Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dovetails with a Slant

     In previous posts I've mentioned a plan to create a line of boxes to hone my skills and to market as well.  You know, have to make some money to feed my wood addiction.  In any case, here is an almost completed box I've been working on the past couple of days:

Design by:  Seat of the Pants!

     It still needs a handle of some sort, a sliding tray for the inside, and final planing, sanding, and finish.  I've been intrigued by cutting dovetails and then putting them into a piece that has some angles to it.  The dovetails themselves are in line with the side piece but by placing them in an angled block they appear to be slanted -- interesting optical illusion.
     The size of the box was determined by what I had laying around the shop:

Material Used & Practice Piece

     I had a small amount of Spalted Maple left from a stand up desk I built years ago which is what's used for the sides.  The Walnut is some of the scrap from the elliptical shelf project last month.  For starters, the 8/4 piece of Walnut was cut at a 15 degree angle with the panel raising jig.  I didn't realize it at the time but it's important to keep the off cut from that process, it's behind the practice piece.  The box is approximately 3" tall and 6" x 12".  The first step is to cut the tails for the dovetail joints.
     There is a technique called the 140 trick.  It's named that because a Stanley #140 skewed rabbet plane was used to cut a slight shoulder on the inside of the piece.  Not having one of those or the funds to purchase a pair of them from Lie-Nielsen I use this technique which I'm sure isn't OSHA approved:

Pay Attention = Very Doable

     I set the height of the blade on the tablesaw to the length of the dovetail.  Usually that's less than 1/2" or so and then it doesn't look quite as scary.  Because of this design the tails needed to be an inch and a half long.  This is cut on the inside of the board.  It'll help when you transfer the markings to the tail board and also hides any discrepancy you may have cutting them out.  My preference is to cut both sides at the same time:

Cutting Tails

     Even here you can see how the shoulder you created with the 140 trick gives you a definite stopping point.  Once the saw cuts were made it was on to the chisel work.

Removing Waste Between the Tails
     I was really surprised to find how hard the Spalted Maple is!  I figured that since the word spalt means diseased it would be fairly easy to chisel but not so!  Actually created a burr on the back of this chisel that needed to be honed away.  Once the tails were cut on all the sides it was time to transfer them to the sides and lay out the pins.

Transferring Tails

     Here's where keeping the off cut is important.  Since the piece now has one side flat and the other comes to a point you won't be able to secure it in the vise.  I've put chalk on the off cut piece to illustrate why it's important to keep.  Same goes for when you chop out the wood, that cut off piece is crucial for securing it to the bench while you work the chisels.
     Another thing I found to be helpful is to make a series of cuts in the waste part between the pins:

Extra Cuts Between Pins

     This made it a bit easier to remove the Walnut.  That's a lot of end grain to chop away!  Once the dovetails fit a groove was made in the sides to hold the plywood bottom and the box was assembled with Liquid Hide Glue.  The top is fairly complicated with several different levels rabbeted out.  So far, so good.  I used to always tell my students that you learn from your mistakes and I'm a bit smarter now!  The next one should go easier.  Here's another photo of this box with the lid removed so you can see all of the rabbeting required.  They were roughed out with a dado head then fine tuned with a block plane.

Parting Shot


  1. I like this. sort of looks like animal claws/paws.

  2. John,
    I sure envy your creativeness. Very nice and as usual you did a good job of presenting it. Thanks for sharing.

    1. You're welcome, I'm setting up a new store on a site called Articents. I'll let you know how that goes. After going to the gun show at the South Point the pistol cases are on the back burner.

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