We all have our little prejudices. For example, being born and raised in the city of Philadelphia, I hate the New York Mets. Why? I don’t really have a good answer. In reality, the Phillies and Mets have rarely been in contention during the same season, and the few times that did happen the Mets naturally choked and the Phillies prevailed. But I digress. My point being, we all have things we like and dislike just because.
When it comes to woodworking, I guess you can say that I have a prejudice concerning “tails-first” dovetails. From what I gather, the tails first method is preferred on the lovely island of Great Britain, and the pins first method is more of a “continental” preference. I was taught to saw dovetails by the great Chuck Bender, and being that he was taught by a German (I believe), he was an advocate of the pins-first method. This method has always worked for me, so I never really bothered to change.
Though I may have a prejudice with the tails-first dovetail method, I would hate to be limited by that. Considering that my good friend (I wish) Graham Haydon and the incomparable Paul Sellers both seem to use the tails-first method, and considering that I respect both greatly as woodworkers, and considering they’re both Englishmen, I felt that maybe abandoning a technique that I never really used to begin with may be a bit short sighted, so I decided to throw aside any forgone conclusions and try something different.
For the past week I’ve been sawing a set of dovetails every night to keep in practice and to improve my skills. I can say that so far my results have been good and consistent, which is exactly what I am looking for. Of course I have been sawing all of those dovetails pins first. So to take a different approach, my last set was sawn tails first.
If I were a better writer I could probably make a description of sawing dovetails exciting. Suffice it to say, I went through the motions and the results were not good. How bad were they? I can with all honesty say that these were hands-down the worst set of dovetails I have ever sawn, and that includes the first set I’ve ever sawn. It was awful. It was a horror show, and the worst part about it was that I didn’t even realize how bad it was until it was finished. It made me question everything I know, and wonder whether or not emulating an Englishman is a good idea.
Gaps abound, and the board is still a piece of garbage…
So you may be wondering if I messed up on purpose, whether subconsciously or not. Rest assured I didn’t. In fact, I debated even posting this photo because it is that hideous. As I said, my second worst dovetail set is not nearly as bad as this dreck. So I think I am sticking with pins-first from now on.
Or maybe not….
Obviously there are woodworkers who use the tails-first method and saw beautiful dovetail joints. And in tails-first defense, I think this is only the third or fourth time I’ve actually attempted a through dovetail joint this way. I begrudgingly admit that sawing the tails first has a few advantages. Maybe the English method is better and I just can’t see it yet.
Or maybe the pins-first method is superior and the tails-first group is just as prejudiced as I.
I have all the respect in the world for my English brethren, but I’m with the Continentals on this one. Maybe England does have Graham Haydon, and Paul Sellers, and fish and chips. I still don’t care for their dovetailing methods. So don’t expect me to hop the pond and head for dear old Blighty…
Sorry, I’m being a right prat, taking the mickey if you will. I’m usually a cheery bloke, and I ain’t no tosser for a Yank. I think I’ll strap on me trainers and sod off before you wankers fancy me an Everton supporter.