Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Progress on the Candle Rack

Well, it's been slow, but progress is being made on the candle rack - or is it a candle shelf, or candle cabinet? I don't know what to call this thing. Hmm. It's a candle thing! Maybe candle thingy sounds more precise...

Anyway, I started the dovetails on the candle thingy. First, I did the layout for the tails where one side joins the bottom. I used a marking gauge set just slightly more than the thickness of the pin board (bottom) to mark the baseline for the tails. Then, using a small bevel gauge (visible in the background), I just eye-balled the tails. I added the variations in the middle just for fun.

It's always temping to skip the "mark the waste with an X" part, but don't do it! Just trust me on that one.

After marking the tails, I ripped the lines with my dovetail saw. I should probably say I ripped using the lines as rough guides. It doesn't really matter if you saw to the line or not on this part, but it will later. Up to this point, this was my standard approach, but now I wanted to try a couple of new techniques.

Normally, I rip the tails with my saw, then move directly to removing the majority of the waste with a coping saw, clean them up with chisels, and then use the dovetails to layout the pins. The first new technique I tried helps with aligning the tail and pin boards for a more accurate transfer. This is the well known "shallow rabbet" technique. Basically, I just planed a very shallow rabbet on the inside of the tail board. When it was time to align the two pieces, the rabbet catches on the edge of the pin board and keeps everything square. It worked great and I liked it.

The second new technique was a different way to transfer the shapes of the tails to the pin board. Before I cut out the waste between the tails, I transferred the layout with the saw itself, running the front teeth (or tooth) down the kerfs in the tail board. I'd read about this in books, and seen Roy do it, but I'd never tried it myself. It worked okay - I think the juries still out on this one. I wasn't totally happy with the quality of the lines I created. Not enough pressure, and the line was very faint - too much pressure and the line was clear but there was some tearout in the face of the pin board. I need more practice before I decide if I like this one or not.

Here is a shot of the tail board aligned atop the pin board:

And here's a shot after the transfer of the layout using the "saw in kerf" technique:

After those two experiments, it was back to my standard routine. I used a coping saw to remove the waste between the tails:

And then chisels to pare to the baseline:

After that I repeated the same process with the pin board - although this time the lines really are important. You have to stay on the waste side of the line or you will have gaps in the final product. Watch, I'll demonstrate that pitfall. I believe in being thorough :)

It came out okay - if you look closely, you'll see a couple of gaps where I wasn't careful enough with the sawing of the pins. Wait, I mean, you'll see a couple of spots where the new "saw in kerf" technique really let me down. Yeah, that's it!

The dry fit:

Not too bad - it should look pretty good after gluing and cleaning it up with a plane. Just three more to go and then on to the dadoes etc.


  1. I could read handcut dovetail posts all day long. Thanks!

  2. I was lucky enough to take a class on dovetails from Roy a couple months ago. He recommended to go over your saw markings with a pencil to help you see.

    Since I was practicing in my shop with some pine which was kind of rough on the end grain, I used the marks as a guide, but also used a straight edge to make sure it call came out straight. I made sure that my pencil tracked in the saw line, but where it missed or on a low spot, it helped to also have the straight edge there too.

    I would also advocate marking the X's mightily, my first attempt I forgot to do that and cut on the wrong side of the line and made huge gaps in my dovetails.


  3. Eric - You're welcome, and I'd love to cut dovetails all day long! Well, okay, maybe not - but I'd love to spend more time in the shop.

    Badger - Lucky indeed! Roy is an amazing teacher. I'll try it with the pencil on the next one - thanks.

    Yeah, the X's are crucial. Every time I think, "How many times have I done this? I don't need no stinkin' X's!" it guarantees I mess up. Kinda like saying "Watch this!" while someone is pointing a video camera at you...

  4. Dan,

    It's amazing how crappy your (meaning mine, in this case) dovetails look when they're first assembled and you think to yourself, "Ok, this is going to end up being a tool storage box...". And then you sand a little and plane a little and it's like magic!

    "Hey, those dovetails actually don't look that bad!"

    At least that's been my limited experience...

  5. They look very good to me, Dan, and even more-so when you consider how much practice you have had making dovetails over the past year.

    The last time you posted about creating dovetails was back in June of last year when you built your molding plane shelves. Like many of us, it looks like the number of times you actually cut these things, rather than dream about cutting them, is rare and sporadic over the period of a year.

    By my count, you have cut 28 dovetails over a period of roughly 300 days. That works out to you cutting one dovetail every 11 days or so. Your results belie the amount of practice you have had doing this complicated joint. The quality of your work looks more like it was done by someone who cuts 11 dovetails a day, rather than the math being in reverse.

    If you were working on your golf game, with those averages, you would still be trying to swing your way out of the rough.

  6. Doesn't the "shallow rabbet" method also introduce a little bit of variance on the overall dimensions of the box? So you'd have to make sure that all of the rabbets on a side were the same depth? Or is this so shallow (like a thou or two) that it doesn't really matter?

    You can also cast my vote for the "x" on the waste side, as someone who's made that mistake a few too many times.

  7. Ethan - I agree, and it doesn't just apply to dovetails, but rather almost everything. Partly it is the practical nature of cleaning up the joint that improves the look, but I think there is more to it. Whenever I build something, I am always overly critical. I also tend to focus in on specific parts, or sections rather than looking at the whole. Later, when I see it with "fresh" eyes, I frequently notice that the imperfections have diminished while the whole has increased. I see this as once again reinforcing my opinion that perfection, although a worthy goal, is highly overrated.

    Mitchell - Thanks! And you are correct in principle, if not in numbers, (I don't post everything I do :) I don't make dovetails very often. I tend to favor the simpler pegged rabbet joint.

    And although I agree that in general, practice makes perfect, there are some interesting anomalies. For example, the very first set of hand cut dovetails that I ever made, are still among my very best efforts. Strange. Beginners luck? Or an example of how not over thinking something is sometimes the best approach? I don't know.

    Oh, and I only play mini-golf, which has no rough – unless you count going over the curb :)

    Brian - Yes, it does change the dimensions. As long as the rabbets are the same depth it won't make a difference in terms of being square. And really, I'm not going to measure them - just two passes with the plane each and call it good. For the interior shelves, I'll plane the dadoes, then dry assemble the case and measure (or just mark directly on the stock) for the shelf length. I try to avoid having to mathematically determine all the sizes - I much prefer to make it fit as I go.

  8. I'm just blown away with the level of craftsmentship that went into this. Very impressive Dan. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Mark - Thanks! And you're welcome.


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