When dovetails cry

I have to pay all due respect to Nick Brown of the Digital Woodworker. He’s the guy who took lots of photos of the happenings this past weekend at Woodworking in America, he came up with the title of this post and he is one hell of a great guy.

So, we were there at the Hand Tool Olympics – a great place and opportunity to strut your stuff and show everyone how well you can handle yourself under pressure. Yes, there are plenty of hecklers out at the event trying to throw you off your game. (OK, not for everyone who participated in the events – Mike Siemsen and the volunteers who were helping at the events were very eager to offer help to newer woodworkers who had never done these tasks before.  Everyone at that booth was exceptionally helpful when someone asked for help.)

I had done OK on the boring with the bit and brace. Fairly well on the ripping and crosscutting. Not so bad on the edge planing and tenon cutting. But, the one I really wanted to succeed on was the dovetailing. Oh, how I wanted to do well on the dovetailing. Desperately. Recently in my shop I had been having a lot of success cutting straighter and more easily with my hand saws. Both with my Japanese and western saws. I finally got so that I wasn’t squeezing the handles with a death grip, letting the saw do the work.

As I set up at the workbench, I had some seriously impressive tools to work with. A Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw. Something that looked like a Blue Spruce chisel. A nice Marples marking gauge. A sweet titanium Knew Concepts fret saw. Just about everything that anyone with half a bit of talent might want to use to be able to crank out gorgeous dovetails all day long. Saw in hand, tail board in clamp, I counted down and started getting to work.

I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret now. I like to talk. A lot. So, as I moved to the next step in the challenge, I would look up from the bench with my best carnival barker voice and start yapping up the event. I got so boisterous, I was told to ‘put a sock in it’ by one of the nearby vendors. Eh, who cares? I was having a blast.

The tail board went very well. I was able to get things cut nicely with the saw… my arm relaxed. Heck, I MIGHT even put on a good showing. Unlike the previous three years…

Well, that’s where things went south in a hurry. Let’s just say marking pins is not my strong suit. Wait… that’s too generous. Let’s say – instead – that I completely stink at marking pins. It’s a tragedy of epic proportions.

So, when it came time to cut the pins, then remove the waste, then pare to the lines… well… things were bad. VERY bad…

I mean… I mean… I MEAN… calling it a train wreck would be an affront to train wrecks across the world. These things were just so bad, well, I had to smile. After all, if I established the worst case scenario… how could anyone do worse?

I was proud of my lousy attempt. I showed those crappy dovetails to Ron Hock. His wife Linda laughed so hard, she took pictures to share with the recipients of the Hock newsletter. Tomas Lie-Niesen got a peek. As did Kari Hultman. And, all of the heckling bloggers got their turn to beat the crap out of me as well.

Heck, I went to David Keller of Keller Dovetail Jigs and showed him. “Thank you for inventing the through dovetail jig,” I said. He took these abominations of dovetails in his hands… examined them… handed them back to me and said, “You are welcome, Tom.”

What did I learn from my crappy dovetail experience? Plenty.

We all mess up… and the only way to fix things is to set time aside to practice.

The joy of woodworking is the thrill of getting better at tasks so we can use these elements to build great projects.

And, when things go horribly wrong, well, a quick walk down the street to the local Hoffbrauhaus for a few libations with woodworking friends is priceless. Oh, and be sure to dance on the benches. That means a lot, too!


9 thoughts on “When dovetails cry”

  1. Tom thanks for the support while I was doing my planing and dovetails. Unfortunately with Cosman going behind me I was seriously put to shame! Let me know if you want photos of his dovetails and the tools he used.

  2. You, Sir, are a very good sport. But give yourself a break. I have photographic proof that it was The Shop Monkey that cut that joint.

  3. Great to see you Tom. The blogger challenge in my eyes was a fantastic success. Your dovetail was a classic and your carnival barking was over the top! If you could be serious for about 3 minutes I believe you dovetails would improve, but what a loss to the world that would be. I know you use a lot of jigs and power tools in your woodworking, I find it interesting that you don’t use some kind of jig to aid you in beer drinking as well, maybe a funnel and a pump? Maybe you are just a fixture yourself in these establishments!

  4. Put your hands together for Mike, folks! The 9 o’clock show is different from the 7 o’clock show! And, remember to tip your waitstaff!

    OK, here’s my promise, Mike. I’ll practice every day on dovetailing. I’ll figure out what I am doing wrong and correct it. I’ll watch videos and speak to talented woodworkers. I’ll perfect my saw and chisel work. I’ll run up and down the stairs of the art museum like Rocky did in that movie about boxing. I’ll slay Grundar, crown prince of the evil that lives in my birdbath. I’ll eat my spinach. I’ll clean my room. I’ll wash behind my ears twice a night. I’ll become a zen master of dovetailing, cutting perfect, airtight dovetails with a frozen herring.

    Then, I’ll come to WIA next year, get sloppy drunk the night before, and forget everything I learned so I can be the anchorman for a second year in a row! 🙂

    Mike, all kidding aside, you need to be instructing a class next year. You have a lot of skill and you can communicate what you are doing well to everyone. My hat’s off to you… Thanks again!

  5. Those were some darn good volunteers from Mike’s school! Except possibly the East German judge…

  6. Yea Mike there are a lot of woodworkers out there that need to hear the “you dont need fancy tools message!” Some of your tools and jig’s are just amazingly clever! You really should be teaching a class!

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