I’m pressing pause on my saw restoration for a bit because I realized that once it’s refurbished, I will have no place to put it. I have a few hand tools that I’ve accumulated over the years, but they’ve mostly been subjected to the lonely life of storage boxes…until now.
I decided to build the Dutch tool chest from the October 2013 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine for my fledgling hand tool collection. My original plan was to build the traditional English tool chest, but I drive a Volvo sedan and there is no way I could fit in in there. Plus, the Dutch chest has far fewer dovetails and I had never hand-cut dovetails before three weeks ago. I was terrified of being a failure.
The woodshop that I started in built Shaker reproductions and time was money. There was simply no time to hand-cut dovetails so they were all cut on a dovetail machine. (I admit, at times I do miss the speed and ease of use of that machine.)
So I set out to learn how to hand-cut dovetails. I read Megan Fitzpatrick’s blog about laying out dovetails (and the video that accompanied it). I watched every video that I could find on marking, measuring and cutting techniques. Finally I decided to practice.
I bought a 1″ x 12” x 8’ board of pine from the local hardware giant and cut it into pieces for practice. I’m building my tool chest out of products that can be purchased at a box store, so the pine was perfect for practice.
Then I tried cutting the joint…and failed. So I tried again. I tried over and over until I could cut a serviceable joint. The dovetails still aren’t perfect, but they will work for this project. I will keep practicing long after my tool chest is finished, until I am satisfied with the outcome (so I will probably never stop practicing).
I filmed a video of cutting the pins and chopping the waste to show that there’s no shame in struggling to master a new technique. Woodworking involves a lot of trial and error, and learning new skills along the way. Don’t be scared of looking like you don’t know what you’re doing when you learn a new skill — you don’t know what you’re doing, take pride in the fact that you’re learning.
P.S. After trying out every technique I could find, my preferred process is this: tails first, pull saw and chisel out the waste (no coping saw…sorry Megan).
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