An afternoon cutting dovetails

I’ve just come in from the shed, where I’ve been working on the tea shelf. It’s coming along well, although I’m about to reach one of those points of really seeing how good a workman I am, with the actual fitting the dovetails; up to now it’s all been a matter of marking and cutting and paring. So before launching into that I thought I’d come inside for a coffee.

Cutting dovetails is mostly a matter of getting one’s body into the right spatial relationship with the wood: stand above the cut, an eye on either side of the saw, and just cut down; for the tails, cant the timber over in the vice to whatever angle looks good (traditionally 1:7), and again, cut accoring to gravity. There’s really nothing to think about, no lines to follow (not down, anyway; there’s a guiding mark on the end grain, but even that can be ignored for the tails—for the pins, it’s critical). The whole process is quite fast, and rather relaxing; there’s not too much measuring and thinking to be done.

The goal is, of course, to cut the tails, mark the pins, cut them, pare the endgrain cuts back to the scribe lines… and then have it all just fit. Nice and snug, square and strong. Hmm… I’m not quite getting that, yet; but “little bit, little bit” as someone used to tell me! (Actually, this cutting and fitting is only what I’m aiming at—have been since arts school—but I know plenty of other people do it differently, and are far more concerned with accuracy. I just want to get the process swift and clean and right, and then do it over and over until the result is good.)

So cutting everything is easy, and there’d be the end of it if I were good enough. But I’m not, so the fiddly job of taking a bit off here, a whisker off there, and slowly fit-by-fit getting the parts to come together. This is what I need the coffee for.

I’d better get back to it!

A Moment of Doubt

I have nailed six of the eight corners of the box: through the first tail and into the next pin, and I tried to offset the holes so the joint would be pulled tighter when the treenails were driven home. This failed to happen on most of the joints and has left gaps in some, and made me feel that the whole box was not of a very high standard. After some reflection though, I have rembered that the whole motivation for the box in the first place was to make something without glue or metal fasteners, and I am doing that. It is resulting in an aesthetic quite different from the norm, and that’s okay, that’s what I wanted to explore. Anyway, I couldn’t think how to progress; I couldn’t even decide on what I wanted the box to be, so I jumped on my bike and rode over to F&S to see what I could scrounge from their skip, and returned triumphant with an ash door jamb.The doorjamb I found at Facilities & Services. I will now make a small box, possibly to go inside the large one, and I’ll glue it.

I would like to research a bit more about PVA and its manufacturing process, especially from an environmental point of view because it is this which concerns me. Nothing quite like an uninformed radical opinion, eh?