Dovetailed Box – Practice

So, why on earth do I get those rare moments of shop time during some of the hottest days of the year so far?  But, who am I to complain.  It wasn’t too hot in the garage, just a bit warm, so I got some more dovetailing done.  I managed not to screw up three more corners, and even got something that is starting to resemble a box together!

Well, at least four sides of a box.  I had to trim a few pins again, and split one tail a little because because I didn’t trim enough.  Man, the compression of pine can really fool you.  In a comment on my last post, Jay suggested Poplar.  After today, I think he might be on to something, so I might head on down to big box Home Depot and get some.

I made lots and lots of little mistakes, trying to saw off a pin, forgetting that I should use a coping saw when cutting out the pins, don’t force it too much, mark your waste, and actually LOOK for the X’s.  I am starting to remember to look for the cabinet maker marks to keep alignment, so that’s progress.  And, really, I am a fair amount pleased with the dovetails. Yeah they are ugly, and stand far to proud (better marking with the gauge next time), but it actually came together.

It is gluing up now, and tonight I hope to actually be able to nail a bottom to it to make it a real box.  I might even scrounge up some hinges and put a lid on it.  I’ve been wanting something to put my carving tools it.  Right now I have some small palm carving tools that I use for wood block carving.  I’ve been storing them in a plastic tub.  This would be so much better I think.



  1. Jay July 10, 2010

    That’s looking much better than my first attempt. Don’t worry about the pins&tails being proud–it’s better if they are, so you can plane them flush with the surface. I’d suggest a low angle block plane. I’m not claiming expertise BTW.

    Pine is strong and somewhat splintery. But under the chisel it’s like bamboo splinters packed in styrofoam; it sort of crushes and chips at the same time. Maple is tamer but it’s jolly hard; I found that poplar cuts well, acts much tamer, and more consistent in density. It acts more like the green foamy stuff they use (used?) for flower stems. But, when things are a bit tight when you’re fitting, and you take to the mallet, you’ll hear a little -tic- and it’s all over.

    One technique I’ve been using lately that seems to work well is Kevin Glen-Drake’s. If you get one of his tite-marks or other tools he’ll send a copy of his DVD. Basically he rabbets one end so that when you lay the corners together, to mark the pins from the tails, it’ll fit together securely. Then he offsets the pin piece from the tail piece with feeler guages the size of the saw kerf plus one or two thousandths of an inch so that he gets a press fit. Kinda hard to explain, but it works.

  2. Badger July 10, 2010

    Yeah, I’ve read about that trick. It’s sometimes called the “140 trick” a lot. It’s called that because the 140 block plane can be a skew rabbet if you take the side off. I want one, but they are hard to find.

    I was trying to plane the proud wood, and splintered off some parts of the wood. D’oh! I gotta be more careful I guess. I glued them back on, and I’ll try again later. This is why it’s called a practice box! 🙂 But I got 2 corners planed flush before I screwed the third, so I just need to more carefully next time. I have a small block plane, a stanley 9 1/2 or 60 1/2 not sure which right now. It’s one of the ugly eggplant purple ones, but it’s also one of my better sharpened planes, so it’s a big asset to me right now.

    I have done one this with Poplar, I did a mortise and tenon joint when I took Roy Underhill’s class on joinery this spring. I remember what it being like you describe. The wood was very different to chisel than pine, for sure. I’d forgotten about it till just now.

  3. Brian July 10, 2010

    Yellow-poplar is quite nice to work with (in particular, it tends to be remarkably consistent), but you still need to be pretty careful to avoid crushing the fibers and avoiding tearing out the endgrain. It’ll challenge the sharpness of your tools, but a little less so than pine. I like to work with both more and more these days–it’s certainly a lot more pleasant than the beech I’ve used for my last two projects!

    One of the nice things about yellow-poplar is that you can typically get it really cheap at hardwood lumberyards (it’s a blast to dimension by hand). It not only makes a great secondary wood, but can be used for all sorts of other pieces. Soft maple might not be so bad for practice, either.

  4. Jay July 11, 2010

    You can plane those pins & tails flush with a jack plane too sometimes, not unlike shooting an edge. But I’d plane sort of toward the panel and from the outside in, so there’s less chance of tearout on the very tippee edges. Again, pine seems to be less cooperative than other woods in this regard, as far as I can tell. Using a jack would also have the benefit over & above those conventional (non low-angle) block planes in that the handles give you a little extra control. On the other hand, a low-angle block is much better for the end grain.

    Though I’ve never seen it, I like the idea of using yellow poplar–I’ll keep my eye out for it next time I go shopping for wood at my specialty source. It’s not something we get at our local BORG here in the northeast.

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