Editor's note: This is a guest blog post from Charles Murray, an experienced period furniture maker based in central Ohio and instructor at the Artisans Guild. Charles's apprentice, Nate, volunteered to photograph and share the results of his practice session.
The foundation of quality woodworking is practice; that, along with sharp tools. In cutting dovetails, sawing straight and to the line is paramount to getting a tight fitting joint. Make sure your saw is properly sharpened and the saw plate is straight before you start. All of your tools must be sharp - dull tools cause the majority of problems for anyone cutting dovetails.
One way to practice sawing is to take a board that is squared off on one end. With a marking gauge, scribe a line about 3/4” down all the way around - this is the base line. Next, across the top, strike some lines straight across. Then strike lines at the angle you want your dovetails to be. These should be tilted both left and right.
I suggest that you saw all those leaning one way, then saw those leaning the opposite way. When you begin your cut, hold your saw at approximately 25-30°, drawing it back to deepen the starting trench. Watch both lines, cutting just inside. Once your cut reaches approximately 1/8" start leveling off you saw a little with each stroke. Follow this down to the base line. Practice this several times each week until you become proficient at sawing dovetails.
- Charles Murray
Charles is teaching another Hand Cut Dovetails class on Friday, August 16. He covers not only the process in greater depth, but helps you troubleshoot problems along the way.