The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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All work and no play


I always like to think there is a method to my madness, and this weekend that method will be revealed.

The ‘arctic blast’ is finally upon us, and now the lovely and oh so intelligent weather people are predicting that we may receive more than two feet of snow this coming weekend. A few weeks back I oiled and wrapped many of the woodworking tools I use most often to store them for the next few months until the cold weather breaks. The winter weather in my region is either cold, damp, or both, and even in my garage the woodworking tools tend to take a beating unless they are stored properly (which holds true no matter what the weather when it comes down to it). I used DampRid in my garage, which helps, but otherwise I need to keep those tools under wraps. But,

A few weeks back I did break out a few chisels to use for practicing dovetails, which I’ve been trying to do at least four nights per week. I’ll say two things about the whole ‘dovetail a day’ practice regimen: it is a good way to keep up your skills, and it is a good way to drive yourself crazy. I’ve said before that the worst things you can ever do as a hobbyist woodworker is build stuff you don’t need and practice stuff you’re never going to use. And for the record, I’m not averse to practice. For years I played music and I played baseball, two activities that require a large amount of practice to be any good.

So to my mind practicing dovetails solely for the sake of practicing them is not necessarily a good idea. So that is why I actually did have something in mind from the get-go, and it comes from the Paul Sellers web page.

Examples of dovetailed boxes…

Last month I watched a series of videos that Sellers presented detailing the construction of several different styles of small dovetailed boxes. The boxes are basically skill building projects, which is a good thing, but I can also use them, which makes them worth building. I have enough scrap laying around to build at least two of the boxes. Once could hold pencils, small fittings etc. And considering that I’m one of the few people (at least that I know) who still shines his shoes, the other box could hold my shoeshine brushes. An added bonus in all of this is that Sellers saws his dovetails ‘tails first’, so it will give me an excuse to work on that aspect as well.

So I’ll get to practice; make a few useful items, use up some scrap wood, and most importantly, have something to do while the temperature is frigid, the wind is howling, and there is two feet of snow on the ground.



  1. Greg Merritt says:

    These boxes are a blast to build. Be warned…they are addictive. The good thing is that they make great gifts. So no matter how many you make you will find that you will always need more.

    • billlattpa says:

      Good point, and if I can get to Lowe’s before the weekend I’m going to pick up enough wood to build at least four more. My daughter has dozens of coloring pencils and craft items that could use a home.
      The truth of the matter is that I’m in the unfortunate situation of not truly needing any major pieces of furniture at the moment. So little projects like these boxes will probably be the norm all winter and spring.

  2. ausworkshop says:

    Yes, I’ve made some trays for my tools recently, just like the chisel boxes pictured, only mine are not as high. This way I can stack two on top of each other. I have one here half finished, as soon as I find a few spare mins I will clamp and glue the base on. Only difference between mine and Paul’s is I planned my base flush with the edges, they are a nice snug fit in the tool tray at the back of my bench. Much better way to keep your tools together, easy to remove for dusting rather than having to pick up each individual tool. I’m going to make a few more now for my squares, saddle square, tape measure, pencil, knife. This makes it much easier come time to mark out, everything for marking is in one tray together. And my Aldi chisels are protected by placing their tray underneath the marking out tray.

    I also like only having to cut one dovetail per corner, because I’m lazy, especially when it comes to making things for the shop, but I still want them to be strong and look nice, even with only one dovetail it’s still a very strong joint, especially with the base glued on like that. I made one for my router plane but decided to fill it with business receipts instead. That reminds me, I still need to do my tax!
    These boxes will always come in handy, just don’t make too many until you know what sizes work best and what they’ll be most useful for.
    I flip the chisels like Paul does, alternating ends of the handles so they don’t contact the one next to it, makes it easy to take the whole tray over to the sharpening bench as well. I haven’t bothered with dividers or anything, I figured a divider would just get in the way, especially if I wanted to use that tray for something different in future.
    Great fun!

    • billlattpa says:

      I like the boxes obviously for holding pencils. But they seem like they would work well for files, setting tools, drift pins, small rulers, etc. I’ve considered making a few with flush bottoms for fitting in my tool tray more easily, and a few with the wider base just for the heck of it.
      The single tail on each side is a nice look, but it can be unforgiving in the sense that if you have a case with 12 rails per side, one with a little gap won’t be very noticeable, but on this box and little deviance probably would be.
      I plan on making two at first, which I can make with the scrap I have laying around. I am hoping to pick up some more wood tomorrow before the blizzard rolls in so I can make at least 3 or 4 additional boxes, though I don’t plan on making that many this coming weekend.
      And I agree with you, I don’t like dividers, not even in my tool boxes.

  3. Steve D says:

    Hi Bill,

    I just went into the shop last weekend to make a small dovetailed box for my wife. It’s been a long time since I dovetailed a box and I have had very limited exposure to dovetail cutting.

    I didn’t study up at all other than reading that some prefer pins first, other tails. So I winged it and did what made sense at the time.

    I did them tails first because I was able to see what I was doing around the groove and visualize the end product better. I will try it the other way next time and see what I prefer.

    It’s always interesting to see why people do things.


    • billlattpa says:

      I learned how to cut dovetails pins first, so that is why I’m partial to it. Pins first has the advantage of being easier to transfer. Tails first has the advantage of being easier to gang saw and maybe most importantly, it is theoretically easier to saw pins than tails, so using the tails as the template for the pins is supposedly easier to do.
      In a box such as this, where there is only one tail per corner, it really doesn’t matter one way or the other, as marking those pins from the tail is as simple as it will ever be.
      If the stars align I’m hoping to make two boxes this weekend. So I’ll try to post some detailed photos of the whole process.

  4. Steve D says:


    Forgot to mention I gang sawed the tails so everything matched side to side. I didn’t measure anything, just started cutting once the stop lines were in.

    I did enjoy the process and the freedom of not measuring.

    You would probably like your moxon vise more if you embraced tails first. It seems like the perfect tool for the task.


    • billlattpa says:

      Gang cutting is a huge advantage, and also leads to better symmetry. I don’t necessarily hate what the moxon vise does, I hate that it takes up so much space for being what I would consider a limited use tool. But I agree, it works just fine for sawing dovetails.

  5. bloksav says:

    Ouch, shoeshine box. That is one of my sore points.
    We keep our shoe shining stuff in an ugly white plastic box. Maybe I should consider making a new and prettier one next time at sea.

    Apart from that, I think that making dovetailed boxes of any kind is a tremendous idea.

    We have some old fairly cubistic boxes on the kitchen counter for large spoons, and other kitchen utensils etc.
    They look nice and work very well.


    • billlattpa says:

      My shoe shine supplies are currently held in a vinyl bag that I purchased along with the kit at Fort Sill, Oklahoma some time around 1993. Needless to say the bag is pretty beat up, but the brushes are still in excellent shape. I’m pretty fastidious about keeping my shoes clean. I always found it funny when I would see a person in a nice suit yet their shoes looked old and beat up. So I always try to keep my shoes looking new, even my boots.

      The dovetailed boxes are a perfect project at the moment because they are small and useful. I don’t want to make any full scale furniture during the winter, and the truth is that for the time being there isn’t really anything that we need, though there are definitely some projects I would like to make.

      I’d like to see you make a shoeshine box. I think that would be a perfect project for pallet wood, even if you kept it on the rough side. I’m putting my vote in for that after you finish with the campaign book case!


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