After a few months as part of the Popular Woodworking staff, I started bugging the guys to teach me a little something about woodworking, beyond the few skills I picked up from wandering through the shop and asking questions. By that time, I’d learned just enough to be wholly embarrassed by the bookshelves I built 15 years ago out of #2 pine and L-brackets. My seven versions of “The Complete Shakespeare” deserve a better home. They deserve sliding dovetails , or at least a rabbet or two, for goodness sakes!
So Bob Lang was kind enough to teach me and several other non-woodworker staff members how to build the egg crate shelves he made for one of our first “I Can Do That” projects (August 2006). Then Chris Schwarz helped me build my first two ICDT projects: whale tail shelves (December 2006) and an antique tool/toy chest (February 2007). Glen Huey taught me a couple cool tricks while helping me make some simple Shaker shelves (April 2007), and now I’m working autonomously on a canted wall box for an upcoming ICDT story.
Now, I’m eager to move beyond the basics of the ICDT projects (and my far-below-basic L-bracket bookshelves) and tackle something a little more challenging. Such as the hand-cut dovetails I gave up on after but one try, almost a year ago. (Eventually, I hope to master sliding dovetails, and make an impressive set of bookcases using these tricky joints.)
I was intrigued by Chris’ February 2007 Out of the Woodwork, “A Dovetail a Day.” Therein, he extols the benefits of cutting one set of dovetails every day for one month. It sounds like a great idea, but as with any journey, that first step is the hardest. After all, there’s always another story to edit. Another reader with questions (which, by the way, we’re always happy to answer). Another meeting to attend. Another submission to consider. Another…¦
But last Monday, our power went out. No computers. No heating system. No phones. No table saws. Nothing to do but file papers or dig out from under the pile of paper that covers my desk. Or cut dovetails. Needless to say, I went with “cut dovetails.” Now herein lies the danger of having three expert teachers. Glen is a pins-first guy; Chris and Bob are tails-first guys. I’m whatever the guy standing next to me tells me to be. Right now, that’s Glen’s pins-first method, on Chris’ dovetail-a-day plan. (Bob likes to walk through the shop and ask, “Are you sure you’re holding that chisel correctly?” Well, no. I’m not sure. But I’m sure someone will be glad to tell me.)
Anyway, after a week of marking, sawing and chopping, my dovetails have noticeably improved. I truly think I could cut a case full of dovetails far more quickly than I could set up a jig to do it for me (and anyway, I’m rather afraid of the router). Last Monday, it took me around two hours to cut one set. By Friday, I could do the same number of tails and pins in a half-hour, and they looked far better. Not perfect, but better.
Last week, I used pine. This week, I’ll tackle poplar. And next week, cherry. Now I don’t know if I’ll be ready for curly maple at the end of my sentence, but I will certainly have learned my lesson, and learned it well. I’ll never use L-brackets again.