In Techniques

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Whenever I stink at something in woodworking, it becomes my lunch-hour obsession. While chomping an apple, I’ll read everything I can about the topic. Then I’ll steal off to the shop to practice what I’ve read.

This is how I learned to saw, to sharpen, to cut moulding by hand, clean my ears, mortising and so on.

And it’s definitely how I became a decent dovetailer. I wrote about this experience in our February 2007 issue in an article titled “A Dovetail a Day.” I like the article (you can download it below), but I never thought anyone would actually take up my challenge.

Reader Bob Jones of Tennessee just finished a series of 29 dovetails that he cut over about 90 days. He used aspen and poplar for the first 25. And he decided to do the last four while making a dovetailed walnut box for his auger bits.

Did the “Dovetail a Day” program work? You be the judge. Jones took a photo of dovetail No. 1, all of his intermediate joints and the final result.

Here’s the happy end to the story: He won’t be able to use the box in his shop. Why?

“My wife wants it inside,” Jones writes. “Not a bad result.”

So the message here is: practice, practice, practice. Even if you have 20 minutes to spare in your day, you can use it to become a better woodworker.

Now if you will excuse me, I have to go work on my SketchUp skills. After eight hours of drafting my latest project, I realized that I have to scrap the whole thing and start again.

— Christopher Schwarz

Resources on Dovetails
• In October 2005 we published Frank Klausz’s “Final Word on Dovetails.” It’s a great article. Look it up in your back issues or buy that digital issue here. Or just buy the 2000 to 2007 CD. It’s a good resource I use every day.

• If your dovetails are hopeless, try this.

• Download “A Dovetail a Day” for free: DovetailaDay

Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

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Showing 5 comments
  • Ken

    Just 29 dovetails? When I was learning, I saved every bit of scrap and dovetailed them together. Thin, thick, framing lumber – everything. The first month or so I heated my shop burning the practice dovetails. For the first 30 or so, I just got faster at making bad dovetails, but then the cuts became more accurate, the chiseling more precise, and the pieces began to slide together with out any tweaking. Like just about everything else in woodworking with hand tools, knowing how to do it is just the start – repetition is the key to really developing expertise.


    I do that too, if I waited until a client ordered dovetails I’d never be able to cut them. I make all kind of shop stuff just for practise; storage boxes, plane holders, chisel and rasp tills. It keeps my skills sharp and my tools from banging around in the storage drawers (also dovetailed).


  • Casey Gooding

    I’ve done this cycle twice now, I think. I always notice great improvements while doing it. Thanks for putting the idea in my head….and not letting it leave.

  • Bob Jones

    Thanks for the nice mention. #1 was a true #1. First in my short life (32yr). Both boards were split and had plenty of gaps.

    I figured that if I was willing to buy all these tools Chris recommends, may I should try his other advice. Yes I now own a Stanley #80 scraper.
    The walnut came from a storm "harvested" walnut. A friend milled it with a woodmiser. I air-dried it myself. This is the first thing I ever made from "my" lumber. What FUN!

  • Bob Easton

    Great story and pertinent advice. It usually works.

    Envy drives me here. Bob Jones’ #1 dovetails weren’t all that shabby. I think he had a head start, unfair advantage. 🙂

    Nice walnut. Yeah, I’d call that a keeper too.

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