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Today my worst nightmare as a teacher came true during a dovetail demonstration.

As I knocked together the components of the joint under the watchful eyes of 18 students and two video cameras at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking, I realized that the joint I cut was probably the gappiest one I’d cut in a decade.

But that wasn’t the worst part. Not even close.

Marc Adams had a photographer taking photos of the class who had instructions to take pictures of my finished joint.

“No way,” I said. “This is heinous.”

But she insisted. So she took them outside and shot them. When she came back inside she told me they looked really nice and showed me the photo on the screen on the back of her camera.

Picture a beautiful scene: Indiana cornfield. Blue sky filled with wispy clouds. And two sticks of wood with dovetails that were barely touching each other because the gaps were so huge.

I hope that the students felt better about their own hand joinery after seeing me crash and burn like that. Sometimes you mess up, even if you’ve been cutting dovetails for 18 years.

Or maybe they’ll be asking Marc for their money back….

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. We also did some work on the English Square today — hence the video.

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Showing 22 comments
  • KC Kevin

    I am impressed by the number of younger maggots(pupai)you have in your class. And they seem to have a good basic grasp of techniques. I tip my hat to you and whoever else is mentoring these youngsters. Bravo!

  • Aeneas

    [What the…? Oh, man, these are #%$&% awful!] “Ahem! Too few teachers assume you’ll always do perfect work and never have to know how to fix mistakes. So today I’ve purposely cut these blind dovetails with gaps here and there, something that I’m sure could happen to any of you. So let’s discuss now possible fixes that you might employ. Who has an idea first?”

  • BillyLatt1

    I’ve just begun a 30 days of dovetails experiment. Yesterday was day 6 and by far the best and tightest joint I’ve made. I use the “Euro” method, meaning chisels, to hammer out the waste. The joint was so tight that I couldn’t tell where it began and ended. I’m not bragging. I just want to see the photo of Chris Schwarz’s dovetails so I can say that for one brief moment I did a woodworking taks better than he did…

  • David Keller

    C’mon Chris – Poplar? Really? I get that you might not want to give beginners a hard wood, or difficult grain, or both as an education project, but at least give them mahogany, or walnut, or if you insist on a soft hardwood, butternut. Anything but the ugly green of poplar. 😉

    Disclaimer: We all want what we can’t have (Brazilian rosewood), and disdain what is common and cheap. And if you’re from the south, poplar is only one step up from Home Despot ugly pine…..

  • djmueller1


    Let’s see the photos.

  • Dusty

    I would have used that rough cut as an example of a inappropriate example in joinery

    Did I say rough cut? Where’s Tommy?

  • donwilliams

    Big Deal. As part of my project to recreate the continuous arm/continuous leg chairs of Samuel Gragg I told folks I would be doing some steam bending today. A surprisingly large crowd showed up, including my Director. Every single stick snapped in half during the bending. (admittedly it was an iffy proposition as it was kiln dried ash with more runout than I wanted, but still…)

    At least I got the guts to fail spectacularly while under the gaze of the guy who signs my pay checks. The day has to get better.

  • DanGar


    Who is the boy? Is he making a good work?

    He he!

  • cgooding

    I keep seeing something over and over that irks me. Perhaps you could teach a class on using more than just the middle three inches of your handsaw:) I know it’s an epidemic and one you are determined to fix. Can’t say I blame them, though. I’ve worked with pros with decades of experience that had no clue how to use a handsaw.

  • renaissanceww

    I remember having a conversation with Roy Underhill at WIA a few years ago about this. He said, “if the joint doesn’t fit well, keep moving the piece around so the cameras can’t focus on it and use your fingers to hide the really bad parts.”

  • Bob Rozaieski

    Not a mistake. A teaching opportunity. You meant to do that.

    “If you happen to miscut your dovetails like I’ve demonstrated here, this is how you can repair the joint, and save the piece” (as you pull a handfull of small wedges from the chest).

  • woodgeek

    You know the drill Chris, no pics didn’t happen. 😉

  • watermantra

    Well?? Let’s see them! Come on!

  • jimk

    It must have been the scorching mid western heat that caused your dovetails to shrink. Besides everything in the mid west looks good in a corn field.

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