Sunday, December 4, 2016

Log sofa reprised

More than two decades ago, I made two log sofas for our rustic cedar home.  We had hundreds of poles that resulted from thinning our douglas-fir forest.  I later developed a fairly unique style of building with logs, but this was my first attempt.  I didn't have a tenon cutter, so the joinery I settled on was to use a hole saw to define a circle on the side of a log and then chisel it out so that the joining log would fit into the hole.  If necessary, I trimmed the joining log to fit.  I used a 1" dowel as a floating tenon.  The resulting joints looked pretty good and were extremely strong.

That part I think I got right, but another part I got wrong.  At the time, I thought the logs needed to be very smooth, and this was before I got into hand tool woodworking, so I used an angle grinder with abrasive disks to smooth the logs.  Later on, I achieved much nicer results with a drawknife, deliberately leaving on wide flats and sections of the tree's outer layers beneath the bark.  This is rustic furniture and it looks best with a very natural appearance.

We used the sofas for years and then gave them to some friends.  They offered them back to us recently and my wife is very nostalgic about anything associated with our kids growing up, so I reluctantly agreed to try to refurbish and improve them for our family room.  Here is the stripped down skeleton:

The joinery is still solid and, with some accumulated scratches and dents, the sofas are in good condition.  The upper pole is across the back of the posts so the back will be angled to produce a reclined seating position.  I wanted to add a nice back to the sofa that would be more reclined, so I used a drawknife and a spokeshave to create a flat on the inside of the top pole.  I had some old poles to make the back, most about 4 inches in diameter.  To do this, I sliced the poles in half on the bandsaw.  It's pretty easy to do this by attaching a 2x4 to the pole with screws that rides along the fence.  By slicing all the poles exactly in half you get a nice, quarter-sawn face.  Then I just ripped out one inch thick boards.  Here's what they look like:

and here's the refinished sofa:

The templates are to to give to the upholsterer.  We are going to upholster the seat in a solid color and leave the back exposed.  There will be colorful, Pendleton wool pillows placed along it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Are jigs fixtures?

I previously mentioned that Michael Pekovich wrote an article about what he sees as six essential bench jigs.  As should be expected, my essential "jigs" are somewhat different, so I thought I'd post about them.  I'm interested in yours too.

Before I do, however, I want to amuse myself, and hopefully you, with a semantic issue that I recall someone making a big deal about, though I can't remember where or when.  There is a difference, apparently, between jigs and fixtures.  According to Wikipedia:
Fixtures are used to securely locate (position in a specific location or orientation) and support the work... A fixture differs from a jig in that when a fixture is used, the tool must move relative to the workpiece; a jig moves the piece while the tool remains stationary.
This does actually make sense to me because the word fixture comes from a Latin word meaning "to fix," which is what these devices do. Strictly speaking, therefore, I want to share my essential hand tool woodworking bench fixtures. How about that for arcane?

Getting back to the topic at hand, there are a couple of fixtures on his list and mine that don't require elaboration:

1.  Shooting board

2.  Saw hook
Now for the ones on my list that are at least somewhat different.

3.  Split top stop

One of the advantages of having a split top is that you can have a board that you put in it as needed that protrudes 1/2" or so above the bench surface.  This makes an ideal side stop for planing wide and long boards, but I find myself using it for any number of other purposes as well, including during assembly.  Here's mine:

4.  Moxon vise

For a variety of reasons that I have written about previously, I think this wonderful fixture is essential for hand tool woodworking.  For the first year after I built my bench, my Moxon vise was the only one I had.  I learned a great deal about workholding as a result.  I now have the Veritas twin screw vise on the end of the bench, but it plays a limited role.  I would give it up before I gave up my Moxon vise.

Sometimes the most difficult parts to work on are the little ones.  The last two fixtures on my list address this issue:

5.  Edge Planing stop  

This handy and very simple fixture, sometimes called a side planing stop, works very well for planing the edges of narrow boards (for wider boards I use the skirts on my bench):

The green star on the triangle is because I keep losing the triangles, probably because they look like scraps.

6.  Stop for holding narrow parts flush with the edge of the bench

This one is important to me for use with my Veritas plow and skew rabbet planes.  If you attach a deeper secondary fence, you really need to make use of the edge of your bench, but, even if you don't, it is very convenient to use these planes right on the edge of the bench.  I find it very helpful as an aid in keeping the plane vertical.

I had tried a variety of approaches but, in thinking about this post, I decided to build a new one today.  It is made from two layers of baltic birch plywood and two short pieces of T track, which are installed just shy of the edge:

It's all half-inch plywood except for the piece across the right end, which is three-quarter inch so that it will serve as a stop, and a piece beneath it to clamp the fixture in the vise.  Of course, the plywood is not quite a half-inch, so I had to deepen the slots with a shoulder plane:

The final piece is a quarter-inch high fence that moves along the T tracks.  Here's what the fixture looks like in action:

We'll see how it works.  I think it will be useful in plowing grooves, planing rabbets and planing thin workpieces.  What about cross-grain rabbets?  Well, maybe I'll come up with something better, but right now:

One more illustration of the Moxon vise's versatility.

Some woodworkers may look at this list and think it is a lot of extraneous pieces to perform functions they can do with their bench vise.  All I can say is, I've got a bench vise, but I usually reach for them because I know I can do a better job quicker that way.  They are at hand and don't take up a lot of space.

Every fixture I have, including the Moxon vise and my bench raiser, fits in this space beneath my tool chest.

Getting back to the definition of fixture above, the whole idea is to securely fix the workpiece on the top of your bench in a position that allows you to do your best work.  

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A skewed perspective

No matter how many times I have relearned this lesson, every time I buy a new hand tool I think I am going to get perfect results out of the box.  That happened again when I bought my Veritas skew rabbet plane.  It is a truly great tool, but my results weren't truly great at first.  The rabbets sloped in and down.

When I had some free time, I set about figuring out what I needed to do to get good rabbets.  I learned from the company's video that you want the blade to be set proud of the side of the plane body about the thickness of a piece of paper.  That helped, but didn't completely solve the problem, and it wasn't hard to figure out why:  I was having trouble keeping the plane consistently vertical.

Try as I might, I just couldn't find a grip that felt right.  I tried every way I could think of to grasp the front knob but couldn't find one that worked.  Frustrated, I went online to look at some videos of the plane in use and found this one by Chris Schwarz.  Watch very closely.  Notice anything?  He took the front knob off!  I immediately went back to the shop, took mine off and the improvement was immediate.  My hand fit comfortably on the plane body and it was much easier for me to keep it vertical.

