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Hi guys, I'm currently on version 9 (attempt9) of making handmade dovetails so I can make a jewellery box for the wife. I just can't seem to get the fit right, it's either sloppy in the joint, too tight or not quite low enough in the joint.

I am also practicing with my new restored Henry disston back saw to get straight cuts. I've attached a pic of the latest effort. Any tips to improve the joint?
 

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Never hand cut them myself, but I would say more practice - with cheap wood. But looking, looks like if you cut them just a bit narrower, then carefully widened the slots, that might do it. Always more fun doing things by hand, when the opportunity presents itself. Hmm, a lot of my stuff I make a jig or one sort or another, might want to look into making one, for uniform cuts - I can't advise you on that, because I never did it, but that is likely what I would do. Keep at it, you'll get it figured out.
 

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what does the joint look like from the other side???....
can we have a picture...
 

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Those are not dovetails, they are box joints. This is why most of us use commercial jigs. However, the cuts are not really square, and definitely cut too short. A little tighter on the width and use a chisel or sandpaper on a stick to hand fit the joint after the rough cut. and with the pins and sockets a little long, you will cut, sand or use a trim bit to cut them flush after glueup.

If you're sticking to hand cuts, you might also need to change your grip on the saw to help straighten the cuts. Hold the handle, but extend your index finger out, onto the blade. This should help stabilize the saw and straighten the cut.

Start with marking the sockets. Use a square to make sure it's really square. Cut inside the lines for the sockets. You can use a coping saw to clear out most of the socket, then a chisel to finish it up, then sandpaper on a stick to perfect the socket. Then use that to mark the pins. Leave the pins long and slightly wide, then repeat the cutting out, but leave the pins slightly wider (and longer) and perfect it with chilel/sandpaper. Just saw a suggestion you use adhesive backed paper and stick it to the back of a chisel so it's perfectly flat and well reinforced. Probably 120 grit or so should do it.

And then practice, practice, practice.

Now, if you're serious about this, consider the Incra I-Box jig for the table saw, which adjusts to the thickness of your blade stack to make it much easier to make a clean box joint. WalMart has it for about $138, much lower than any other . You can order it online and have it delivered to your local store. There are lots of videos on youtube on using it. Theoretically you can make your own box joint jig, but if I were having problems your pictures show, I'd just go for the jig.

One last thing, try a Japanese pull saw with backer. Much easier to control than what you're using. When the Japanese saw gets dull, you replace the blade, usually about the price of a sharpening, and it delivers an extremely clean cut (about $35).

Pictures of IBox jig and Japanese saw.

YouTube video
 

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Hi guys, I'm currently on version 9 (attempt9) of making handmade dovetails so I can make a jewellery box for the wife. I just can't seem to get the fit right, it's either sloppy in the joint, too tight or not quite low enough in the joint.

I am also practicing with my new restored Henry disston back saw to get straight cuts. I've attached a pic of the latest effort. Any tips to improve the joint?
Those aren't too bad for hand cut. If you ever get a chance to look at the hand cut dovetails of 100 year old drawers you will see where they are pretty rough.
Here is a picture of some old dresser drawers w/handcut dovetails. Click on pic to see larger view. These date back to mid 1800's

Herb
 

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You got me thinking...What if you made a saddle of wood, in a U shape, used a thin kerf blade at a perfect 90 degree angle and use it as a saw guide. Make it a little oversized and maybe a Tnut so you can clamp it firmly in place. Use it to guide your Japanese saw cut straight. The Japanese saw has a very thin, astonishingly sharp blade that, with a guide, would really give you a precise cut.

Here's a crude drawing of what I mean:
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thought I posted both pics, here are the pins. I'm only using scrap wood and I think perhaps that could be a pet if the issue. Plus I seem to get tearout when cutting the waste away.

I do have a flexible pullsaw, got a Japanese pullsaw on the Xmas list though :). I like the idea of the jig herb, that looks like a great idea. I guess it's just more practice, both for chiselling out and cutting straight. I think the kerf from my antique saw is fairly large as well, think I may go back to the pullsaw for more practice. Great advice, thanks
 

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Not bad from this side, Ezgz ! Practice and perseverance is what you need now.
 
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I applaud you and where you are trying to go here..
dove tail joint it is.....

what's the two gouges for/from???....

the saw you are using is a bit dull and it's teeth (too much set/low tooth count) are too aggressive for the species of wood..
even the handle angle isn't right...
all of this causes you to ''force'' the saw causing splintering/tears/breakouts...
a flex saw will work but it will lend to errors and it takes a bit of practice..
a stiff pull saw is better...
and a back saw matched to the wood species is better yet..
remember.. there are saws for ripping and saws for cross cutting...
let the saw do the work...

