Thursday 3/11/2010 –
Dovetails, Mortise & Tenon with Roy Underhill
Described on the website thusly “After this one-day workshop you’ll have no excuse! You’ll learn to lay out and cut the classic through dovetail, the half-blind dovetail for drawers, as well as the intersecting mortise and tenon joint for chair and table construction. You’ll take home the three joints, as well as the foundation skills for furniture construction. All tools and materials provided.”
The class delivered exactly what it promised. It was a hands-on all day affair with Roy at the helm. My class had eight people in it, and I was probably the youngest guy there. There was one other guy near my age, and rest looked to be retirees looking for something new. I felt pretty good with the tools, the set up was fantastic where we each had our own bench, tools, and lights. Roy would start out by showing us all the steps in one go, going over it piece by piece, then would set up loose to do it ourselves.
We did a set of through dovetails before lunch, and mine were fairly tight. I liked his method of laying everything out, it made a lot of sense. He starts with a chisel, and bases the rest of the layout off of that starting point. Roy’s method is “tails first” and I think I’m going to go with that, and avoid the whole religious debate about tails or pins first. Let me see if I can remember all the steps and put them in another post.
We then broke for lunch at the “old timey” soda shop next door, and Roy joined us. It was really fun to hang out and just discuss random things. He spent some time talking about his new home that they had recently purchased, it was an old Mill house that he planned to make into a larger version of his school. He also bought us all a giant banana split to share!
After lunch we were all a little sleepy, but we got some coffee and soldiered on. Next up was half blind or drawer front type dovetails. They most build on the things that we learned in the through dovetail side, with some variations. Mine came out pretty well, and I was feeling pretty comfortable with the tools now.
The next stage was a bit different, and I was pretty out of my element now with Mortise and Tenon joints. Again he uses a method in which all measurements are based on the width of a the chisel point, and uses very little measuring. This is a good thing since mortise chisels are very hard to find these days, either costing hundreds of dollars for new or getting lucky with used ones. There is one affordable set available by Narex, but they use metric measurements rather than inches. Which is OK with Roy’s method actually, and I might get that set finally. My mortise and tenon joint came out pretty well, except I blew out the bottom of the drilling and tore my wood (can be fixed with glue), and my saw cuts were a bit imprecise, which is hidden by the joint but still… Sawing was probably my worst point, and I think I need to figure out how to fix this. My cuts seem to drift easily, and I have always had a hard time with sawing. Practice, practice?
All in all I very much enjoyed the experience and Roy was a fantastic teacher and great host. He was as genuine and warm as he is on his show, which is rare in this world. He was a passion for this art of hand tool woodworking, and that comes out in his class. I would love to go back and take other sessions for sure.