This is a puzzling thing to me.  I am a big fan of Lee Valley and they obviously know what they are doing.  However, this front knob seems absolutely awful, at least for someone with big hands like me.  If you look at the company's video, Vic doesn't seem to use it either.  I have absolutely no idea what it's for.  Perhaps some of you use it, and, if so, I'd like to hear from you in the comments.

There is one other thing you should notice in Chris Schwarz's video.  It's very beneficial to keep the edge you are creating the rabbet on exactly flush with the side of the bench.  This is one time when it's nice to have an end vise.  If you want to, you can also add an auxiliary fence as an aid in keeping the plane vertical.

There is one thing he does wrong though:  he is using the plane in the wrong direction.  Take it from me, the left hand one works better.  :)

Finally, in the catalog, the company shows the plane being used to raise panels with the help of an angled auxiliary fence and some longer fence rods.  I see how this is done in principle, but I think it would be quite difficult.  I'm off the hook, though, because I like to raise panels with regular rabbets.  You can do this in the arts and crafts style with the rabbet in the back, but it also looks really nice with the rabbet in the front.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I don't know jack...

I have managed to collect so many planes that I am running out of room in my tool chest.  I am chagrined to say that I have the following:
  • Stanley #s 3, 4, 5, 5 1/2, 6, 7, 9 1/4 (block), 10 1/2 (carriage maker's rabbet), 90 (bullnose)
  • Millers Falls #9 (smoother)
  • Veritas low angle smoother, medium and large shoulder, small and large router, skew rabbet, plow, block
By my count, that's 18 planes, which I regard as too many.  Lest I upset any of you, there is nothing wrong with having this many and more, if that is what you want.  I don't.  In my defense, the average cost of these planes, excluding the Veritas ones, is less than $30 and I enjoyed restoring them.  In fact, my count doesn't include half a dozen more that I have restored and then sold or given away.  Some people bring home stray dogs and I brought home stray planes.  Nevertheless, something has to give and it's time to do without some of these.  I have a rule for my closet and workshop that I try very hard to adhere to:  Absent a compelling rationale, if I haven't worn/used it in the last year, I get rid of it.  So, which of these planes fall into this category?  The Stanley #s 5, 6, and 10 1/2.  You may or may not think this strange, but I understand why that is.  Who needs a jack when you have all these planes?  I like the #5 1/2 better.  Who needs a #6 when you have a #7 and a # 5 1/2?  The #10 1/2 is a specialty plane and I haven't had a need for it. 

I have a compelling rationale for keeping the #10 1/2.  My wife found it for me at a garage sale, I only paid a couple of dollars for it, it is in excellent condition, it's a rare plane and I think I may use it sometime.  I can't part with it.  The #s 5 and 6 I can do without.

The next question is, are there any of the remaining planes that I can do without, even though I use them?  Yes.  I don't need three smoothers, I like having one Millers Falls plane, and the Veritas low angle smoother has unique capabilities with the three blades I have for it, so I can do without the Stanley.  I don't need two block planes either.

Before I go on, there is another reason I can do without the Stanley #4.  That's my #3 in the front and the #4 in the back:

My #3 is virtually the same length as my #4, just narrower.  It is a matter of considerable amusement to me to demonstrate this when woodworkers say it isn't so.

I had decided to get rid of my Stanley #s 4,5,6 and 9 1/2, but then I remembered several things.  I have often wished that I had planes to use when I am doing carpentry, but I haven't been willing to use my "good" planes.  I'm taking the #5 out of the tool chest and putting it with the carpentry tools, just as I am doing with a couple of handsaws.  Same for my Stanley block plane.  Second, I don't have a scrub plane.  I think I will set the Stanley #4 up with a heavily cambered blade to serve as a scrub plane, as Paul Sellers recommends.  I will part with the #6.

You may think I didn't accomplish much, as I am only giving up one plane, but I really did.  Two bench planes and a block plane came out of my tool chest, I gained a jack plane and a block plane for carpentry and I will have a scrub plane.  Sometime this winter, I'm going to make myself a nice little carpenter's hand toolbox for two handsaws, two planes . . .  Wait, I have an extra brace and set of bits, I've got an extra Millers Falls hand drill and I've got other extra tools too.  This is great.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Kitchen work table done

The next step was to install the lower shelf pieces across the bottom stretchers.  This was a good use for some of those scrap white oak pieces I bought during the FDR chair project.

Some of my brainstorms work out and some don't, and this one didn't.  I decided to fasten the shelf pieces with the 1/8" joinery dowels from Lee Valley.  I really like the way they look on boxes but here they look too much like I used nails and wood filler:

Oh well, they aren't very conspicuous and the chef is fine with them.  If I did this again, I think I would use a larger pin in the center of each piece and make them more prominent, in part by not staining them so they would contrast with the stained oak.  This could be done by trimming the pins after staining but before finishing, using a playing card with a hole drilled through it to protect the piece.  The pin would be left very slightly proud, a look I like.

With this done, it was a simple matter of attaching the top and installing the casters.  The casters have a friction ring, so they just slide into a 7/16" hole.  You get what you pay for; they were expensive but worth it.  Here is the finished project:

Although the casters are too large for my taste, they roll very easily and it is turning out that the table gets moved around several times a day.  It is very comfortable to sit at.  In retrospect, it would have been possible to have a drawer as many kitchen work tables do, but I like the clean look of the spare carcase.  The stool is one I made years ago, but I will be making a new pair to go with the table.

Many hand tool woodworkers believe it is about the journey, and it is, but often it's about the destination too.  This table really enhanced our kitchen and the chef is very happy with it.  Now that we have one, I don't know how we did without it.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Kitchen work table II

We decided to stain the white oak, which immediately raised a concern.  When I stain a piece after assembly, I invariably miss at least one glue spot, resulting in an ugly splotch, and I find it difficult to apply the stain smoothly at the joints. I knew that some woodworkers apply stain before assembly, something I had never done.  Doing so could potentially solve both problems, but I was concerned about whether I could glue up the base without damaging the stained surfaces.  In the end, I decided to give it a try and it worked great.  It was easier to keep the stain out of the mortises and off the tenons than I thought it would be and I managed to avoid damaging the surfaces during the glue-up.  This is something I will definitely do again.