BTW.. what ever you used to cross cut your material w/ needs an appropriate sharp blade...
I see way too much tear...
I like Freud blades w/ a passion...
Freud Tools | Products

leave the pins a schoosh proud... and then trim them w/ an LA plane or a paring chisel...
if you use a chisel, sharpness matters more than a lot...
also, make sure to lay the body of the chisel on the surface face when you shave ... don't approach the pin w/ the chisel at an elevated angle..
practice your trimming, approach angle matters.. experiment and see what works for you...
sweeping diagonal inward shaving action, be it slight or aggressive, or somewhere in between works best for me...
you may find that a sweeping motion and a diagonal approach is really the ticket... sometimes...
outward cutting is a disaster waiting to happen...
avoid sanding... end grain sands worlds differently from face grain which leads to unhappiness.....

work w/ a set of angle cut guides, layouts (they're called dovetail and saddle markers) and stops till you develop your eye/feel for the cutting...
shop made or store bought will work...
reasonable to OCD level repetition matters...

marking... keep your lines sharp and clean
a marking knife is a plus...
you can cheat here and use a razor knife..
pencil..
Pentel mechanical .5 or a .7mm is hard to beat...
differently colored leads, be it black, yellow, white and etc help your line visibility come light or dark woods
fat pencil lines lead to misses/errors....

chisels...
the shape of the chisel body matters...
note the tapered edges/shoulders of this dovetail chisel... there are different designs but the taper is there on all of them...
they are done that way to facilitate working up against/into the socket and pin base angles intersections...
.
http://www.cwsonline.com.au/persistent/catalogue_images/products/dovetail4.jpg[/I

two collections of dovetail tools...

.
 

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Lee...

Handcut dovetails take ALOT of practice to get down pat and they dont' come easy....There are 4 degrees of dovetail making. IMHO!

1: YIKES!!! needs more work, alot more practice. Not satisfied at all with the outcome
>>>>>>>> consider the tools used: are they the right tools for the task?
>>>>>Layout tools: There is a huge variety of dovetail layout guides out there. I started with Lee Valley
guides and still use em when cutting traditional DT's. Learning to do the math/layout by hand
without the use of guides is well worth the time and effort if you are so inclined. I still have to go
back and 'refresh" my memory when doing the math, but once you got it down, no biggie.
>>>>>Use a marking gauge and/or a marking knife for your layout lines. This gives you the ability to
register your chisel accurately and consistently! Often the scoring lines will show up in the
end product but this is generally accepted and not a deal breaker. Not a fan of pencil lines!!!!
>>>>>Saws: hell, you can use just about any saw including tablesaws and bandsaws. But those are
another story for another day. Typically you'll find a dedicated dovetail saw, backsaw, pullsaw,
coping saw as the saw of choice. I like pullsaws myself, but thats just me. The idea isn't to cut
the line, just cut 'inside' of the lines. Throw in a coping saw to hog out the majority of the waste material.
From there, your chisel does the rest.
>>>>>Chisels: here's where the rubber meets the road. You have to have good SHARP chisels, PERIOD!
You don't need a 200.00 chisel, but ya need a good sharp one. Gotta have beveled sides to get into the
corners cleanly. Dedicated dovetail chisels are fantastic, but not something most guys have in their toolbox, and
represent a bit of an investment for something you may only use rarely.

consider the condition and tune-up of the tools being used:
>>>>>Layout tools are accurate, your math has got to be correct, guides adequately secured etc..etc...
>>>>>saws and chisels properly tuned and correct for the task at hand. Saws need to be sharp and true to track
properly and to keep tear out to a minimum. Chisels need to be ultra sharp since you'll be working with
essentially paring of end-grain as part of the process.

consider the method/techniques being used..
>>>>>There are a ton of methods/techniques out there. Some say this is right other say that is right,,who knows, who cares.
It comes down to what works for you. Keep it simple. Consider projects within or just outside of your ability/skill set!
>>>>>Everything from layouts to sawing to chisel work require a degree of expertise to achieve "that'll do" results.
That level of expertise comes with practice and patience! You just can't think your way to decent work, there is without
a doubt, a great deal of sweat equity involved.
>>>>>reread Sticks post above...alot of very good points made. Then go to YouTube and spend a couple hours watching how
its done. Pay close attention and wait for that light bulb moment, then go give it a shot.
>>>>>Once you got all your ducks in a row, look at which aspect(s) of cutting dovetails you are not completely satisfied with,
then go PRACTICE. Intially I was not happy with my saw work. So I spent hours with a board vised up and just took 1 inch
wide marks and practiced cutting as many kerfs within that 1 inch as I could. After a while, I got pretty good at it, muscle
memory takes over and its just second nature now. Excelling at one aspect tends to make the others that much more
manageable. I'm willing to bet that most folks need to spend some extra time on the chisel aspect of dovetailing.
>>>>>A nice "snug" fit is what your after. Sloppy fits are no good. and if you reach for a bigger mallet, your just asking for problems.
Trust me on that one!!! :)

