailed slots on each side. With that said I build period furniture reproductions 8 - 12 hour a day 5-7 days a week ( more like 5-6  days a week anymore) BUT! my hobby is building furniture. So I get an hour before work and evenings sometimes to work on what I want. I made a Salem bow front with the bottom in a sliding dovetail above continuous side flared foot. One side I slid in from the back which is normal the other side I slid in from the front. Why I don't know maybe not enough sleep the nights before and then I offered this chest to WIA outside of Chicago. No problem, I can remember how it goes together. WRONG! We tried to put it together backwards. Needless to say all sliding dovetails are angled whether you want them to be or not. Please don't try this while being filmed. This chest is completed (without any more undo mishaps) and can be purchased at a nominal fee. One board sides and top! AS SEEN ON TV! Yes! I can be bought but I would like to think I can not be rented! 
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jeff L Headley on August 29, 2012, 09:09:58 PM
I am cheap! I use an eigth inch chisel to clean out my dovetail corners. Forget about two beveled edge chisels. Yes I cut corners and you can too, but only with an eigth inch chisel.
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jack Plane on August 29, 2012, 11:35:55 PM
I must be cheap (ish) too... I use two chisels. The one that does the majority of the work is slightly wider than half the width of the socket, and then I have no qualms about plunging a 1/4" chisel into the socket corners to clean them out. You're obviously more hesitant to dig a wider chisel into the corners.
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: pampine on August 30, 2012, 11:18:20 AM
I am cheap! I use an eigth inch chisel to clean out my dovetail corners. Forget about two beveled edge chisels. Yes I cut corners and you can too, but only with an eigth inch chisel.

I like a slightly larger (6mm (1/4")) special Tasai Type 1 dovetail for those corners. Well, I wanted to post a photo here, but don't see a way. Here's a link:

http://japantool-iida.com/chisel_others/2008/05/special-dovetail-chisel-by-tas.html (http://japantool-iida.com/chisel_others/2008/05/special-dovetail-chisel-by-tas.html)

Pam

Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jeff L Headley on August 30, 2012, 08:37:38 PM
Pam, Hi Thank you for the link. I have seen these and I do like them. Me being cheap I would go for the smallest one. But as I post this I could see where these could be useful in many circumstances
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jeff Saylor on August 30, 2012, 10:02:58 PM
Talk about cheap, I use a reworked 50 cent rusty triangular file made into a chisel to clean out the dovetail corners.  I annealed it in my woodstove, filed it smooth, rehardened it and then tempered it to hold a good edge.   Works great!
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: pampine on August 30, 2012, 10:03:27 PM
You're welcome, Jeff. I only have the smallest one, and it does the jobs I need done; but I also have a 10mm (3/8") bachi nomi (fish, tail, also at that link as a custom chisel Tasai made me, but it was much cheaper years ago when I ordered it) that's come in very handy, too. In fact, I used it all the time on hidden dovetails before I got the 6mm type 1 chisel.

The only potential problem with the 6mm is that Tasai refused to make me a 6 mm bachi nomi because he had problems making the shank strong enough; so I'd stick with the quality makers, like Ouchi, Koyamaichi, Tasai, and anyone else high quality sold by Iida or Stu Tierney or Hida.

I'd also give LN a try if I were ordering today. Their fishtails are O1 and look real good, about half the price of the Japanese; but the smallest is 3/8".

Pam
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jeff L Headley on August 30, 2012, 10:15:09 PM
Today's economy could be like period joinery and sawing to the line. I am talking about the base line. The bottom of the dovetail.  The bottom line! Do you saw to the line or past the line. Which will produce the most proficient and expedient joinery and hold true over the years? If you saw to the line your joinery will look good but might take a little longer to produce. But who can say how well the internals fit. If you saw past the line then will it hold over the years? Do you want your joint to last? No matter what joint you produce there are always circumstances to challenge that joint. Will it hold up? Only the years will tell. What should we call pieces produced today Obamaethain or Elizabethain  or AMR   American External reflection all could be a Bushism. Romney, WV is only 20 miles West of Winchester, Virginia
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jeff L Headley on August 31, 2012, 07:49:27 PM
When cutting all of the drawer dovetails to fit a case.  I will use two cutting gauges. I am not cheap. One for the reach of the dovetail ( how far into the drawer front the tails reach) and one for the thickness of the drawer side( Depth of the drawer side thickness). This way I will not have to reset after each drawer layout.
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jack Plane on August 31, 2012, 08:19:45 PM
I like my overshot saw cuts almost as much as the tight-fitting dovetails themselves. Their existence, fineness of cut and straightness/angularity speak volumes about the joinery. Plus, they're period correct.

For many years I have considered changing my forename by deed poll to 'George' so anything I make is genuinely Georgian.

I also use two individual (and very different) cutting gauges for the two marking procedures. The different looking gauges reduce the possibility of making mistakes.
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: pampine on September 01, 2012, 02:22:13 AM
I'm a little obsessive compulsive when it comes to my work (I used to develop software, loved writing stuff that ran perfectly the first time), so I saw to the line for dovetails. I know that for hidden dovetails it's historically correct to over shoot, but I can't bring myself to do that intentionally. Of course, I don't build period furniture right now, so I guess historical correctness isn't an issue.

Pam
Title: Re: Dovetail
Post by: Jeff L Headley on September 01, 2012, 11:06:46 PM
Dovetails, mortise and tenons, glued rub joints for feet and case, it is all about surface to surface contact. No more no less!