As for the glue-up, it was surprisingly uneventful.  I am really pleased that the joints all closed tightly:

Here is what the table looks like in clamps.  Notice the cards under the clamp faces to protect the stained surfaces.

I am very pleased with this stain.  It is called Salem by General Finishes.

I am tempted to conclude that my woodworking has gone up to a new level but, in statistics, there is something called regression to the mean.  In this context it means everybody gets lucky once in a while, but they shouldn't count on it to be true in the future.  :)

One issue with staining the frame before assembly is that I have to install the lower shelf pieces later and I don't know how that is going to go.  Worst case, as long as I can touch up the stain, I think I will be fine.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Kitchen work table

With the lumber processed and the leg blanks glued up and dimensioned, it was time to turn to joinery, specifically the sixteen mortises for upper and lower stretchers.

When I first shifted to hand tools, I used a hybrid method for cutting mortises, which is an easy way to keep the mortise walls vertical and it is faster, at least for me.  Variants of it have been around since at least 1945.  The method is to drill out the mortise on the drill press and then use chisels to finish it.  If you trap the leg between two fences, only the top and bottom of the mortises need be marked:

  The overlapped holes drilled to depth with a forstner bit the same width as the mortise provide a precise guide for the chisel work.  I have been reluctant to use my regular bench chisels for this chopping, so I use these Lee Valley chisels with butyrate handles and they hold up fine:

I made the tenons in the usual way, using knife walls, a tenon saw, a router plane and a spokeshave to chamfer the ends of the tenons.  I've learned the hard way to make the tenons very tight the first time they go in the mortise because they tend to loosen up when they have been in and out a few times.  There's little danger of splitting these legs.  I have also found that if you make them "too tight" at first, it gives you the chance to make minute adjustments in the walls of the mortise if necessary for both shoulders to close tightly.  I think this is not the way you are supposed to do it, but it works for me.  The advantage over using a shoulder plane is that it give you a chance to align the stretcher properly.

I would like to get to the point that I can chop out mortises quickly entirely by hand.  My reservation has been not being sure I could keep the walls perfectly vertical.  Paul Sellers has added a simple, shop-made guide to his method for using a bench chisel to chop mortises.  You put the side of the chisel against the guide while chopping and then also use it to pare the wall of the mortise when you are done.  It seems to me that a mortise chisel is inherently more stable than a bench chisel for chopping mortises, so, if you are going to use the latter, a guide seems necessary.  I am going to give it a try.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Some projects design themselves

We need a kitchen work table, like one of these.  In consultation with the chef (aka wife), we came up with the following requirements:
  1. counter height and width, four feet long;
  2. white oak base and maple top;
  3. readily movable;
  4. able to sit on a stool to work or eat at it;
  5. as much storage as possible given other requirements.
The first two determine the dimensions and materials.  The third led me to rule out a drawer that might interfere with my legs when I am sitting at it.  It also meant that there will only be one shelf across lower stretchers.

We spent some time discussing whether to put the table on casters.  Heavy duty, American-made ones that look good are large and expensive, but I wouldn't settle for anything less, though 450 lb. capacity per caster may be a bit over the top.  In the end, we decided that being able to move the table around easily was worth the appearance hit.  I couldn't find ones with stops that I liked, so there is a risk the table will move around too easily in use.  If it does, I am going to make some custom chocks from white oak that will surround the wheels.

I also worried about how big of an overhang the table should have.  Four inches seems quite large but it is within design guidelines I consulted and will make it more comfortable to sit at.  Visually, I think it is pushing it though, because the table is only 25" wide.  I may offset it so there will be a larger overhang on one side that will be comfortable for sitting at the table.  I'll be able to judge stability before deciding. 

So, this will be a fairly simple project: a top, sixteen mortises in the legs for upper and lower stretchers and a shelf across the lower stretchers.  Basically, the requirements determined the design.

Off I went to the lumber yard, where I received sorta good news and bad news.  The bad news is that white oak is in short supply because of all the demand for whiskey and wine barrels, so it cost $7.50 per board foot and there wasn't a lot of selection.  Further, they didn't have any 12/4 stock, so I have to laminate the legs from 6/4.  The sorta good news was regarding the top.  They were having a closeout sale on prefinished laminated maple countertops in these exact dimensions for $120, compared to about $80 for material and supplies to make my own.  As I am in a hurry, I bought one.  It turns out not to have been a great purchase because when I got it home and unboxed it, one edge had been run through a jointer against the grain, resulting in both a washboard and bad tearout, and one end had checking.  They just applied finish over the top of it.  I had to cut off the end and resurface the edge, then refinish both sides.  The top surface was fine though.

The total cost of materials was $120 for the top, $170 for lumber and $80 for the casters.  Sounds expensive until you price commercially available ones of the same quality.

I ripped all the pieces to width on the bandsaw, jointed them and used the lunchbox planer to surface them because I am in a hurry.  With one exception I will describe later, the rest will be all hand tools.  

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A more nuanced view of workbench height and workholding.

Workbench height is one of those subjects which is often discussed by not very well explained, in my opinion anyway.  The most common expert advice you see is that your bench should be low, around palm height.  I followed that advice, my bench was too low and I ended up building plinths to raise it up 4".  Even now, it is sometimes too low and I use a "bench raiser" that is 7" high, making the top almost a foot higher than my bench was originally.

The best discussion of workbench height that I have heard is this one by Shannon at The Renaissance Woodworker.  Begin listening at 8:30.  He correctly responds to the question of how high your workbench should be with the answer, "it depends."  He refers to his main workbench as a dedicated planing bench which is at palm height, for him 33".  He has a separate joinery bench at elbow height, 45" for him.  For some joinery, like chopping mortises, he uses his main bench, or even a sawbench.

I think he's right and, while the specifics of my three choices are somewhat different, I have ended up in the same place.  Of course, there are craftsman who do just fine working at one height and that's just fine too.  They have found a workable compromise that suits them.  My experience is that a low bench optimized for planing isn't great for other tasks.

There is a great deal of room for personal variation.  My workbench up on plinths is 38", 4" above my palm height.  I feel very comfortable planing at this height, but I am fairly strong and probably rely on my upper body more than most.  Part of the issue for me is that my arms are very long, making palm height relatively low.  I can readily believe that if I used wooden planes I would want it considerably lower than 38" though.

