The Right Tools Make All The Difference

You really can't talk about dovetails (or even begin to cut them) without getting over two obstacles: fear and joy. The first obstacle (fear) raises its ugly head just when you've taken saw and chisel in hand. It's the moment of truth. And now you actually have to cut this joint that's been a hallmark of excellence for centuries... no small undertaking.

Then after cutting one, or two, or a dozen dovetails, it gets in your blood. There's the thrill of feeling the joint go together, of seeing the near perfection of every joint line, of knowing every saw cut was made right on the money, and knowing that, at last, you have joined the ranks of the master craftsmen.

Don't let it get to your head. I think the real satisfaction in cutting dovetails is the actual doing — not the result. Yes, it's true that a dovetail is a beautiful joint, a mark of craftsmanship. And indeed, it is a strong joint — nice for drawers and special applications of case work.

But the thing I like most about dovetails is the actual cutting. So many things in our lives are done at breakneck speed. Do it. Get it done. And then move on to the next task. Not so with dovetails. This is handwork, done the old-fashioned way. It takes concentration. Yet you must be calm and relaxed to get the job done. It's not a task to be undertaken after a hectic day at work. It should be done when there's time. Hopefully a quiet time when you can get absorbed in your work. That's woodworking at its finest.

Granted there are ways to speed up the process. Many of the initial cuts can be made on a table saw or band saw. But why? Dovetails, when done with concentration and thought, produce more than a woodworking joint. The result is personal satisfaction.

I almost forgot the third obstacle: the tendency to become long-winded, romantic, and almost poetic about dovetails. So, maybe I ought to come back dowTi to earth and get on with the details of cutting a dovetail joint.

Since I've embraced this rather romantic (translated, that means slow) approach to cutting dovetails, I'd like to mention some of the tools used to undertake this task. Indeed, the proper tools and a comfortable environment make all the difference in the world.

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