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I saw my dovetails the old fashioned way. My methods aren’t a political statement against routers and dovetailing jigs; I just like sawing them that way. I’ve only been sawing dovetails for a few years, and though I’m a weekend only woodworker for the most part, home improvement projects and family functions notwithstanding, I can honestly say that I am pretty good at it. My dovetails are consistent if not spectacular, and I improve a little more each time I saw them. Lately, whenever I get a free moment, I head into the garage and practice sawing a dovetail set. I’ve improved my sawing technique by doing this, and I’ve also become faster. However, there is one problem I do have that I cannot seem to correct: I’ve always had a little bit of a problem sawing the tails perfectly to the line.
I learned how to saw dovetails pins first and that’s how I do it to this day. I generally have no problem getting my pins sawn with clean, perpendicular lines. When it comes to sawing the tails is when I usually have a bit of trouble. I saw right-handed. I have absolutely no issue with cocking my wrist to the right and sawing the right side of the tail (right side as I am facing it). When I attempt to cock my wrist to the left is when the problems appear. It always seemed to me that I was just a hair off, especially on the tail closest to the left edge of the board. I’ve managed to compensate for my inability to saw perfectly to the left-line, but something always has bothered me about it. So last night I was reading a woodworking book I have on woodworking joinery and making your own tools when I came to the section on dovetails. The author suggest tilting the tail board so that the marked lines are perpendicular to the bench. His idea is that it is much easier to saw a perpendicular line rather than cocking your wrist. That idea seemed to make sense, so I decided to give it a try, when I got a free moment.
When I got home from work today, I immediately went into the garage and grabbed the first two scrap boards I could find. I quickly marked them and sawed the pins. I used the pins to mark the tails and started the experiment. I tilted the board in the vice so that the marked tail lines were roughly perpendicular to the workbench top. I began sawing the tails and at first it didn’t seem natural to me, and my wrist seemed to want to tilt to the right and saw that way. I almost gave up, but I decided to finish what I had started. So I sawed the two right tail lines, tilted the board the other way, and sawed the two left ones. The result was hardly the best set of dovetails I’ve ever sawn, in fact the gap on the center pin is probably the worst I’ve had since my very first dovetailing attempt…but…The tails were sawn right to the line without any drift. I even confirmed that by using my dovetail marker. I was pleasantly surprised.
Tonight’s experiment may not have been a total success, but it is definitely worth attempting again. I’m all for trying something new in woodworking if it’s going to help me improve. If anything, just the act of sawing in a new way should help me get better, at least in theory. I’m not sure if this technique is common, but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it in print. Whatever the case, I learned something new tonight. Maybe what I learned isn’t exactly correct, or even necessary, but it was a good excuse to woodwork for a few minutes.