Olly Writes

Woodwork, writing, walks, DIY and more!

Following the Line

It’s fair to say that I’ve been procrastinating away from making progress on this cherry bookshelf (hence the flurry unrelated posts in between this one and the last!). While it took me the best part of two-days, I did eventually manage to get the dovetail joints cut and fitted, and I’m now ready to start cutting the sliding dovetail housings for the shelves, later on this week. This was also the first time I had used my new dovetail saw, made by Atkinson Walker in Sheffield.

Before we go any further, I’d like to point out that I’ve discovered I really don’t “enjoy” hand-cutting lots of dovetails – particularly on wide boards of anything more than drawer side-thickness! 🙄 I went for the Atkinson Walker saw because it is British (!), it is filed with a rip-tooth configuration (as dovetail saws should be) and it was about half the price of other British saws on the market (all for the sake of a few hours making a custom handle). When I first started cutting, I have to be honest, it didn’t feel any better than the “butter-knives” we have at college. It started quite well but, from then on, it was relatively slow-going.

Another thing that didn’t help was that the handle I made (following the Gramercy plans) is too small and uncomfortable for my liking – I’ll have to make another, at some point!

Despite the design of tooth configuration, I wasn’t expecting this saw to cut at the kind of lightning speeds you may have seen Rob Cosman perform at, using his own, personally-designed saw! After cutting half the joints for the main carcase and before conceeding to the belief that I possibly should have bought one of the Veritas saws (!!), I reached for the enclosed saw file to see what might be gained from giving the teeth a quick touch-up. I’ve seen Andy King’s excellent sharpening videos and said to myself, “it can’t be too hard!“… Really, it isn’t! What’s more; I discovered a definite improvement in the performance and speed of the saw and I was soon ready to remove the bulk of the waste with a coping saw.

…When you think about it, it makes sense, really… After all, you wouldn’t buy a set of chisels or even a high-end smoothing plane and expect it to be as sharp as it could be out of the box!! 😀

A quick little tip for cutting lap dovetails (as on the top of this carcase) – use a forstner bit in a pillar drill to remove the bulk of the waste. It’s less work for you, your tools stay sharp for that bit longer and your neighbours are less likely to complain about all the banging (largely why I don’t enjoy doing this)!! 😉

Top Tip for Single Lap/Half-Blind Dovetails!

Before you start cutting your dovetails though, you need to mark them out. Even before you do this, there is an important choice to make – do you want to cut the pins first or the tails? I’ve tried both methods and find that cutting the tails first and then laying the joint over the end of the pin-board yields the most accuracy (lowest number of gaps!) once the joint is assembled. Of course, you may prefer to cut the pins first. Personally, I’ve tried that many times but I always end up making more of a mess of the joint, that way. What works for me, may not work for you though, and vice-versa.

What’s also important is that the use those pre-cut pins or tails to directly mark-out the other half of each joint.

Marking the Tails from the Pins.

Marking the Pins from the Tails.

Whatever you do when edge-jointing boards, watch out for those biscuits – I’ve not been very good at this, of late!! 😳

Biscuits, AGAIN!!!

You don’t need to spend lots of money on shiny tools to cut nice dovetails. Most of my chisels have come from eBay over the years and that Footprint gent’s saw (my former favourite for this) was only about £15 brand new.

Tools for Cutting.

Though, it does help to have at least a pair of cutting gauges, so you can maintain both settings. Again, these were only about £5 each from Tilgear.

Tools for Marking Out.

And finally for today; with the unit dry-assembled (no glue or cramps), I hand-planed the back edges flush, ready for the next step – routing the dovetail shelf housings!

There are several gaps in most of the joints, I’m not too pleased to reveal… Some corners are worse than others. Though, ironically, the best joints are thee ones that won’t be seen once the bookshelf has been fitted as they’ll be up facing an adjacent wall! My biggest error though, has come in the form of simply dimensioning the boards – when I cut the old sides down to length from 1m, I should’ve only trimmed 100mm off (not 200mm!!), as I’m now stuck; unable to meet your desired spacings for three shelves to accommodate average book heights of 8in, 10in and 12in! Now, I’m only able to design this for books between 260mm-310mm tall, as I don’t fancy discarding all this wood to one side and buying any more. That still leaves me with a good 160mm to play with… Which I have now decided will be consumed by another shelf (22mm) and a small drawer (approx. 130mm tall), as in my original 2008 design. I can find the cherry for the front and something else for the base but I’m not sure what I’ll use for the sides, just yet… I have plenty of oak and beech in 1in thickness but, it would be a shame to waste half the wood for the sake of 10mm-13mm… I’d also like the sides to remain lighter than the cherry end-grain… We’ll have to wait and see what I can find/come up with!

Thanks for reading.

PS. If anyone requires any detailed instructions on sharpening hand saws, contact Matthew at Workshop Heaven – he is now able to offer an excellent guide, available in .PDF format.

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