Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Wall mounted Plane and Tool Cabinet - Part 5 - Drawer parts (Dovetail boards)

To a non-woodworker dovetail joints are like a puzzle from Escher and have a certain mystique about them. In reality they are strong and easy for a woodworker to do but do take time, practice and patience to get right. The most important thing when dovetailing by hand is to cut square to the face of the board. The tails can be any shape or any angle you want and cutting them square will make subsequent operations so much easier.
My minimal toolkit for dovetailing drawer parts (and yes I also do dovetailing with a router template as seen in the carcass of the cabinet) comprises the following:

  • Marking gauge - I like the Veritas one
  • Various bench chisels
  • Right and left hand skew chisels
  • Brass hammer
  • Dead blow hammer
  • Dovetail saw - I like the Veritas pull saw
  • Crosscut saw
  • Hand brush
  • Rule - I favour the Incra tee bar rule
  • Marking implements - 0.5mm mechanical pencil with HB leads
  • Dovetail gauge - 1:8 Veritas gauge is good for hardwood
  • Shop music system playing your favourite relaxing tunes (I like cool jazz when dovetailing)

Some dovetailing tools

My particular drawer design for this project have a walnut front and beech sides/back with a 1/4" plywood base. The boards are milled to about 1/2" thick and made to fit into the drawer aperture.

Tail boards

This particular method of making dovetails works for me and is one of many different methods (have a Google around for cutting dovetails to find as many methods as there are stars in the cosmos!)
I favour tails first as why make things difficult? I've tried pins first and can see no value to that method other than saying I've done it.
So marking the tails out is relatively easy using any convenient rule you may have. Some people don't even measure but I use an Incra precision T-Rule with a 0.5mm mechanical pencil.
Some things to bear in mind is if you want to hide any slots within the joinery (I'm thinking about the slot for the plywood base) if you make the widest part of the tail just shy of the slot then it will not be seen from outside when finished. I opted to have the slot 6mm from the bottom but the widest part of the tail 5mm from the base.

This picture explains how to hide joinery using the dovetail

Using the Incra rule. The T-Bar allows you
to measure in equally from both edges.

Resulting in equal marks

Using the Veritas dovetail saddle marker.
1:8 is good for hardwood
1:6 is good for softwood
Although in practice I've found it doesn't really matter
what the angle is.

Don't forget to mark on both sides as it aids when sawing.

Set the marking gauge to the thickness of the tails boards and lock it. Don't change the setting as it will be used several times.
I like the Veritas marking gauge

Now you have the option of running the marking gauge all around all faces of the tail board or just marking the line where you are going to cut out. I don't like the finished pieces with a line left behind but that is my personal preference - you may be different.

Knife line only where I need to cut out.

Undercutting the knife line

Cutting a shallow trench on the knife line with a chisel will make all the joinery crisp and it is so much easier to chisel accurately using this method. Essentially if you don't cut a trench there is a likelihood of the chisel baseline moving due to the wedge action of the bevel.
I just use a paring chisel to do this and the time spent is well worth it for the results that are obtained.
Undercutting the knife line
Once you have done this it is so much easier to register a chisel or saw into the vee groove that has been formed.

Cutting the tails.

Use you favourite saw to cut the kerfs forming the tail shapes. I used to find angling the board in the vice so the saw cuts vertically was much easier to keep the blade square. I also use a pull saw rather than a Western style push saw. That too in my opinion gives better results. You may find that using a push saw works for you as none of us are the same,

Then I simply cut out the rest of the waste on the bandsaw using a stop that prevents the blade going further than the baseline.

Bandsawing the waste out

After the majority of the waste is cut out you can simply use your bench chisels to chop to the line. Just make sure when doing this you chop onto a sacrificial surface otherwise you will end up with nice chop marks in your bench. Chop only half way through and then turn the board over and continue from the other side. That way the joinery will remain crisp and you won't blow out the face side.

Chopping and paring with a bench chisel is not enough to get clean tails and I find that I have to use skew chisels to cleanup the joints.

Using a skew chisel to clean up the joints.

The outermost joints can have the waste removed with a saw but then cleaned up (squared) with chisels. Always use your square to check the joints side to side as it is easy to get high spots. Remove those spots with your skews (or fishtails if you have them).

You should end up with your tail boards looking something like this.
This is the inside of a tailboard so has the
marking line left in situ.
It won't be seen when glued up.

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