Wednesday, October 7, 2009

St. Roy's Dovetail Seminar

Roy Underhill's dovetail presentation at the WIA conference was entertaining, informative, and entertaining.

He began with a discussion on what we know today as the do's and don'ts of dovetailing, and proceeded to show us an early 19th c. tool box that broke all the rules.

Then he passed the behemoth box around the room.

A little trick he told us for identifying the date of a piece is to examine the screws. If they are pointed on the ends, they were machine made after 1846.

For laying out dovetails on the tail board, use your chisel as the ruler. The width of your chisel should equal the widest part of the pins. Strike a chisel mark on the gauge line on the furthest edges of the face of the board. Then strike chisel marks between them to layout the remaining pins.

Use a bevel gauge to determine the pins' angles. Roy does not use a dovetail marker; he adjusts the angle until it looks good to his eye. A try square is used to mark the end grain, and a handsaw lays in the kerfs.

To transfer the marks to the pin board, drop a handsaw down into the kerf, then pull back with a light touch. Don't make a deep mark, because you'll need to saw beside this mark, not on it. (This is in the video.) You can draw a pencil line in this groove so you can see it better.

Roy uses a chisel to remove waste only at the base of each pin on both sides of the board. The remaining chip, above the chiseled-out section is merely pushed out. He uses a coping saw to remove the bulk of the waste on the tails, however.

Rule of thumb, he said, is that the widest part of the pin should be half the thickness of your board. Tails, at their widest part, should be almost twice the thickness of the board.

Towards the end of the video are some shots of the Thomas Jefferson book stand that Roy built.

The photos above are some of the dovetail puzzles he passed around and which befuddled my little pea brain. As if sitting right beside where Roy was standing wasn't enough to make my brain all mushy.

Music: Big Rock Candy Mountain, by Harry McClintock


Gary Roberts said...

Kari... if you want to try your hand at some of those joints, they're included in the Woodwork Joints booklet I recently posted on the website. Personally, I wouldn't try them, but then I can be lazy at times.


Mack said...

"With mallets for all." -Attributed to Abe Lincoln by St. Roy.

Tom Iovino said...

Roy's seminar was awesome, Kari. Of course, I had to sit with that massive tool box on my lap for a while... :-)

I was overwhelmed by the simplicity of his methods... I'm going to have to try them in my shop!

EMBO said...

I did like his method of transferring markings to the pin board, but I'm not accurate enough yet for that. I have to dig out the entire tail first! Case in point: my husband did it that way in the Olympics and his joint fell apart. Mine took a long time, but it was pig-tight!

Kari Hultman said...

Gary, thank you!!! I asked Roy if there were plans for them in his books and he said, "I don't know. I don't read my books." hee hee

Mack--good one! He's quite the entertainer.

Tom, yeah, I was glad that the box didn't make it up to my row. Wasn't sure what I was going to do with the camera, camcorder, and notebook that were balancing on my lap.

Emily, you go, girl! I'm telling you, you have a natural talent for this. Get thee to the workshop!

Dan said...

Thank You Kari! Sure wish I could have been there... Oh, and nice choice of music.

Stephen Kirk said...

Kari, there is a drawing of a rising dovetail in Roy's latest book - Working Wood with Wedge and Edge. It's in the appendix as part of the Roubo bench. He also has pictures of what we saw in the book The Woodwright's Eclectic Workshop. I want to try these out sometime during a free evening.

David said...

Thank you kari for the great posts! Like Dan, I wish I could of make it there... But since I live in the Boonies, I'll anjoy your blog.

Geemoney said...

Thanks for the coverage on WIA. It has been interesting to see the coverage of YOU on other sites. You looked a little mortice-fied at the boring competition.

Anyway, I thought immediately of two things when reading this post. For the puzzles, I think that the dovetail one works a bit like what Karl Holtey posted on his new blog, with the dovetailed-looking transitional planes that he is working on. I don't know, related?

For that crazy joint, it looks Japanese. Seriously, looking at the kinds of joints that Japanese woodworkers put together is mind-boggling. I still struggle with dovetails, forget about something even more complex.

It sounds like you had a good time. Hopefully I will get to meet you one day at one of those things.

Vic Hubbard said...

