If you’re interested in learning to cut dovetails by hand, boy do you have choices. Google hand-cut dovetail videos and the returns total more than 100,000 (no, I didn’t count them). Yesterday I watched Rob Cosman’s second DVD on dovetails, hence the name “Hand-cut Dovetails 2.0.” It’s been 10 years since his first dovetail video. While I haven’t watched that DVD, I’ll bet things have changed throughout the years. I can tell you that 2.0 is a good, informative dovetail DVD worth the investment.
Cosman begins with a demonstration of the dovetail process. He walks through the steps without much information just so you see the process as well as the end result. He then moves on to talk about the tools needed. I find this section of his DVD valuable because he justifies his choices and in doing so he shares insight gained from experience, such as how a wheel-type marking gauge is his choice because it’s easy to adjust with one hand as you work, how he tweaks his fret saw to make it work better and how to rework the blade on a marking knife for better results.
The next section is devoted to simple exercises to make you a better dovetailer. He discusses how stance influences your sawing abilities and has a neat trick with a strip of tape that helps keep your cuts square and aligned.
Once you’re ready to actually make dovetails, Cosman demonstrates each step of the process in detail. I would call this section of the DVD “Dovetailing for Engineers” because there is nothing skimmed over or left out. Every step is examined in detail. This is a good thing because to be better at dovetails, you have to understand all the intricacies of the joint.
I particularly like the divider layout method described and how to hone in on correctly sized pins, how he uses his thumb and finger to locate and fine-tune his sawing line to the layout line, and how he works back to the scribe line after removing the majority of the waste with a fret saw. Along the way you get plenty of tips to make your work better, such as the increase in control if you choke-up on your chisels when you pare tight areas, and how to work so you don’t blow out the show side of the joint.
On the downside, Cosman takes every opportunity to sell you one of his other DVDs – I admire his work, but found these quickie commercials a bit of a hitch to the learning. Also, while demonstrating at shows and making personal appearances, he produces whisper-thin plane shavings. After each stroke he tosses a shaving into the air for the “wow” factor. That’s fine for the shows, but there is no reason to do this during the DVD. I found it distracting.
All in all, Cosman knows the secrets to better dovetails and shares his knowledge in “Hand-cut Dovetails 2.0.” If you’re cutting your first set set of pins and tails or you’re looking for ways to improve your dovetail skills, I recommend this DVD – even though he works tails first. Pins First Rules.
As I said, there are many dovetail DVDs from which to choose. Here are a couple from shopwoodworking.com:
In “Cheating at Hand-cut Dovetails” I explain the process for hand-cut pins and tails, but then I demonstrate how to speed up the process using power tools – without sacrificing the hand-cut look.
And if you’re dead-set on a pins first approach, check out “Dovetailing Apprenticeship” with Charles Bender. Bender not only explains the steps to great dovetails, he briefly discusses sharpening and explains a great method for layout that’s sure to keep your drawer parts properly arranged.