Sweating the Details
When I talk to woodworkers about drawers, particularly dovetail joinery, I mention the transition that occurs as we moved from one furniture period to the next. In general, dovetails became a drawer-joinery method during the William & Mary period; woodworkers had used dovetails earlier, but they became more widely used during the period that stretched from about 1690 through 1730. At that time dovetails were large and chunky and not very refined.
As we move into the Queen Anne period, dovetails changed. Pins got smaller and tails began to grow. Overall, the look became a bit more refined as we paid attention to details.
During the Chippendale period, without new joinery methods on which to concentrate, woodworkers focused more on details. Drawer dovetails were more refined. Pins became more narrow as tails again gained in size. You can, in some of the furniture from this period, find examples of dovetails with pins barely wide enough for a saw blade to pass.
Today we have little new joinery and even less in new designs, so we continue to focus on details. We use special layout tools to mark our dovetails, we use dividers to get each socket laid out just right and we stress over the smallest joint gaps – your dovetails best be tight and closed or others will notice.
This focusing of attention is what causes me to wonder about woodworking as a whole. Are we so tied up in the details – in trying to get everything correct and perfect before we move on – that we’re no longer getting projects built? Have we become “process-oriented” woodworkers instead of “project-oriented” woodworkers? Or do we still want to get completed projects?
I’m waiting to hear your comments.