30 (or 13) Days of Dovetails

Before I started in on the Dutch Tool Chest build, I tried out the thirty days of dovetails challenge.  I got to 13 before I gave up.  The last six of those were on the DTC and lower chest, so they’re not really in the spirit of the challenge.  But I managed to go from my very first dovetail to “acceptable” quickly.  Here’s a picture of my first (ever) dovetail and the one from six days later.


The first one, on the left, is only holding together because I glued it.  The seventh one is what made me move on to building the DTC.  All told it took about 3 hours of practice to get to a point where I felt like I could build something.  So I did.

Here are the bottom dovetails on my DTC and two corners on the bottom chest.  The DTC bottom are definitely “carpenters dovetails” since the pins and tails are pretty much the same width.  Not that attractive, but I painted them so they’re hard to see.

No part of this was hard.  Some of it was annoying, like learning to not slam my chisel through the base of a tail or a pin as I was clearing out the waste and having to endlessly plane the end grain so that it was square.  The most important thing I learned during the dovetail challenge is that the baseline is everything.  Take care to cut a clean, flat baseline and the joint will look fantastic.  Cutting the pins and tails so that they close up cleanly is not actually that hard.  Getting the baseline to be consistent and tight is what I still struggle with.

The Bar

Like all bad ideas, this blog started with alcohol.  Not directly from alcohol, but as a result of wanting to store alcohol in an attractive manner.  I was looking for some sort of desk top bar that I could put in my home office.  Something small, attractive, and wouldn’t scream “alcoholic” at a chance glance. I found this “campaign style bar” that was awesome looking and was pretty much exactly what I thought I needed.  Then I looked at the price. Nope.   My wife is understanding, but not that understanding.


I am a mechanical engineer in real life and the first thing that all mechanical engineers say about anything they want is “I can build that.”  So I hit google and started looking for campaign furniture plans.

That led me straight to Lost Art Press.  Chris Schwarz’s book Campaign Furniture showed up in my mailbox a few days later and I was hooked.  I put a bunch of LAP books on my wish list and I got the Anarchist’s Tool Chest for Christmas that same year.  That book blew away a lot of my accumulated thoughts about building and craftsmanship.  I already consider myself a person who is intimately involved in making stuff.  I design and build on a daily basis as an Engineer and I had a tendency to translate that approach to all things that I build.  I can design things in CAD that have no reliance on my own personal skill in fabrication.  I do get satisfaction in a well thought-out design, but the final product is somewhat hollow since I usually had no direct involvement in the actual fabrication.

To fill that gap, I have always built stuff in my garage.  This need to build, as Schwarz talks about in ATC, may be genetic. My dad is an Engineer and as a kid we were always in the middle of a project.  Car restorations, docks, decks, barns, pretty much anything you can image, except furniture. That was the one thing that we always discussed but never did.  I did build a TV stand out of plywood and pre-sized red oak from the big box store once.

ATC and other books, Robert Wearing’s book in particular, have caused me to want to build furniture.  So this blog is going to let me catalog my progress, or lack thereof, and give me a publically accountable outlet for my work.  I also write a lot as an Engineer, but none of it happens in a more free-form way for a wider public audience.  This blog is also a way for me to practice that craft as well.  Like all good (wannabe) joiners my first real project was a tool chest.  Because of space limitations I built the small Dutch Tool Chest.  This chest represents a bunch of firsts for me, my first dovetails, hinge fitting, tongue and grooving, panel glue ups, and breadboards.  I learned a lot and everytime I use it I simply feel happy. My red, rolling tool chest doesn’t make me feel that way.