Question: I often see dovetail layout lines left showing on the exterior of pieces. As I’m in final cleanup up of a blanket chest (yes, the Union Village chest from your article) the layout lines are still visible after I’ve got the piece smooth. However, the lines do not uniformly show on all edges.
What to do? Get rid of them all, re-establish lines consistently around the piece, or just leave it as is with faint lines of inconsistent depth around the piece? It doesn’t look all that bad as it is.
– Rick Bowles
Non-answer: The question of leaving tool marks behind seems thorny at first. There are those who say that removing marks, such as your layout lines, is what a pre-industrial joiner or cabinet maker would consider “neat and workmanlike.” And there are those who say that leaving tool marks is what separates you from the giant CNC mills that poop out almost-adequately sanded highboys every two minutes.
Here’s how I approach it. My opinion is only that, but you asked for it.
Unless you roll a stump into your living room and call it a coffee table, every aspect of furniture is a tool mark. Sandpaper, for example, is a tool and leaves a distinctive surface. A router-cut moulding is almost always different than one cut with moulding planes.
So the question of tool marks is which ones you choose to leave behind. When I build a piece that is a reproduction or is in the spirit of a past style, then I try to get a feel for the marks that were typical.
So what is appropriate for a Union Village blanket chest? Let’s take a look. The following shots were taken only to document this piece’s construction details, so you’ll have to forgive the photo quality. They were never intended to be published.
Let’s start at the back of the case, near the lid. In this shot you can see that the baseline has been erased by the maker’s plane (all the surfaces of this piece are planed). And this is a secondary surface that will likely be against the wall or a bed. Hmmm.
Now let’s look at the base of the chest, still at the rear and still on the same corner. Here you can see toolmarks everywhere. The baseline is there, as are marks from laying out the dovetails on the plinth (aka, the base).
OK, now let’s look at the front of the chest. This chest features half-blind dovetails, and the tails are on the ends. Though the photo is a tad grainy, there are faint baselines up and down the end pieces.
My conclusion here is that this maker wasn’t really concerned with the baselines. When they were removed (such as at the back), that was OK. When they were left behind, that was OK, too. Bottom line: The baselines on this walnut piece are not distracting.
So Rick, I think you are done. If the piece looks good to your eye and the toolmarks are neither sloppy nor distracting, then I think you can call it a day and start finishing the piece.
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