Pumpkin Teeth Become Dovetails - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Pumpkin Teeth Become Dovetails

 In Feature Articles

This past weekend (Dec. 4-5, 2010) 10 woodworkers came into
the Popular Woodworking Magazine shop to work on their dovetails. Guys
came in from the local vicinity and from outside the area, such
as California, Georgia, Iowa and Virginia. What I find most interesting
in a class, is the diverse backgrounds we have,
the interesting stories that are told during the weekend and, more
importantly, how much better hand-cut dovetails made by woodworkers
today look compared to my first attempts – I would be embarrassed for
you to see my initial pins and tails.

There were a couple guys
in the class with limited experience, some who made their very first
dovetails and a few who had worked through pins and tails in their home
shops before coming for the class. The practice helped, but learning
the dovetail pitfalls from someone who has experienced most of the problems is worthwhile.

After we filmed a
short video segment – this is going to become a Popular Woodworking
DVD – the guys ran through a practice set of pins and tails
using pine. As the morning progressed, I added a power tool to their
dovetailing arsenal – a band saw can speed up the your work without sacrificing the hand-cut look. With the pine samples
complete, it was on to building the keepsake box, which was the project for the
class. Each woodworker selected the dovetailing method they wanted to
use, be it fully hand-cut or slightly automated. I believe that within
our group, power-assisted dovetails was the popular choice.

each set of pins and tails (through-dovetails at the front of the box
and the feet, with half-blind dovetails at the rear of the box) the
dovetails got better and better. One guy said his dovetails moved from nasty-looking “pumpkin teeth” to respectable dovetails. That’s
quite an improvement in two days, and that’s what taking a class is
all about. Instead of experiencing all the problems that pop up and having to work out those problems yourself, it’s better to
have someone that has already learned those lessons show you the way.

cut thousands of dovetails, and I’ve taught many
woodworkers along the way, but what I’ve come to understand is that no
matter how good the lesson is, there are myriad ways that dovetails
act up. Even if you follow the steps closely, you will have trouble.
It’s not until you work through most of those problems – and remember
how you corrected the problems – that you can knock out set after set of
nice, if not great, dovetails.

During the class, our video guys
walked around the shop and filmed many of the one-on-one discussions I had
with the guys having problems. We
walked through what caused the problems and how to make corrections as
well as how to prevent those problems in the first place. That
information is gold! It’s impossible for an instructor to demonstrate
and discuss every problem area during a presentation, so following
woodworkers as they work to cut and create dovetails, and seeing what
causes that problem and how to correct them is what’s needed to learn
woodworking. In the DVD that’s coming from this weekend’s class, of
course you’ll get the “how to” on dovetails, but I think the real value in the
DVD will come from those one-on-one discussions. That’s what classes are all
about, and that’s the type of information that should be on any
woodworking DVD you purchase.

— Glen D. Huey

To read more about dovetails, click here
to purchase the “Woodworker’s Guide to Dovetails” from our bookshop. In
this book, you can see how to create dovetails by hand or with machines
and jigs.

One of the best woodworking books I’ve ever cracked open is “Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking: A Step-by-Step Guide to Essential Woodworking Techniques.” This book has a complete section on dovetails and is loaded with much, much more.

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Showing 4 comments
  • Milford Brown


    While reading this info about your class, I was encouraged by your comments on bandsawn dovetails. I have resisted buying any of the many router jigs and such after reading Mark Duginske’s description of cutting dovetails with a bandsaw, including his slanted jigs for consistent angles, a few years ago in the first edition of his bandsaw book. I haven’t done a dovetail project yet, but after your encouragement, I won’t consider this "cheating" on hand-cutting, and won’t have to figure out how to collect all of the dust from a router.


  • John

    I wish all the good woodworking stuff wasn’t in the mid-west.

    The other great thing about classes is the camaraderie that you don’t get in the home shop.

    Also does anyone get that robot code right the first time? I think it’s a conspiracy.

  • Jaysen

    Will the plan for the project be included in the dvdor will it be available anywhere else?

  • cincywoodworker


    Thanks so much for the great class, I haven’t finished the box yet, but is on the todo list for the next couple of weeks. We (my wife and I) are working on the serving trays we discussed and I am gonna hand dovetail the sides, all from the confidence you gave us. I will send pictures of them and the box when they are all finished up!

    Thanks again.


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