‘The Secret Mitre Dovetail’
by Christopher Schwarz
The “secret miter” dovetail is considered the most elegant and difficult of all the dovetail joints to make. As a result, many woodworkers hesitate to even attempt the joint, which can seamlessly wrap the grain around a furniture carcase to a beautiful effect.
In his latest DVD, English craftsman David Charlesworth – best known for his “ruler trick” for sharpening – dissects the secret miter joint to present it as one that almost any woodworker can make with just a little care.
Like all of David’s DVDs, “The Secret Mitre Dovetail” is an extremely detailed presentation of its topic. No aspect of the joint is too small to consider. And this particular DVD uses razor-sharp macro photography, which allows you to see exactly what is going on as the tools enter the wood.
What I quite like about David’s DVDs is that he presents the absolute finest work imaginable. While some might see it as fussy or overly precious, I take a different view. Any woodworker who watches this DVD will come away with some fantastic approaches to layout, sawing, chopping and paring – even if they never cut a secret miter dovetail.
In particular, David offers some useful insights that I’ve never seen discussed, including:
■ How to easily set your chisel perfectly horizontal and properly angled when paring a dovetail.
■ How to use two parallel baselines in your dovetailing to improve the joint’s accuracy.
■ Using a small scrap to reliably undercut portions of the joint to 1° – a trick I will begin using immediately.
■ Plus, how to asses the fit of the joint using a bench light to show areas that need paring before you even do a test-fit.
Personally, I cut this dovetail joint differently than David. He saws close to the line and finishes with a chisel. I saw directly on my lines. Yet, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing David’s approach because I can see cases where his methods would save me from making an error or would improve some of the fiddly parts of the joint.
For example, the DVD ends with David showing how to glue up the joint with ingenious clamping blocks that help close the long miter and keep the case square – the blocks are a much better clamping approach than I was using.
The only criticism you’ll possibly hear about this DVD is that David’s teaching style is slow. Perhaps I’m slow myself, but I like his pace because it allows for some of the more difficult concepts to sink in – I never had to back up the video and watch the tricky bits again.
So if you have an open mind about different approaches to the craft, I think you’ll greatly enjoy this new DVD – it’s well worth your time and the minimal expense.
From the October 2015 issue