consider the wood being used..
>>>>>Yep, it does make a difference. Softwoods vs. hardwoods. The time you spend with a piece of popular ain't gonna be the same as
the time you spend with a piece of Purpleheart!!

2: That'll do.....outcome is ok, but you're not really happy with it
>>>>>>>>At this point you pretty much got the idea down, and its just matter of identifying the problem and then working to correct it.
practice, practice, practice.....

3: NICE..
>>>>>>>>Here you got not problem handing over the project. Joint is clean, tight, well laid out and just looks good. A close examination
reveals the areas that need just a little more tweaking. Otherwise, your average Joe would never know the difference.

4: OH YEAH!! Time to move onto Japanese joinery! :)


Honestly, the shame of it is most folks have no idea of what goes into hand cut dovetails. A cosmetic detail overlooked by the majority of folks. You can
always tell another wood working by watching what he/she does when they open a drawer!! I'll do handcut DT's when the project is for someone special or
has special meaning AND there isn't 50 joints to do!!!!, otherwise, I admit, I just use a Porter Cable DT jig.

Hope this helps a bit..

B.
 

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some how the chisel picture didn't post...
another try...
a set of needle rasps will be a huge help for fine tuning...

.
 

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I have never used a router and jig for dovetails. Once you get the hang of it, it is a rewarding task. To increase accuracy I use a marking knife instead of a pencil and I ALWAYS cut on the waste side and then clean up paring with a nice sharp chisel. I also use a Dozuki saw with a thin kurf rather than a conventional saw. My first dovetails required filler to make them usable but as they say practice will improve the quality. I also use Lee Valley Dovetail markers, one for hardwoods and one for softwoods. Keep up the effort and you will get better.
 
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I suggest you use some better quality wood for practicing. It will behave much differently than what you're using now. Stick has gone into considerable detail. I think your new saw will make a difference as well. You can purchase a saddle marker for dovetails pretty cheap, it will help you layout your pins and tails. While I still prefer using a jig, a dovetail jig will cost a lot more than the box joint jig I mentioned.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
I think there was a slight cup in the wood I was using, the gouges were probably from something stacked on top of it.

I have a marking knife which I use, got a marking gauge on the Christmas list too :). I could always change the set on my saw and lengthen the gullets for a speedier and thinner kerf. I also have a gents saw, got for 50p from a boot sale. Unfortunately it has a slight twist near the end :( oh well.

I have a good square, sliding bevel gauge and so on, I also made a dovetail template which I have been using. I'll snap my gear when I get out in the shed tomorrow and try out number 10 :) I guess I'm still experimenting with margins. I'll pop update pics on here for when I get them accurate and neat and lessons learned!

Thanks for all the help
 

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a hand plane will fix the cup if it isn't too severe...
 
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I signed up for Finewoodworking.com online subscription. The best tool investment I have ever made. You can search every issue they have ever done. Great videos and tips. I just finished my first hand cut dovetails and they turned out better than expected. This article by Chris Becksvoort is excellent POST data. This video by hime also helped a lot.Chris Becksvoort, the dovetail master at work - FineWoodworking

He does two sets at once, by placing your two drawer ends together when sawing. It gives you a longer cut meaning better chance of keeping the cut at 90 degrees to the face(which is the key to a tight fit). Undercutting when chiseling also will help the fit.

Before starting I did warm up cuts with the saw on a piece of pine.
 

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It looks like you are using a soft wood like maybe pine. I have found a hardwood is easier to work because the cuts are crisper and easier to get precise. I like Paul Sellers videos for learning about hand work. He shows excellent techniques for measuring, marking, cutting and chisel work. You aren't as far off success as you may think. Keep at it.
 

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Lee - you've received a lot of excellent advice already - the only thing I would stress is practice, practice, practice.

And if you haven't heard of Rob Cosman, you should check him out. Based in Eastern Canada, he demonstrates at a lot of woodworking shows both in Canada and the U.S. Here's two of his videos.


 
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