Author Topic: Dovetails on lipped drawer fronts - Sawing into the back of the drawer front  (Read 4649 times)

Phil Hirz

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I am currently building a tall chest with lipped drawer fronts.  Since the drawer fronts are lipped, it is difficult to make much progress cutting dovetails with a saw without significantly tilting the saw and sawing past the baseline and into the back of the drawer front.  I am wrestling with whether or not I want to do this.

The pragmatic side of me says that I should saw past the baseline and into the drawer backs.  The alternative to cutting past the baseline involves quite a bit of additional work with a chisel and a mallet.  However, the aesthetic side of me (my wife) says don't do it to keep the inside of the drawers looking pristine.

Was sawing past the baseline truly as common a practice as I have heard?  Was it something that was universally accepted and practiced by everyone?  Or are there certain craftsmen who refused to do this to maintain a clean look on the inside of the drawer?  For those of you that have examined a lot of antique furniture I am hoping that you can further enlighten me. 

I know that in situations like this I should probably listen to my wife.  However, she also does some woodworking from time to time and should be willing to listen to reason - especially if it is backed up by tradition.  I can tell her it is an important period detail.  Besides, once the piece is built we are unlikely to carefully examine the inside of the drawers.  However, if this was not as common a practice as I understand it to be then I am willing to go the massochistic route.

-Phil

Michael Armand

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 Hey Phil,
       I wasn't quite sure what the meaning of masochistic was so I looked it up in the dictionary:
  mas-o-chism 1. An abnormal condition in which ual excitement and satisfaction depend chiefly on being subjected to physical pain or abuse, whether by oneself or by another. 2.a. Derivation of pleasure from being offended, dominated, or mistreated. b. The tendency to seek such mistreatment. 3. Direction of destructive tendencies inward or upon oneself

 Wow... I guess you were referring to the third (3.) definition.
 Always listen to your wife, even if she is wrong ( in your mind). I have seen it done both ways and I prefer not seeing it on the drawer backs. I try to take the extra time to make it clean. It won't take that much extra time and I can sleep at night.  You are the craftsman making the cuts, do them the way you want to. Your name is going on it. Welcome to sapfm.
                                                                   Michael Armand
                                                                   

Jack Plane

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It was common practice to saw past the lines in eighteenth century work - from lowly plank chests to London-made cabinets. However, in this Age of Rediscovery, it is frequently touted as taboo.

If you're making a reproduction tall chest, then you owe it to authenticity to saw past the lines!
Regards, Jack.

Phil Hirz

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Michael,

I was definitely referring to definition 3.  I should probably be careful throwing around big words with multiple interpretations.  I wouldn't want people to make the wrong assumptions about me if they stopped reading at definition 1.  I guess it would also help people look up the definitions of these words if I spelled them correctly, "masochistic" not "massochistic".

Obviously my real dilemma here is a clash between what is held up as a standard of craftsmanship today versus what was done as a practical means to an end in the past.  I know that if I were to go and look at a modern piece of furniture, maybe a Krenov cabinet, I would clearly find the saw marks to be unacceptable.  Is this reaction based on the modern obsession with dovetails as the be-all and end-all definition of a cabinet maker's skill? Or does it have more to do with the fact that when dovetails are cut with machine there is no need to extend these sawcuts and so they seem foreign in comparison with most furniture we experience?  Clearly they seem to have been perfectly acceptable 250 years ago, and if I saw them in an antique piece today I would not think down on the maker.  So why do I have a hard time bringing myself to make these same cuts on a piece based on an antique (although not a strict reproduction)?

Bottom line, if there were woodworkers in the past who spent the extra effort to avoid the saw cuts then I would be more inclined to make my chest in this manner.  For example: would someone like John Townsend, who clearly seems to lean more in the perfectionist camp (at least in his labeled pieces), be inclined to go the extra mile and avoid the sawcuts?  If even someone like Townsend thought they were perfectly acceptable, then maybe I should force myself to get over it and make the cuts in the most practical way.  As I mentioned in my previous post, once I fill the drawers I am unlikely to pay much attention either way.

-Phil
« Last Edit: September 08, 2010, 08:03:42 AM by Phil Hirz »

msiemsen

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Phil,
Open your wife's dresser drawer and tape a $100 dollar bill to the inside of the drawer front. If she finds it in a week then you cannot over cut the dovetails. If she doesn't you can. No one sees the back side of a drawer front.
Mike
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Chuck Bender

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Mike has the right idea and a majority of 18th century pieces were oversawn as you describe. I've found that 18th C. cabinetmakers with a Germanic background tend not to oversaw. Not universally but usually. Cabinetmakers of English decent tended to oversaw...not universally but the majority.

It sounds like you, and your wife, are having a bit of trouble with the saw kerfs inside the drawer fronts. If it bothers you that much, don't do it. From experience, the only time any of my students have noticed the saw kerfs is when they are about to make a drawer for a project. They actually don't believe me when I tell them the sample piece is oversawn and each one checks it out sooner or later. Even modern woodworkers don't notice the saw kerfs without provocation.

It's just woodworking...it shouldn't be this stressful...
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Phil Hirz

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Thanks Chuck,

Don't worry.  I'm not actually stressing out about it.  I was mostly curious if anyone had any additional information on whether this practice was truly observed in all cases or if there were exceptions.  Your information on English vs. German cabinetmakers is actually pretty interesting.  As I mentioned in my posts I doubt I will ever notice this on the finished piece.  I haven't been able to work on the drawers for the last day or two due to other chores around the house and I figured since the forums have been slow it might provoke an interesting discussion.  If nothing else at least I got a laugh from Mike's reply.

-Phil

Chuck Bender

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You may have gotten a laugh but do you still have the hundred?
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msiemsen

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It is never wrong to let your wife have $100, just ask her!
Mike Siemsen
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There are II kinds of people in the world. Those that can read roman numerals and those that can't

Melinda Hirz

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Mike,

Thanks for providing my husband with such good advice.  Now I can go buy some new jewelry.

-Mel

msiemsen

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Re: Dovetails on lipped drawer fronts - Sawing into the back of the drawer front
« Reply #10 on: September 10, 2010, 05:41:42 PM »
Mel,
With all that bling on top of the dresser you won't even notice when he over-cuts those dovetails.
Mike
Mike Siemsen
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There are II kinds of people in the world. Those that can read roman numerals and those that can't