Thank you to you, Tom, Mack and Shannon for all your coverage. I haven't hit all the sites yet, but I'm working my way through.
That, btw, was my favorite tune from O Brother, Where Art Thou.

Bill Satko said...

Just want to say I am impressed with the very professional look of your video. Reminds me of Ken Burns' "The National Parks" I have been watching recently. Tell Christopher Scharwz he should hire you to video document the next WIA.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kari - Thank you very much for the pictures of the tallow box. During the two St. Roy dovetail presentations that I attended, that box wasn't passed around. Roy did show it quickly though. At the banquet, our table even had a brief discussion on how it works but we couldn't figure it out. Now I need to build a box and find some mutton tallow.

It was very nice meeting you at Peter F.'s hands-on on Sunday morning.

Cheers/Brian J

Unknown said...


Thanks for all your coverage of WIA.

In relation to the grease box, I think that it works like this:
1. The bottom half of the lid has a slot through which the screw is inserted - to engage the dovetail key in the base, it is retracted and swivelled so the pins on its other end line up with the dovetailled key and then it is slid forward.
2. The top half of the lid is firmly held by the screw in a hole with a bare clearance and, once it is swung into line with the bottom part of the lid, prevents that part from sliding back.

If you like it is a locked lid - the bottom is the lid and engages the dovetail while the top half locks the lid together.


Woodbloke said...

Kari - not sure I agree with all of St Roy's pronouncements regarding the spacing of dovetails and their proportions.
The widest part of the pin should be half the thickness of the board?.. (if I read it correctly) Suppose you were making a tray for a jewelery box from some 4mm stuff, then your pin, according to St Roy would be 2mm at the base...have you got a chisel narrower than that on your 'Tool Wall'? (without hunting through some yard sales to find an old one that could be ground down)
They are 'rules of thumb' as you righty say and need to be interpreted with a modicum of 'nowse' (as we say in the UK)
Heresy I know...good job I live 4,000 miles away!
The oblique sliding d/t is easy, just cut some 75x75mm material, make a joint in the normal way, fit it together, then set your tablesaur blade to 45deg and run it through so that your left with a square piece which is 50x50mm (or so)
Got a small wager with myself as well that you haven't washed that cheek yet - Rob

naomi said...

Kari--i heart your blog!!! I love the Zoolander hand model reference (or am i over-interpreting?)!!!
As for the Jefferson bookstand, i have been breaking my head over drawing plans up--have you got any more photos/info?

Geemoney--i think you're right on about the Japanese comparison.

Kari Hultman said...

Stephen, thank you for letting me know about that. I'd like to try them, too, including the grease box. Cool stuff!

David, I hope you're able to make it to one of the conferences someday. They are so much fun and informative.

Geemoney, I was definitely mortise-fied! I hate to get up in front of a crowd. I'll check out Karl's blog--I wasn't familiar with it. I thought the same thing as you about the really complex joint.

Vic, definitely check out the other sites. Tom had a really good one on Toshio Odate's presentation.

Bill, thanks! iMovie helps a lot with video production--very easy.

Brian, I think the bottom half of the lid has a slot that allows it to ride back on the screw (as Jeremy says in the comment after yours). The top half locks it in place. I'm going to try to make this--it's a neat little box. It was nice to meet you, too!

Jeremy, I think you're absolutely right. :o)

Rob, that is what Roy meant about the pins being half the thickness of the wood. Could be that it works well for him since he tends to build larger pieces. But I know what you're saying about the smaller projects. You'll have to make the trip next year and tell Roy yourself. ; )

Naomi, thanks! I wasn't thinking Zoolander, but thanks for giving me more credit than I deserve. heh. The only other photos I took of Jefferson's book stand were a little bit closer underneath. I'll email them to you if you want. I don't know if Roy has plans for this somewhere or not--might be in his new shows?

Brian J said...

Woohoo! PBS has added the video page for the 29th season of the woodwright's shop, and episode 2901 is a dovetailed grease pot: "Walnut and boxwood make a little box with a secret lock to stash the woodworker’s pal." Videos don't seem to be working yet but I imagine that this will be fixed.

Kari Hultman said...

Thanks for letting me know, Brian!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kari again, I was just passing by and I wanted to say, greats Roy´s trick, hehehe.
I´m about to finish my dovetail tutorial and the rising dovetail revealed.
I love crafts and handtools.
cheers ! keep in touch