One of the Tricks of the Trade in the June 2015 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine discusses how you can use denatured alcohol to stop crumbling end grain while chopping out dovetails.
The trick states it’s best for softwoods, which is where you see the most crumbling.
As my students are always worried about this aspect of their dovetails, I decided to give it a try today in some finger joints I’m cutting by hand. After sawing and coping out the waste, I soaked the end grain with alcohol, as per the trick’s instructions.
Then I chopped.
Note that I used the same chimpanzee to chop both joints. And the chisel had been sharpened by said chimpanzee.
After a few joints in each – teetotaler and sodden – I compared. I couldn’t see much difference in the crumbling. Both crumbled about the same.
The alcohol-soaked joint was noticeably easier to chop out, however.
The photo above shows my typical results. The alcohol-soaked socket is the lower one.
I am working in Douglas fir, which is a softwood. But it’s not a “soft” softwood. I’ll try it again in white pine and see if the results are the same.
— Christopher Schwarz