My bottom line is that workbench height is a matter of your body, your personal preferences, what tasks you are designing it for and probably other factors as well.  In addition, I think that you should make provision for working at a variety of heights if you can.  If you don't have room for a separate joinery bench like Shannon has,  there are still good options like bench raisers.

Shannon's discussion of workholding is good too.  As time has passed, he uses his end vise less and less, to the point that he says he wouldn't even have one if he were building his bench today, and relies on stops more and more.  This was the traditional way and I agree with his reasoning as to why it is better.  I have found the same thing.  When I built my Nicholson bench, I started off without any vise at all, but I did eventually end up putting a Veritas twin screw vise on the end, though I still rely primarily on stops and bench hooks.  I have seriously considered taking the vise off and using it for a Moxon vise on steroids that would live on the end of my eight foot long bench most of the time.

Why are stops preferable to using a vise?  It is a lot more convenient to work on a piece without having to clamp and unclamp it, the piece doesn't slip, it rests solidly on the bench and it's faster, especially if you have multiple pieces to work on.  Here is a nice description by Mike Pekovich of the stops he uses.

There are obviously other good approaches.  Paul Sellers uses his vise for most of his work and gets great results.  I just think the older, more traditional ways of workholding are better.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A rant (sort of)

I want to write about something that keeps coming up.  Periodically, prominent hand tool woodworkers will write about what they see as the utter, soul-destroying depravity of using power tools for woodworking.  I exaggerate only a little.  It is a shame that they can't confine themselves to extolling the virtues of hand tool woodworking and teaching the techniques, but this sort of thing is a sign of the times.  The best option is certainly to ignore this nonsense, but the subject bears discussion.

Only a few of us are going to go out into the woods with a crosscut saw, cut down a tree, skid it out with a team of horses, saw it into planks by hand and stack it up to dry, thereafter to resaw and foursquare it for our projects.  For the rest of us, either we will use machines somewhere along the way or someone else will use them for us before we take over.  You can't convince me that if someone else uses the machine for me, my soul will thereby be preserved.  Moreover, most of us who enjoy hand tool woodworking do use machines, at least on occasion, and that includes most hand tool professionals.  What is the right balance?

I came to hand tool woodworking from power tool woodworking, I still have quite a few power tools and I still use them, both for carpentry and in the workshop.  Nevertheless, I often think about this question and, over time, have been decreasing my use of them.  Like many, I prefer the experience of using hand tools and building my skills.

Some years ago, I sold my tablesaw at a big loss and I haven't regretted it for one single minute.  That was the break from power tool woodworking that I badly needed.  I rewarded myself with a very high quality bandsaw and I haven't regretted doing that either.  I enjoy using the new one very much and I doubt my soul would improve if I got rid of it.  In a way that I can't explain, it just seems to go with hand tool woodworking.

I have kept the other power tools I already owned prior to getting into hand tool woodworking, in part because they wouldn't sell for a lot, and I sometimes use them.  Over time, I use them less and less.  They are tucked away in the corner, the large ones on mobile bases, and don't take up much space.  I often ask myself which ones I really want to own.  After considerable thought, my answer is this.  In addition to the bandsaw, I would keep the drill press and the lunchbox planer but get rid of the router/router table and the jointer.  If I wasn't doing carpentry, I would also get rid of the chopsaw and the tracksaw.  Stored, the three remaining large power tools would take up about 6 square feet of floor space.

Why these three?  A bandsaw is the swiss army knife of saws, great for cutting curves, ripping, resawing.  It's quiet, relatively safe and doesn't take up much floor space.  The lunchbox planer saves labor and lets me use roughsawn lumber easily.  It is the power tool that I am least comfortable retaining, but I'm just not prepared to surface large amounts of lumber by hand.  The drill press is harder to explain.  I just find it handy and use it in quirky ways that I will be describing in a number of future posts.  Basically, what is happening is that I sometimes use the power tools first if there is a lot of material to process and then turn to my hand tools.  I rarely use them on small projects.

You do something different and I wouldn't have it any other way.  I do not fear for your soul, whatever you choose.  There is no right and wrong here.  I gain a lot from reading about how others strike the balance, including those that use hand tools almost exclusively.

Several years ago, I bought a very nice little book called The New Traditional Woodworker, by Jim Tolpin, which is about working primarily with hand tools.  Though hand tool centric, his shop contains a bandsaw, a dust collector, a lathe and a drill press.  This is the balance he has struck.  It is somewhat different from mine but reflects the same attitude.  Another example is the Renaissance Woodworker's shop.  Shannon works with hand tools almost exclusively, but in the corner of his workshop is a heavy duty planer and a dust collector.  As an aside, he also has a manual drill press.  I have a great old miter box.  These are machines, but they are hand operated and are a nice middle ground.

The point I am making is this.  Despite what some expert may say, there is no reason any of us should feel defensive about using power tools.  We should do what we enjoy.  To help make this point, I am going to start being more explicit about when and why I use power tools.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


With fall comes rain here in the northwest and we are on our way to an October record.  I really like to be outside on the nice days, so I decided I would have an indoor and an outdoor project going simultaneously.  I'll get to the indoor project in the next post but I wanted to write about the outdoor projects briefly first.  They are mostly carpentry but hand tool woodworking does play a role.

I wanted to have a place to keep all of my gardening tools organized and protected, so I've just finished this little shed, made from cedar fencing to keep the cost down:

It's not particularly remarkable, although it does have a handmade handle from white oak:

I really enjoy adding little hand tool touches to my outdoor projects.

Next, I wanted a grape arbor, both to help the grapes grow and bear well and to create a shady space for lawn chairs.  The big challenge was getting the dripping wet, twelve foot long 4x6s up on top of the posts without injuring myself or my helper (aka wife).  My approach was to build some brackets on top of the posts to hold the beams.  These make the structure more stable and let me lift one end of the beams into place at a time:

There are fourteen half inch bolts in the brackets.  I bored all these holes with my Yankee brace, thinking about the Bell System linemen who used them up on phone poles.  It only took a couple of holes to convince me that I needed to file the bit.  That made a big difference, like shifting into a higher gear and after that it took little more time with the brace than it would have with an electric drill.  I tried to use a handsaw to cut all the angled tails you see.  It was drizzling and the treated lumber was extremely wet, so I didn't want to use my good saws.  Instead, I used an unrestored crosscut handsaw that was passably sharp, but it just wouldn't work.  After a few strokes it would bind up so tight I couldn't move it.  Crosscut saws used for green wood have much more set and I am sure that was the issue.  I fondly recall my grandfather, who was a carpenter, often reaching for his handsaw in preference to his power saw because it was faster and better.  I am sure he winced at the way I used it, but he never said anything.  I'm now thinking I'll take a pair of the many old handsaws I have accumulated and dedicate them for use on green construction lumber.

