Gluing Up Dovetails

Jim Morgans Wood Profits

Wood Profits by Jim Morgan

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Good brushwork. With the corner joints partially assembledBird uses a flux brush to coat the dovetail pins with glue.

Notched blocks. Positioned at the corners> notched clamping blocks allow the pins to protrude but ensure that the tails are clamped tightly.

Measuring for square. Once the case is clamped, Bird uses a folding rule to check for square by comparing diagonal measurements.

Cleaning Up

Opinions vary on the issue of removing glue squeeze-out. Some woodworkers like to use a damp rag to wipe the excess glue from an assembly as soon as any

Taping it tight. To glue up a small box with mitered comers, Bird lays the mitered sides end-to-end onto the sticky side of masking tape. Then he applies glue, folds the sides together and draws the miters tight with the tape.

When gluing frame-and-panel assemblies, don't let the glue squeeze out into the panel grooves. If the side edges of the panel become glued to the stiles, the panel may split when it starts to shrink in response to changes in humidity. The best defense is to use just enough glue and to spread it carefully in the mortises and on the tenons. Another method is to pre-finish the edges of the panel so that wayward glue won't adhere. Pre-finishing panels is advisable anyhow. It keeps an unfinished tongue from showing if the panel shrinks.

Gluing large casework means working quickly so the joints can be drawn up tight before the glue seizes. I like to use white glue in this situation because it doesn't grab quite as fast as yellow glue.

As soon as the case is clamped, I check for square by measuring both diagonals across the case's top opening. If there's a discrepancy between the two measurements, the error will be half the difference. To correct it, loosen the clamps slightly, then clamp from corner to corner across the longer distance and recheck for square.

Large dovetailed boxes can benefit from special clamping treatment. (See photos, above.) Small dovetailed drawers are best glued up without clamps. I just apply the glue, tap the parts together with a mallet, then check for square.

Gluing up miter joints can be difficult because miters have a tendency to slip when clamped. Specialized miter clamps can solve this problem. Or if you're assembling a mitered frame, you can spline the joints, then use a band clamp to pull the frame together.

When gluing small box miters, a few pieces of masking tape provide enough clamping power. (See photos, below.)

Since miters are essentially end-grain joints, it's a good idea to size the grain first by wiping on a light coat of the glue you'll be using. Wait a minute or two, then recoat the joint with fresh glue and clamp the parts together.

Cleaning Up

Opinions vary on the issue of removing glue squeeze-out. Some woodworkers like to use a damp rag to wipe the excess glue from an assembly as soon as any squeeze-out appears. But with this approach, it's easy to accidentally smear excess glue into the wood surface around the joint. Glue spots and smears are invisible on bare wood, but they show up dramatically when the finish is applied. On the other hand, if you remove the glue after it's fully cured, it will likely take small pieces of wood along with it.

My approach for handling squeeze-out is to allow the glue to dry until it reaches a rubbery state, which usually takes anywhere from 30 minutes to 1XA hours for yellow glue; then I peel it off. I've even dedicated one of my hand scrapers to glue removal. Some craftsmen use a sharp paring chisel to slice away the excess glue. A

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