No Matter What, No Compromises.

"To say dovetails are hand made joints is to say nothing. To tell about dovetails in terms of angles and traditional regular spacing is a bit more - but dull. To give a feeling of this classic joint in various situations - how spacing can be made less monotonous and at the same time more logical, how dovetail angles are related to different woods and the sense of tension in each, to convey the rhythm of a joint and it's clarity of purpose - is something else again."
-James Krenov, "The Fine Art Of Cabinetmaking"

I suppose, in the end, anything can be construed as a philosophy, that probably goes double for woodworker's and dovetails. I imagine there could be a whole weekend seminar that covered nothing but the ink and digital memory that has been sacrificed in the name of the "holy" joint. Dr. Phil could have a breakout session where we explore "What your dovetail choices say about you."

There is some justification.

They are a technically challenging joint to create and they are, right or wrong, a joint that even non-woodworkers recognise as a symbol of quality and craftsmanship.

I will admit. In a lot of my recent work my dovetailing has become a more relaxed thing. I've measured out the spacing and the depth, but I haven't used measured angles or worried about being super precise in the spacing. They have been on workmanlike projects or for a skirt around a chest where the variety carries the rustic look I'm after.

This project requires a little more precision, to create the drama and tension of purpose the joint and the cabinet deserves. My answer to that is to create a template and use that to transfer the same spacing on all four corners.

Typically if I lay out the angles I like to use a 14 degree angle. This time that choice created a problem. The thinner pins of the layout, combined with the near one inch thickness of the stock led the 14 degree angles to intersect perfectly at the bottom layout line. I pondered the problem for a minute, pulled out another angle guide, and set it to a different, more appropriate angle.

I marked the gauges so I could keep track of which ones to use.

In the end the different angles represented in the jointline offer that small amount of interest and detail I was looking for all along. A simple thing that demonstrates the flexibility of handwork. Even with the expensive, uber dovetailing jigs out there for routers you can create the offset spacing, but the spacing and the transition of angle. Possible I suppose, but not very practical. My dovetail philosophy ties directly into hand cutting the work so I'm dictating the layout and look. Nothing is dictated to me by my jig.

I find myself flagging back and forth more and more these days between hand work and machine work. For a long while I was becoming very dogmatic about handwork, but that was also in the midst of learning and mastering those skills. Pride sometimes leads to zealotry. The longer I work, the more I come around to something more akin to a semi-hybrid shop experience. I say semi-hybrid, because at the most, I'd say I'm still sitting at 75% handwork.

Philosophy can be made from all types of things, whether it's dovetails or pride in your methods of work. I believe the fact that you are accomplishing something is more important than the philosophy involved. If you can bring all your philosophies into congruence with your end results and a piece finished with no compromises, then you win.

My new workshop philosophy. "No Matter What, No Compromises."

Ratione et Passionis


  1. 'Pride sometimes leads to zealotry.' - Truer words have not been spoken.


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