In case you are wondering, those aren't real grapes, they are lights.  Don't say anything; my helper likes them.

That's it for the outside projects, so next I will tell you what I am up to in the shop.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


I spend little time in the workshop during the summer, so each fall I seem to go through a ritual.  I make a few small projects (this fall it was boxes) as a way of getting "in shape" and then I try to make a few shop improvements.  This fall it was clamp storage.

My clamps have been stuck here and there around the workshop, mostly on shelves.  This was inconvenient and sucked up a lot of shelf space.  I wanted mobile storage so I could bring all my clamps close to the bench for glue-ups.

The logical way to go about something like this is to do an internet search for "images of woodworking clamp racks."  When you do, you see all sorts of creative ideas that you can adapt.  Sometimes, though, I just feel like improvising on my own, sort of like a jazz musician, and am partial to making things like this with scraps on hand.  That's what I did here.

Since I wanted mobile storage, I started with an old mover's dolly I had.  I thought that an A frame would be best, partly because it would take advantage of gravity to keep the clamps in place, partly to make the rack stable and partly to minimize the use of floor space.  I started by attaching two used studs to a scrap plywood base and bracing them.  I intended to make some sort of A frame like the ones you see in the images above, but then I tried something easier and it worked.  I just nailed cleats in various places based on my clamp collection.  Here is the result:

I am amazed at how much space this freed up, the rack is surprisingly stable and it moves easily.  This was a quick project that really paid off.  I think that if you have free wall space close to your bench, a wall rack would be preferable, but if, like me, you don't, a mobile rack is a good choice.  Looking at the images after mine was already built, I see all sorts of more refined ideas if I decide to go to version 2.  Although my pair of uprights seems stable enough, it occurs to me that just making a tall sawhorse mounted on casters would be a good, quick and easy, approach, sort of like this one.

So, now it's time for a project.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Cutting board part II: working with maple

Maple is a great wood for many applications; it is hard, fairly impervious and relatively inexpensive.  The major downside, as far as I am concerned, is that it is difficult to work, primarily because the maple lumber I find seems invariably to be filled with reversing grain and it tears out very badly.

The pieces of my cutting board have a square 6/4 cross-section.  I sawed them out, flattened two faces with a #7 and ran them through a lunch box planer.  The same thing happened with both of them: I got smooth surfaces on the flat sawn sides but tearout on the other two sides.  I think this occurs because this is mostly the axis where the grain is reversing.  It didn't make sense to me to take it out before the glue-up because there would inevitably be some flattening required.  I also didn't think it made any sense to try to flatten it until the edges had been shaped so surfacing the cutting board became the last step.

The first, unsuccessful time that I tried to flatten the cutting board I used a hand plane because I was thinking about something I had seen in person.  I once watched Graham Blackburn fettle a Sears plane he got at a garage sale and then plane beautiful, wispy shavings off a piece of maple, first in one direction, then the other and finally across the grain.  It was amazing and I was very impressed.  Doing this obviously requires that the plane be very well tuned-up and adjusted and that the blade be extremely sharp.  I really wanted to do this so I spent some time getting my Millers Falls #4 ready to go.  I used the bottom of the cutting board for the experiment and had fairly good success, although I did produce some, quite shallow tearout and it was somewhat tedious because I was taking extremely thin shavings.  I am not sure whether this was because I had more difficult grain to work with or he had done a better job with his plane or both.

The obvious tool to use for this purpose is a cabinet scraper.  By coincidence, between the first and second time I tried to smooth my cutting boards, I watched Paul Sellers make a cabinet door from sapele.  He encountered reversing grain and stated flatly that there is no plane in the world that could smooth this, not bevel down, not bevel up, not low plane period.  This may be because he was working with sapele, but, in the case of maple anyway, I knew first hand that it wasn't true.  Nevertheless, I turned next to a cabinet scraper, the tool he used.  For no good reason, this isn't a tool I reach for very often.  This time, I took some care with preparing and adjusting the blade, using a piece of notebook paper to set the depth.  I got good shavings that were about as thick as the ones from the plane and there was no tearout.  Like the plane, removing the tearout was tedious.

There are other possibilities.  I have the Lee Valley low angle smooth plane and a blade with a 50 degree bevel (resulting in a cutting angle of 62 degrees) that they say is for working difficult grain.  I tried it on a piece of scrap maple that was badly torn out and was happy with the result, barely distinguishable from the surface created by the cabinet scraper.  The process was much faster because the shavings were thicker than those from the bevel down plane and the cabinet scraper.

  There are also scraping planes and, while I don't have one, they may well be the ideal tool for this purpose.

The bottom line for me is that next time I will use the low angle smooth plane with a 50 degree blade followed by a few strokes with the cabinet scraper if necessary.  The higher cutting angle of my bevel up plane definitely made a big difference.  It is quite possible, of course, that my results would have been different if I had used sapele.

I am thinking about making a kitchen work table from maple and just have to decide whether I am willing to put up with all of this on a large workpiece.  One thing is for sure:  if I do it I will spend a whole lot of time on stock selection.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Are you from a good cutting board State?

One of my sons lives in the Bay area but loves Oregon, so I came up with an idea for a gift to make him:  a cutting board shaped like Oregon.  I suppose you could do this with almost any State, but the western, rectangular ones work especially well.  I settled on 13"x17" and my wife used a copier to produce a map the right size.

I made up a blank out of strips of maple and walnut and then used spray adhesive to attach the map to it.  Took me awhile, but I got the outline shaped nicely:

That's when things went south.  I read a blog post recently about the courage to fail, and I agree with the point, but there is another kind of failure that results not from courage but from idocy, in this case, mine.  I will spare you the sordid details because the things I did wrong are so patently obvious that you would not gain anything from reading them.  Suffice it to say that, if you ever choose to apply a paper template to a workpiece with spray adhesive, something I am likely to never do again, use a solvent to remove it rather than mechanical means and do not try to clean up scratches on maple that has lots of reversing grain with a plane that is not freshly sharpened.  In the end, I chopped up the cutting board for kindling and went inside to drink bourbon.  Sometimes my stupidity knows no bounds.

