Learn Dovetails from the Best

It’s been nearly two decades since I set up a booth for my first show – a Folk Art & Crafts Show held at the Sharonville Convention Center in Ohio. There were just more than 100 exhibitors of everything handmade from straw dolls to redware to furniture. The mix of furniture was from twig-built to museum-quality. My 10′ x 10′ booth bulged with furniture. I was psyched.

After we had everything set up, we walked the show to see what others brought for public consumption. Of course, I was looking for furniture. Upstairs, in the corner of the cavernous show space, I discovered a booth two-and-a-half times the size of my space that was full of high-end furniture. Against the back wall of this massive booth sat a very large Pennsylvania kas – if it wasn’t a knock-down cupboard, it would have taken a small crane to move it. A William & Mary dining table filled much of the floor area, and there were other pieces including chairs around the table and an over-stuffed, yellow upholstered wing chair. All the pieces had an antique look. A serious collector could take these pieces, mix them in with his or her antique pieces and very few could tell what was what. I didn’t know whose booth this was. All the setup was finished, so no one was there.

The show opened Friday evening, so I made it a point to check back at that booth to introduce myself to this obviously experienced furniture maker. Standing in front of the booth that evening was a young kid who appeared to be in his middle to late 20s. It was his booth. Standing there in awe, I introduced myself to Chuck Bender. At 20 something, he was accomplished beyond what I could imagine. In the 20 years that followed, he’s become even better. I hate that he will read this post, but I have to say, given his age, he was, and still is, the best cabinetmaker I know. His abilities are as impressive as his knowledge of the craft – years spent studying real-world, quality antiques have influenced his work.

A few years back, Chuck broadened his woodworking focus to include teaching as he opened The Acanthus Workshops. Each year he offers a “Dovetail Blitz” class in which the entire weekend is spent on dovetails. The classes are well attended with everyone leaving the blitz with a better understanding of dovetails and with much better skills, too.

After seeing first-hand where most woodworkers stumble when making dovetails, and helping them through those problems, Chuck decided to make a dovetail DVD. The DVD has been out for about a year, but it was just added to our Shop Woodworking store (order a copy here). During the DVD, Chuck explains a bit of the history of the dovetail joint, including the possibility of it morphing from the mortise-and-tenon joint. He walks through the tools needed for dovetail work, explains how he sharpens his chisels then demonstrates a marking system sure to keep your pieces properly arranged.

In “Dovetailing Apprenticeship,” his first DVD, he explains and demonstrates through-dovetails and half-blind dovetails, showing you proper technique and tips for better results. Toward the end, Chuck explains two ways that he uses to layout his dovetails. One of the methods I had not seen before and I suspect that is information gleaned from those years of experience.

If you’re new to dovetailing, I think this DVD is a great beginning course. And even if you’re an “old dog” dovetailer, I would still take a look. There’s a couple new tricks you can learn.

If you’re an astute reader, you noticed the word “first” when I mentioned Chuck’s DVD. Yes there is a second dovetail DVD set for release and I know we’ll add it to the store when we can. The second dovetail DVD takes a look at full-blind dovetails, single-angled and compound-angled dovetails, and Bermuda dovetails. You know there’s a lot more to learn. Also, Chuck is going to be at our shop week filming a couple new DVDs on different subjects. My guess is that you’re going to see more and more of this guy.

— Glen D. Huey

One thought on “Learn Dovetails from the Best

  1. JerrySats

    Chuck Bender nailed it when he did this one . This DVD picks up where all the others left off. Good as all the others are this one takes it a step farther. How you say ?

    Its the camera angles and close ups . You get a first hand perspective view of the action, another words , as if you were actually doing all the work . You’ll see how to layout the dovetails , cut and chop them out . Then an entirely different angle that gives the view of the mechanics of the process . With the proper sawing and chisel angels . Chuck’s little tips and tricks help you through the entire experience .

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