Hand Cut Dovetail Demo

Wow, I just wrapped up my second of two hand cut dovetailing demos. What an awesome time! The idea for this came from the Minnesota Woodworkers Guild. I was honored with a request from the guild to conduct a class/demo in my shop. What the guild set out to do was to encourage more sharing/education between guild members. So, I put together a demo for hand cutting dovetails. Two other guild members did similar sessions on different topics in February, so it feels like we are off to a good start. For me, the experience was totally worth it. For the two sessions, a total of eleven woodworkers were in my shop. Everyone had a keen interest, and lots and lots of questions.

The goal of these sessions was to share with others the tools and methods I use to hand cut dovetails. Now, before I go any further, I should confess that the results were much improved for the second session. Practice makes perfect. I discovered that it takes some fortitude to focus on the task at hand while at the same time fielding all the great questions. This leaves many opportunities to do things "for demonstration purposes only"; like saw too deep, pare too far, or worse, chop a tail... yikes, did I do that? Every day in the shop is a learning experience. I'd like to keep it that way.

Making mistakes, or the threat of a potential mistake (i.e., risk) is really the only way you can put your heart into your work. If the work is overly engineered you lose the craft aspect of the making. You become a manufacturer, suited to making many of the same. I use a few machines. I even use a few jigs. But, in the midst of all that, I also want to make sure that I don't forget about my heart and my committment to the craft. I understand this approach to cutting dovetails just doesn't make sense for everyone, but here is the best way I know to explain why I do it: It is an enjoyable activity.

I hope my enjoyment of cutting dovetails came through in the demos. The methods I demonstrated are sound, but it takes a certain amount of focus and attention to detail to achieve fine results. If you want to do a bit of woodworking reading, not necessarily specifically about cutting dovetails, but about this "way of working", I hope you'll check out A Cabinetmaker's Notebook by James Krenov. I was very inspired by JK's book, and I lean heavily on his words when I face new challenges.

All-in-all the questions from the groups were good, the camaraderie was great, and it felt like everyone had a fun time getting out of their own shops and visiting this one. Here's a look at the tools I used for the demo.

If anyone reading this is new to woodworking I highly recommend joining your local woodworking group or guild. It's a great place to get support and encouragement when the going gets tough, or if you just want to venture into an area that seems a bit daunting. I don't know anyone who has joined the guild "because they had to". So really, everyone there is happy to share their experiences with you. When it comes to the craft of woodworking, we're all in this together!

Thanks again to all those in attendance. Please add a comment below to let me know how well you liked it, or maybe share some constructive feedback that I can use in the future. It was so much fun, I may have to do this again!

In the meantime, hej då, and happy shavings!

Craig