Time for a fresh start.  This time around, I glued the map to a piece of 1/4" baltic birch plywood and shaped a reusable template.  Then I sharpened my planes very carefully.  Only then did I glue up another blank and shape the outline a second time.  I did learn something from my first attempt.  Carving the fine details of the Oregon coastline took a lot of time and produced a cutting board that felt rough in the hand.  It occurred to me that my son wouldn't be using the cutting board to navigate at sea on a dark and stormy night, so I made the template a lot smoother.

Deep breath.  The front and the back needed to be flattened a bit and there was some tearout.  The maple had even more reversing grain than the last time.  I decided to use this as a learning opportunity and really think about it first, rather than after the fact like last time.  I'll share the result in the next post but, to avoid suspense, this story has a happy ending.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

We Oregonians love our joints

What are you thinking?  I meant woodworking joints, of course.

I began thinking about this subject after my friend John emailed me somewhat defensively about his decision to use box joints rather than dovetails for a carcase he is building.  That discussion was what prompted me to write my recent impertinent post about dovetails being for the birds.  As I thought about it more, I decided to make four boxes differing only in their joinery and rank them according to four attributes:
  1. Speed of construction
  2. Ease of construction
  3. Strength
  4. Appearance
Regarding the 4th attribute, I would ask my wife's opinion as well as noting my own.  She was the one that wanted a box in the first place after all.

The four types of joinery were:
  1. Dovetails
  2. Greene and Greene box joints
  3. Miters
  4. Rabbets
Here are some pictures of the completed boxes:

So, first, ranking them by speed of construction:
  1. Miters
  2. Rabbets
  3. Greene and Greene box joints
  4. Dovetails
Actually, it was more or less two ties, the first two taking about the same amount of time and the second two taking about the same amount of time.  The first two were very fast because of two great tools I own.  My Millers Falls Langdon Acme miter box makes cutting miters extremely fast and they fit tight off the saw.  This thing is a marvel, a truly magnificent design.  If I didn't have one, I would refine miters with a donkey's ear, which would still be fairly fast.  I made the rabbets with my Lee Valley skew rabbet plane, also a wonderful tool.  I cut the Greene and Greene joints by hand and was surprised that they took as long as the dovetails, but that was because you still have to chop out waste and it takes time to pillow the fingers.

Next, ease of construction:
  1. Miters
  2. Rabbets
  3. Greene and Greene box joints
  4. Dovetails
Same order.  With the miter box, miters are ridiculously easy to make and the masking tape trick makes them easy to glue and assemble.  Rabbets are easy enough to make and assembly is just glue and clamps.  Both of these have the additional advantage that you can plow grooves straight through all four sides for the bottom.  Greene and Greene joints are not very hard to make as long as you can saw straight and square and assembly is as easy as the first two.  Dovetails are harder to cut but easier to assemble.

  1. Dovetails
  2. Greene and Greene box joints
  3. Miters
  4. Rabbets
Dovetails are obviously far and away the strongest, but the way these small boxes were made and will be used, it makes little difference.  The boxes have a glued-in baltic birch bottom, which adds considerable strength to all of them.  To make up for the lower strength of the other three joints, I pinned them with 1/8" birch dowels from Lee Valley, which I am a big fan of.  In addition, I know from experiments I have done that there is more glue strength in these joints than you might think.  There are other methods of strengthening them even more.  Of course, in other applications the strength of the dovetails can be much more important.


My wife's ranking:
  1. Greene and Greene box joints
  2. Dovetails
  3. Miters 
  4. Rabbets
When I asked her why she ranked them this way, she said she just likes the way the Greene and Greene joints look with the pillowed fingers.  She said everybody knows dovetails mean quality and craftsmanship.  The miters she found nice but plain and the rabbets she didn't like at all.

My ranking:
  1. Greene and Greene box joints
  2. Miters
  3. Dovetails
  4. Rabbets
 We differ only in that I prefer the miters to the dovetails.  I think they look really clean and nice and you can have the grain run around the box.  For the reasons I've given previously, I don't find the look of the dovetails that appealing and the "everybody knows ..." reason leaves me cold.  I don't like the rabbets either.

I am going to be making a number of boxes for presents this winter, one reason for conducting this trial.  I will be making them with ... miters.  I know I should be ashamed, but being able to make half a dozen of them in a day is a key advantage.  As for these four boxes, my wife gets them all.    

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Paring, tool steel and other lessons

When I first became serious about hand tool woodworking, I bought a set of Lie-Nielsen chisels.  Overall, they are fantastic, but I made two mistakes.  Not knowing which steel I wanted, I bought four in A2 and only one, the 3/4", in O1.  I strongly prefer the O1 chisel and always reach for it first.  I prefer it so much that I have seriously considered selling the other four and replacing them with the O1 versions, but there is a big problem.  Lie-Nielsen only sells A2 chisels now.  I just cannot understand this because, in my opinion, A2 is obsolete.  In my opinion, you either want to stick to O1, like I do, or you should move to something like PM-V11 steel.  If you want longer edge life, this is a superior alternative by far.  Of course, this is only my opinion.

The second problem is that Lie-Nielsen sells an alternative long handle that they promote as great for paring and I bought it instead of the regular handle for the 1/4" chisel.  I guess I understand their reasoning, but just putting a long handle on a regular bench chisel doesn't make it a paring chisel in my opinion.  I have never liked it and never used it, so I have to use a handle from one of the other chisels when I need a 1/4" chisel.  It just sat in the chest for years.  Then I had a brainstorm:
I cut it in two, rounded over the top and, voila, a handle I really like for this small chisel.  To make it even better, I found a great use for the other piece.  Some years ago, I bought a cheap little brass mallet that I like to use with my chisels, but the poorly-made handle fell off.  For the way I like to use it, by holding the head with my thumb and forefinger, this is perfect:

It nests in the palm of my hand like it was custom-made, and it's Maine hornbeam!  When I was growing up in upstate New York, we had this common trash wood we considered useless which was called ironwood.  Apparently, it was American hornbeam.  Wish I had some of it now.

I love it when a plan comes together:

Friday, September 16, 2016

Woodworking in the Woods

My birthday was this week, an event I am not as pleased about as I once was, so my wife gave me the choice of how to celebrate it.  It wasn't hard for me to select my favorite home away from home:

Nice enough, you may think, but here is the view from a short walk away:

The campground at Trillium Lake is at 3,600 feet, so it was a bit brisk at night (around 40 degrees F) but daytime temperatures in the high 60s felt even warmer with the bright sunshine.  There were four things I wanted to do:  fishing, biking, hiking and ... woodworking.

