[Medal Chest] First dovetails…

*Note to my readers—this is the secret project I’ve mentioned a few times.  It has consumed my shop time since February.  That’s why it’s been so slow on the blog for the last few months.  Now that it has been delivered, I can post the details.*

When I was ready to head back out to the shop, I discovered the Walnut fairy had left two pieces of walnut ready for work.  She’s pretty good at gluing too…IMAG2719After a few passes with the hand plane I’m sure the bit of line there between the boards will go away.  I’m more concerned with starting the dovetails (completing them of course on the menu as well).

After reading just about everything I could get my hands on (and there is a lot on the internet about dovetails) I decided to run with Megan Fitzpatrick’s (of Popular Woodworking Magazine fame) method for laying out lines for the tails.  You can watch her awesome instructional video here.  It really is the simplest method and wonder of wonders, it worked!  In no time at all, using just a compass, I had my dovetails marked (and they were equal in size) and I was ready to cut.  Gulp.

I was too nervous about screwing up to remember to take photos of the cutting process but I think you can use your imagination.  Basically, I took a saw (big long metal flat thing with pointy teeth) and made cuts in the end-grain (the short side) of the first walnut side.  That walnut cuts reeeeaaaaaalllly nice.

I was so happy with my ability at cutting that walnut so straight that I jumped right in and cut the maple pin board as well.  To get the pins, I just followed standard procedure and clamped the maple board in the leg vise, then balanced the tailboard on top and transferred the shape of the tails to the end of the maple board.

A few more quick cuts with the backsaw and cross cuts with the coping saw to remove the waste and I was ready to chop and pare with the chisels to get it the joins nice and tight.

At this point it dawned on me that I should take a picture…so here’s how I chopped the remaining waste to the line for the pins.IMAG2751I realize now I did this backwards from how I saw it on Kari Hultman’s amazing site, The Village Carpenter.  She had the board resting on the bench (because, I don’t know, it makes sense) instead of acting like a diving board like I did.  Chalk it up to excitement.  And a cluttered bench.  This project is messy!

Okay, so I merely put down some scrap plywood to be the backer, then the maple board, then a piece of milled pine (I didn’t have any hardwood available, which would have been a lot better) to give my chisel a “cheat” so I could attain 90* right off the bat.

Then it’s just tap with the mallet and take tiny bites until you’re flush with your marking line.

After a few calming breaths and a quick prayer, I lined up the boards and tried a fit to see how I did.  Everything looked crisp and sharp (to me!)…and boy was it tight.  I couldn’t get it together by hand…I needed to trim a few slivers from each board with the chisels and then popped ’em together with the mallet.   This time…IMAG2752

Victory!  It worked!!!  And it looked good!* I about did a little dance there in the garage I was so happy.  IMAG2753Instead,  I wiped the sweat from my brow (this was a 2 and a half hour marathon of cutting and chiseling and chopping and cussing) and got a beer.

Then I took some more pictures.

And an Aleve (okay that was later…I spent the rest of the day with an aching back, sore arms and a big smile on my face).

Some of you may notice in the last photo that the maple is slightly wider (higher) than the walnut.  The walnut was listed as milled to 4″ (it was) and the maple to 8″ (it was actually 8 1/4″).  The result is the maple sticks out beyond the walnut by 1/8″ on either side.  I will deal with this with the hand plane later.  I figure if I screw up the dovetails there’s no point in messing withe board width.


About Steven M. Vaught

A native son of Delaware, now living in Illinois, Steven is a writer, family historian, amateur astronomer, sometimes-gardener, woodworker, father to three wonderful children, husband to a wonderful wife, and caretaker of one cheeky vizsla.
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