Don’t Play the Cards, Play the Person…

hand cut dovetails

Scene: Mid-project in a chest-build class. Stage focus, a single bench with a busy student. Commotion all around at other benches just outside the lighted center stage.

(Instructor enters from shadow stage right, voice heard before being seen)

Instructor: Be sure to focus on your line, sawing to the waste side, keeping your dominate eye, wrist, forearm, and shoulder in line with the saw. Use the whole saw blade, after all… you paid for the whole saw so you might as well use it all. Focus on keeping the saw going at a steady light pace because sawing efficiency comes from feet/minute not foot/lbs of pressure.

Instructor V.O.: Can’t believe all these are all newbies. Some of them had to have cut dovetails before. They’re way faster than I was making my first hundred dovetails and their results are nowhere near as gappy.

Uh Oh…

(Instructor briefly lunges towards student, catches self before student notices, then pauses briefly)

Instructor V.O.: Come on… you weren’t listening were you. How many times did I say to mark your waste, even wrote it on the board, yep list is still there… 1-10 the steps of cutting a dovetail – # 4 in big bold capitalized letters, “MARK YOUR WASTE.” Did you not see me use that big black Sharpie to mark an exaggerated X on my waste in the demo? Did you think I was just doing that for my own benefit? Well, I was… because I DIDN’T WANT TO COPE OUT THE WRONG PART!

Ugh, kids these days. They never follow directions. In my day we followed directions, at least the ones we remembered or didn’t ignore.

OK, OK, OK – mistakes happen. You’ve done the same damn thing a few times.

How much effort is it going to take to get em back on track? If I interrupt now only half the tails will be backward. It might look funny with half the tails backward but a little glue and clamps it’ll at least be functional and the class wouldn’t be delayed.

Is the other side done?

(Instructor saunters to the other side of students workbench)

Instructor V.O.): Crap…So if I let it go until they figure out the mishap on their own we’re going to have to redo half the chests dovetails. That’s a lot of time and we’re tight on time completing this project.

(Instructor takes deep breath)

Instructor V.O.: If they discover the error themselves they’ll definitely remember the tip. Plus the whole class will see even major errors aren’t that dire. It’ll just mean making the chest an inch or so shorter. I’ve got to be careful and get class focused on how to work around hiccups, making the situation a class lesson instead of a scramble to fix a mistake because student hasn’t been the most outspoken here so there might be some confidence issue. More reason to not just glue up the half-backward dovetail because taking ownership of the project means they’ll put more effort and focus into it. An obvious error like that might cause ‘em to mentally step back from ownership, missing out on some of the nuances of the class later on.

I might be able to bring the class together during the next step too. If I let this student the interior bow while the others dovetail it. If it bugs em that’s something they can easily replace later on. Or maybe since it’s just redoing something they’ve already done right I can get permission to step in and do one corner after we cut those dovetails off.

(Instructor starts walking away from the developing mistake)

Instructor V.O.: Keep an eye out and when you see the realization in their face, work quickly, read their face/body to see how they’re dealing with it. Help em finish a project they’ll own and take pride in. They’ll learn and remember more that-a-way.

(Teacher exits stage left)

(End Scene)

— Shawn Graham

Editor’s note: If you’re ready to learn from your own dovetail mistakes (like I did), check out The Dovetail Collection “kit,” which through this Sunday (June 7) is included in our “Friends and Family Sale – enter code FFSUMMER40 at checkout and you’ll get it (again, only through this Sunday) for just $47.99..which is crazy cheap – it includes my beloved Woodjoy Precision Dovetail Template, a Veritas Striking Knife, two books and two videos. But we have only a few left – so if you’re interested, don’t wait.

And you might like this free video on laying out DTs w/dividers – you’ll see said dovetail template therein.

2 thoughts on “Don’t Play the Cards, Play the Person…

  1. MikeyD

    Well, at least it was very neatly done. Nice crisp lines and what looks like a perfect right angle…..

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