Woodworking?  Yup, something I have always wanted to try.  This is the setup I took with me:

It consisted of a bench raiser, a Moxon vise and a canvas tote bag of tools in rolls or wrapped.  Here is a rear view:

and, what it looked like in use:

How did it work?  Really great.  The picnic table is made of vertical grain douglas-fir 3x12s with 6x6 legs so it was solid as a rock.   The height of the Moxon vise was just right for sawing joints and the bench raiser was just right for chopping.  It worked great and I enjoyed myself immensely.

The biggest problem I had was the bright sun, which shone from the side and made it very hard to see some of the lines I was trying to saw to.  No way to move that picnic table, which probably weighs 500 lbs., so I had to adjust my work schedule instead.

The campsites are in deep woods separated by at least 100 feet from each other, so my sawing and chopping didn't bother anyone.  This is the compensation for accepting no electricity, no showers and pit toilets.  Well worth it.

This is something I will be doing regularly from now on.  You can see what a small space my equipment occupied and, while it obviously has limitations, there is a lot you can do with it.  Almost anybody, regardless of their living situation, can enjoy hand tool woodworking.  That is one of the great things about it.

When you hike above the timber line and look down at thousands of square miles of forest, the reality of wood being a renewable resource is compelling.  It was really nice to practice woodworking in this setting.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Feelin Groovy

With my plow plane back from Lee Valley after having been machined to accept the new beading blades, I decided it was the right time to upgrade my skills in using it.  Plow planes are not the easiest tool to use because you need to keep the fence right against the workpiece and the plane consistently upright.  Sounds easy but it isn't.

The best references I could find are from Lee Valley and from Chris Schwarz.  I have my own twists on their advice though.  To start, it turns out that the white oak scraps I have are quite a challenge to groove.  Lee Valley blithely notes that the plane is best used with nice straight grain, but that is easier said than done.  The white oak tends to tear out quite badly and the cutter wants to follow the grain so if you aren't very careful you find the fence soon isn't against the workpiece and you have an ugly, curved groove.  I tried my dual marking gauge to help combat this and it seemed to work.  Fairly deep marks very slightly wider than the intended groove helped me to keep going straight and to combat tearout.  Then if you take fairly short strokes starting at the far end to establish the groove it seems that you can avoid most tearout and having the fence wander away from the piece with the grain.

How you hold the tool matters a lot.  The advice Chris received that each hand has a separate job is solid.  The tote hand only pushes while the hand on the fence holds it against the piece and keeps the plane perpendicular.  The specific grip Chris recommends felt awkward on my plane and I have trouble not using the pushing hand for control, so this is what I settled on:

For some reason I end up with a death grip on my tools if I am not careful, so having only one finger around the tote helps and the dragging finger helps with maintaining perpendicularity while the open grip on the fence helps me to just push on it and the dragging fingers help orient the plane just as they do on the other hand.  The handhold seems curved just right for this and this is close to what Lee Valley recommends.  The dragging fingers definitely seem to help and not having the forefinger pointed seems less than ideal but alright.

You'll notice that my workpiece is resting against another board that is holding it just slightly proud of the edge of my bench.  I've always struggled with holding small pieces while grooving, so I made myself a t-square like appliance that I can clamp in my end vice and it seems to work well.

You'll also notice that the lumber stamp is still on my workpiece.  As a further defense against tearout and a way of removing the marking gauge lines, I decided to create the groove before surfacing.  I can then touch up the groove before assembly.  This is the only way I could get close to the pristine grooves in the sources above.  Being risk averse, it's also a way of avoiding spending time on joinery if the groove doesn't turn out well.  Sort of like the drawer stock they sell at the yard.

Lee Valley recommends an auxiliary fence, and I had one, but I took it off and had somewhat better results, possibly because I could then drag my fingers.  If you look at their picture, you'll see a dowel in the top of the fence that is a visual reference helping to keep the plane perpendicular.  If what I have tried so far doesn't get the job done, I may try this.

Both sources recommend thick shavings, which obviously makes sense.  If you made .005" shavings, it would take 50 strokes to make a 1/4" groove.  On the other hand, I found that the thicker the shaving the harder it was for me to control the plane.  There's a tradeoff and, for now anyway, I'm willing to take a few more strokes.

Finally, Lee Valley says the blade should be flush with the skate but my plane came back from them with it set to be noticeably proud, with the result that the skate is in a little from the edge of the groove.  This seems to work OK and I can't see why it would be a problem, so I left it this way.  This way the fence is in total control of the groove's position and that might be a good thing.

This experience has been another example for me of the value of really thinking through how you use each hand tool.  A lot of little things matter.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Dovetails are for the birds, part II

In the last post I explained why I put away all the videos and articles on dovetailing, didn't practice any techniques, went out into my shop, thought about how I could improve at dovetailing and experimented.  I make no claim whatsoever to originality, much of what I write is obvious now that I understand it and this is just a few highlights of what I discovered, not at all comprehensive.  In everything I tried, the goal was to make things as simple and easy as I possibly could, stripping the process down to the bare essentials.  In writing this, I have tried to be somewhat humorous as well and I hope you enjoy it.

Pins or tails first?  Tails.  Why?  The first board only has to be accurate in one dimension while the second board has to be accurate in two in order to fit the first board.  Pins involve an angled cut horizontally and a perpendicular cut vertically while tails involve a perpendicular cut horizontally and an angled cut vertically.  I think pins are easier to saw very accurately, so I'll cut them second.

The tails board.  The tails really need to be sawed perpendicular to the face of the board and you can't saw beyond the baseline, but that's it.  For a tight joint, the spacing doesn't matter and the angles on the sides of the tails don't matter.  Every one of the angles on the sides of the tails can be different and it won't matter, so they don't even need to be marked.  I did draw them in as a reference so the tails would look roughly symmetrical and similar, but there was no need to and I resolved to pay little attention to them.  No problem if I saw off the line.  As an aside, this is why you often see videos of experts cutting tails with nothing but the baseline marked.  As long as they can make cuts perpendicular to the face of the board by eye, nothing else matters.  The angles on the sides of the tails can vary some and it won't be visible, much less affect the fit.  I think this is something most of us could learn to do, in part by using the reflection in the saw plate.  In a relative sense anyway, sawing the tails out first is easy peasy.

