On Gaps and Dovetails and Winterthur
Years ago when touring Winterthur, I saw a lot of wacky Pennsylvanian dovetails on old chests. These joints had been wedged through their pins – a feature I had not seen in person before. While the museum personnel wouldn’t let me take photos, I did make a few sketches.
Whenever I cut dovetails, my mind drifts to these wedges. Were they decorative? Did they close unsightly gaps? How – exactly – were they driven in?
Yes, I know that sounds dumb. The answer is: With a percussive instrument. But is the slot through the entire pin, which means it was cut before assembly? Or is it at 45° like a corner spline, which could be cut after assembly?
I don’t have the answer, but I have been fooling around with the different methods.
This week we are building tool chests from “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” at Kelly Mehler’s School of Woodworking, and a couple students cut some dovetails on the wrong side of their layout lines. This has created some gaps.
To fill them, I have been investigating these wedged dovetails that I saw at Winterthur and have been reading up on during the last couple years.
Because I have only my visual record to go on, I’ve been trying to replicate what I saw with the minimum amount of effort. So I have been kerfing my pins after assembly and have driven in wedges that are about 1/16” wide at the tip.
The result? The wedge does close up some gaps. It is more effective on closing some gaps than others. I’ll need to shoot a video to explain myself.
The good news is that we assembled five shells of the 11 tool chests today during only the second day of class. The rest will be assembled tomorrow before lunch. None of these five chests needed the wedges I described above. I might just have to wait and find some gappier dovetails to experiment on.
— Christopher Schwarz