Cutting Class (Cutting Dovetails, That Is)

Just about every day, I’d walk through the Popular Woodworking shop on my way to the copier and glance at Chris’ assortment of handsaws and chisels, beautifully arranged along the back wall. And just about every day, I’d think, “One of these days I’ll ask Chris to teach me to cut dovetails by hand.” But there’s never enough time. There’s always another phone call to be answered, another meeting to attend, another story to edit, another e-mail to send…¦.

So I decided to take a Candle Box class at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking in Berea, Ky. If you read the magazine regularly, you know I’ve been there before to write a story — but only as an observer. This time, I was ready to make some sawdust.

For me, it was akin to the first day of high school (without the belligerent attitude). I was a little scared that I wouldn’t fit in, that I’d look like a fool, and that everyone would laugh at me. Of course, no one did.

For two days, eight-plus hours a day, I did nothing but learn to cut dovetails by hand to make a box, and enjoy the company of the six other eager students , most of whom were as inexperienced as was I. And Kelly was always close at hand to give guidance, answer questions, and encourage us to sharpen our chisels (I finally gave in…¦after a bad bout of tear-out).

It was wonderful. I didn’t have cell phone service, I, uh, “forgot” to take my laptop, and I was lodging in a little house on Kelly’s property, far from the constant sounds of the inner city in that surround my home. The “Sunday House” was fully stocked with tea, biscuits and a gas fireplace — but no television. So Saturday night, I sat in front of the fire with a pot of tea and read some Shakespeare, with the crickets and bullfrogs providing background music. It was pure bliss.

And, now I have a lovely walnut box to show for it…¦or I will, once I mortise the hinges, chamfer the top and bottom edges, attach the top and bottom, disguise my (many) gaps, plane all surfaces, and apply a finish. If only the phone would stop ringing.

– Megan Fitzpatrick

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