For this go round, I didn't want to saw the tails purely by eye, so I knifed in lines for the tails across the end grain with a small square.  This is when I made a discovery that turned out to be the secret to improving:

I can't saw to a line I can't see.

I told you most of this would be obvious.  So, to make the line distinct enough to see, I just dropped a chisel into the knife line and gave it a sharp tap.  Did it move the knife line a little?  Yep.  Does it matter?  Nope.

  This is magnified 15x and you can see how crisp it is.  I lined up my saw to it, preparing to make the first cut and, kerplunk, it dropped in!  This is when I learned of an exception to my discovery:

You can saw to a line you can't see if the saw can find it and you don't interfere.

This is, of course, what we always do with knife lines but it was the first time I had done it successfully on end grain.  Using almost no grip on the saw, I angled it down the line on the side of the tail, gave a push and, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a cut right where it was supposed to be!  A fluke?  After four cuts, it didn't seem like it.  On reflection, I think I had been like a teenager learning to drive, gripping the wheel and constantly correcting.  By giving up on following the angled line down the edge of the tail, I had followed the line.  By not trying to see the line in the end grain, I had cut on the line, granted as deepened with a chisel.  I could hardly believe it.

Sawing the shoulders and chopping out the waste has never been a problem for me, I do it the usual way, so I'll skip a description.

The pins board.  Crunch time.  Now the cuts across and down the board both matter and they must be exactly in the right place.  I couldn't knife in the lines on the end grain and use a chisel to make them visible like I had done with the tails because I would move the line.  I tried something I had read somewhere:  masking tape.

The idea is that you cut away pieces of the masking tape to reveal the pins.  Yes, this is an extra step but it takes 30 seconds.  Another issue I have had is moving the tail board slightly while I am marking the pins, especially if I use a plane on its side as a support, like you often see the pros do.  The plane is slippery.  I actually clamped mine down.  The result was crisp, high contrast lines I could definitely see.

Could I saw right to them though?  The chisel-deepened knife line for the tails were training wheels that I wouldn't have for the most important cuts.  I lined them up very carefully and, to my surprise, the result was great, at least by my standards:

Why?  The distinct line was essential but I think there was something else as well.  I had never held my dovetail saw so loosely as I had when I sawed out the tails, just the heel of my hand and the lightest touch of my fingers.  From this experience I have learned a new rule:

Never, never try to steer a dovetail saw.  It's all over when the saw first moves.

There may be an advantage to sawing dovetails with a gent's saw or a Japanese saw because the handles and the way you hold them aren't as amenable to steering as standard western dovetail saws like my Lie-Nielsen.  In any case, I now hold my saw just firmly enough to keep it from falling out of my hand.  It's a little nerve wracking because you know if you have lined up the saw to cut into the line, you're toast, but that's the way it goes I guess.  Really makes you pay attention to how you line the saw up.

The result is as good as it gets for me:

So, am I proficient?  No, but I can see it from here.  Now, practice would matter.  The time it takes me is ridiculous, but it would improve.  I'm pretty sure I could learn to saw out the tails very fast, possibly just by eye with only a baseline like some pros do.  Adding the masking tape doesn't take very long.

Will I ever cut a dovetail again?  Yes.  My poor results did affect my thinking about them.  But, it probably won't be very often, only on those occasions where maximum strength is required or the look is what I am after.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Dovetails are for the birds

Labor day is my cue that it's time to get back in the shop and I am turning my attention to something I have been thinking about for some time: my ambivalence about dovetails.

Admitting to ambivalence about dovetails almost seems like heresy.  Anyone with respect for the hand tool woodworking tradition has to honor this iconic joint; in some ways it symbolizes the craft.  Learning to cut it is a rite of passage.  There is no denying its tremendous mechanical strength and durability.  It is generally accepted as a sign of quality work.

So, what's the issue?  In part, it's that I am an iconoclast out of sheer orneriness.  A whole dovetail industry has developed, with hand tool professionals competing to see who can cut one the fastest as a means of selling this saw or gizmo or whatever.  The power tool industry has gone completely nuts selling ridiculously complicated and expensive jigs.  Even though you don't have to play those games, I find the whole thing off-putting.

But there's more to it than that.  The dovetail joint just doesn't look that great to me; on one side it's indistinguishable from a box joint, but even the other side doesn't bowl me over.  There's a reason half-blind dovetails were commonly used.  On a drawer, you only see the actual dovetail in a secondary wood when it is open.

The mechanical strength is indeed impressive, but I've learned that there are plenty of alternatives that are more than adequately strong and have other advantages.  Even when they are weak, there are ways of making them strong.  Take the miter joint, for example, which can be made sufficiently strong for many applications with splines.  Look at my personal favorite, the Greene and Greene variant of box joints.  They are strengthened with screws covered by ebony plugs.  In my version of these elegant joints, I use pins to add mechanical strength in lieu of screws and the joints are extremely strong.  I have made box joints and then just drilled a hole through them for a dowel.  Fast and easy.

Boxes made with miter joints look nice because there is no end grain and they have the additional advantage of making it fast and convenient to install the bottom by just plowing a groove on all four sides.  You don't have to use slips, hassle with a stopped groove or put a plug in exposed ends of a groove.  Modern adhesives result in splines that are more than strong enough in many applications.

Just to make one thing clear:  if you like dovetails, the consensus is clearly on your side and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  I'm clear on the fact that I am the outlier on this subject.  However, if you have your doubts too, there is nothing wrong with that either.

I've had these heretical thoughts for some time, but there has always been a suspicion that they are just a rationalization, a cover for my embarrassing secret:  I'm just not that good at cutting dovetails.  I think it's partly because I am ambivalent about them that I haven't really devoted myself to becoming proficient and it's partly because the endless stream of videos I've watched and articles I've read on the subject haven't really gotten me there.  I think that the whole practice, practice, practice thing misses something.  You need to practice with good technique and my techniques just weren't that good.

I decided that before I could dismiss dovetails as "for the birds" I would have to convince myself that I am proficient at making them.  Since the articles and videos didn't get me there, I decided to figure it out on my own or, more accurately, use my intuition to pick and choose from what I have watched and read.  To my astonishment, it worked and that's what I will write about next.  Don't worry, I wouldn't dream of foisting a dovetailing tutorial off on you, just, "When I put away the books and videos, didn't bother practicing, thought about it and experimented, I learned some surprising things."