Wednesday, February 28, 2018


The four practice drawers that I made in an effort to improve my half-blind dovetails turned out well enough that I decided to make something they would go in.  The fronts were sapele because the last time I went to my hardwood supplier they had a few boards at clearance prices and I bought one out of curiosity.  I returned to buy some more for this project and was surprised to see very high quality boards available at an attractive price.

I knew little about sapele other than that it supposedly tears out due to interlocked grain, so I was expecting the worst.  So far, the opposite is true.  I don't know if I got lucky or if this issue is overstated.  There is some tearout but it is very shallow and easily removed.  Since it is as hard as white oak, I was expecting it to be as difficult to plane, but it isn't.  If you look in the comments on my last post you will learn why; it is hard but only about as dense as walnut.  The wood has a pleasant hue and a wavy ribbon grain pattern.  It's in the same family as mahogany and is from tropical Africa.

I decided to make two bedside stands to hold the drawers, relying on sliding dovetails on the fronts.  I hadn't made these before and didn't know what to expect but it isn't real difficult.  Part of the reason is that I cheated.  I took a wide board and created tails on my router table.  Then I ripped out the individual pieces.  Lazy, shame on me.  :(   Next time I will saw the shoulders and create them with a chisel, a technique I saw in an online video.  If the joint is not wider than your wide chisel it seems very straightforward to me.

I made the sockets [?] on the legs by hand with saw and chisel.  The problem I have with seeing marking knife lines didn't happen because if you mark over the lines with chalk and rub it off you are left with a very distinct mark that is easy to follow.  It worked so well that I am going to look for a color that will show up on lighter wood.

I judge the results to be very good but not excellent.  Some prominent woodworkers wax ecstatic over their results, using words like "pristine" and "perfect."  Mine aren't and I wouldn't say that anyway even if they were but I am pleased with how they look.  I think a sliding dovetail on the front of a piece looks really nice.

The cross pieces have yet to be planed, the reason for their rough appearance.  Sliding dovetails make a structure that is extremely strong and rigid.  The drawer depths were determined by the scraps I had for sides but I think the proportions look quite nice.

By the way, the best video on making sliding dovetails I found online is this one.  His have a really exaggerated taper.  I didn't see a need to taper mine as they are only 1 3/8" deep but they are very tight going together and a slight taper would have been nice.  Any deeper and a taper would be mandatory.  This is a real advantage of using hand tools instead of cutting the tails on the router table like I did.

I design and build projects like this in my head with no plan on paper at all because I think it's fun, weird as that may seem.  I have no explanation for this depravity and, of course, I know it makes no sense.  There is a sort of thrill in taking the risk that I can figure my way out of seeming dead ends.  Oh well.

Now I have to make another one.


  1. Thanks for the info on Sapele. I have been curious to try it but reluctant for all the reasons you mention. I will work some into my next project.

  2. Andy,

    I have found that sometimes Sapele does and sometimes it doesn't. If the tear out tests bad I work light shavenings and go to the 80 but either way it can be very nice once finished. I have several things in the house with Sapele components and they have aged well. BTW, I can't say Sapele is a pleasure to work but the results can be worth the effort.

    We work about the same, I do not do well with plans, much more a "let's see" kinda guy.


  3. i have a love/hate relationship with sapele... it can be really tough to plane cleanly, but when the grain works favorably and your blade is super sharp, the surface sparkles like nothing else. It does always cut (saw, chisel) very easily and cleanly. But sometimes, be it the ribbon/interlocked grain or just some weird rough spots, it can be a real bear to plane.