Like most home woodworkers, my dang day job tends to get in the way of my woodworking. Despite the fact that our magazine’s woodshop is exactly seven paces from my desk, getting in there has been a monumental struggle. Gerunds, appositives and dangling participles have all conspired to keep me chained to this keyboard.
But there has been progress: During the weekend, I did get some time to dovetail the drawer. I almost always cut my dovetails by hand, and that’s not because I’m some kind of hand-joinery snob, I just find that my head is ill-equipped to deal with router-based dovetail jigs. In fact, the only one I’ve ever been able to master (mentally) has been the Keller Jig.
I’ve fought with many of the classic router dovetail jigs, with the notable exception of the Leigh Jig. I find myself incapable of adjusting them to get the results I want: tight, perfectly aligned dovetails. If I had to build entire kitchens, I feel sure that I’d find a way to set up a jig and router and leave it that way in perpetuity so I could bang out standard drawers quickly. But for my work, every drawer is different. So cutting the joints by hand is honestly time-efficient at my bench. Plus, I’ve been cutting dovetails by hand for 15 years now. There’s nothing intimidating about it , but I can sure remember being freaked out about the prospect of cutting the joint.
I got over this anxiety after I vowed to cut one set of dovetails every day for a month. On the first day of the month I milled all my stock for the self-improvement plan , about four boards that were 5″ wide and 36″ long. After dinner each night, I went down to the shop and did two things: First, I closely examined the set of dovetails I had cut the night before and tried to diagnose what went wrong or what could have been done to improve the fit. Then I tried to cut the next set of dovetails with my analysis in mind.
This bit of self-examination turned out to be as valuable as the practice I got in cutting and chiseling to a line. Too often it’s too easy to hide or forget about our mistakes. It’s much better to stare them straight in the face for a while.
After I assembled the joint, I’d cut that corner free, scrawl the date on it and place it on a shelf in my shop. After a couple weeks, my joints were consistently tighter. By the third week, my routine started to feel…¦ routine. And by the fourth week I was fooling around with spacing the tails differently and increasing my speed.
Since that month, my dovetail anxiety has evaporated. I just do it and know that the joints will be dang tight. One caveat: I always cut the joints for the back of a drawer first in case I need a warm-up.
My only regret with the joints on this particular drawer is that I should have spaced the tails a little closer together. They look a little too regular, like I used a jig.