Read an Excerpt
Making Furniture Masterpieces
30 Projects with Measured Drawings
By Franklin H. Gottshall
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1979 Franklin H. Gottshall
All rights reserved.
How To Lay Out and Make Dovetail Joints
SINCE almost all of the projects shown and described in the following chapters require the laying out and making dovetail joints, I have devoted the first chapter of this book to describing methods and techniques for making these joints. Dovetail joints are an essential and important part of fine cabinetmaking.
In figure 1 a method for determining the angle of dovetails is pictured. This angle of about ten degrees is not an arbitrary angle, and slight variations will be found on furniture pieces in the next chapters, as well as on antiques you may see. The sliding T-bevel can be set to this angle to draw the dovetail angles; this step is being done in figure 3.
Figure 2 shows the first step in making layouts for dovetail joints. Since tail members vary greatly in width and since dividing the spaces equally is a desirable requirement, figure 2 illustrates a practical method of going about it. Because dovetail joints are made on boards of various widths and because these widths are not always easily divided into the number of tails and pins needed, lay a ruler across the board at an angle, which permits you to divide the width of the board into the number of equal spaces needed. These spaces are not necessarily an inch apart; spacing units can be any convenient size.
Because my sliding T-bevel square is fairly large, I find the protractor shown in figure 13 easier to use than the T-bevel for setting the angle. My protractor has a blade adjustable to any angle, which makes it a very convenient tool for this purpose.
In the drawings from figures 1 to 8 inclusive, I show the steps to lay out and make a through-dovetail joint in chronological order. These operations entail the use of a band saw to remove the waste in both tail and pin members of the joint. Figure 4 shows how to remove the waste from the tail member. If this waste is carefully sawed out without crossing over the guidelines, very little trimming with a chisel or file is needed to true up the saw cuts.
When the saw cuts on the tail member are smooth enough to use as a pattern for laying out the angles on the pin member, place the tail member over the end of the pin member and mark these angles as in figure 5. Some cabinetmakers prefer to make and cut out the pin member of a dovetail joint and then lay out the tail member from it, but I greatly prefer doing it as I show it here. To me this method is much easier. After marking the angles using the method shown in figure 5, true up the lines with the protractor, and then draw the remaining guidelines with a try square to remove the waste from the pin member. Although I've seen instructions for laying out guidelines [X] in figure 5, which are drawn across the grain with a marking gauge, I never use a marking gauge to draw these lines. Gauge lines here are difficult, if not impossible to remove after the joint is made, while pencil lines can be erased or sanded to remove.
Most of the waste to be removed from the pin member can be cut out with a band saw. Study the procedure used in figure 7. Before removing the waste, however, use a dovetail saw (see fig. 6) to start all angle cuts. Be sure when sawing these angles to saw down on the waste side of the line, so the pins will not be reduced in size. Do step 6 before step 7, and the remaining small wedges can then be removed with a coping saw as done in figure 8. Through-dovetails are prominently featured both structurally and decoratively on the projects in chapter 2, 4, 6, as well as others in this book. If you do not have access to a band saw, you can remove all of the leftover waste with a coping saw, after the angle cuts have been made with the dovetail saw.
A half-lap multiple dovetail joint, like the one in figure 9, requires a little more time and care than a through-dovetail joint. In this type of joint, the waste must be chiseled out on the pin section, as shown in figure 11. I use a ½-inch-chisel with a bevel-edged blade to do most of this trimming, and on work where these mortises are smaller, I do most of this trimming with a ¼-inch-woodcarving chisel with its thin blade. The beveled blade is better than a square-edged socket-firmer chisel to do dovetail work, because its thin edges make it easier to trim the sharp angles. In figure 11 I have put numbers on the chisels to indicate the sequence to be followed when trimming out the waste.
Drawer fronts with protruding lips, like those shown in figure 12, require still greater care. They will be found on drawers on the highboy in chapter 26, the corner cupboard in chapter 27, and other projects in the book. With patience and time, you should have no difficulty making these joints. Be very careful when making these joints to figure measurements and drawer clearance very accurately so the drawer will slide easily into its opening when put together. The chances to plane drawer sides to get a better fit are practically nil after the drawer joints have been glued together. Notice too that no lip is made to protrude on the lower edge of the drawer front on such drawers, even though all four edges have molding on the drawer face.CHAPTER 2
IN THE design of this small box, I exploit the dovetail corner joints and the contrasting colors of two kinds of beautifully grained wood. The woods used in figure 1 are mahogany and poplar, though other kinds of wood like black walnut and maple could be substituted to get a similar effect.
Boxes have always intrigued me, not only because they are useful, but because they offer so many opportunities for the craftsman to exercise his artistic talents in decorating them.
I made this box for the Boyertown Area Historical Society to use for collecting contributions at meetings. The photograph in figure 1 was taken before the slot for inserting the donations was cut into the top of the box. I have exercised my option as its designer not to show the money slot and have added a small tray inside the box instead. This adapts the box to a different use such as a repository for costume jewelry. If you wish to do so, add one or more partitions to divide the tray into several smaller compartments.
To build the box, first select boards with nicely figured grain. Plane these to size, and sand them smooth on all sides. Lay out the dovetail joints, and make and fit the dovetail joints. Cut rabbets on bottom edges of both (A) sides. These rabbets, used to hold the floor on box ends (D), must not be cut all the way from one end of (D) to the other, but should stop ¼ inch short of both ends. If completely cut, part of the bottom dovetail pin on the poplar wood ends would be lost. Leave a little extra wood at each end of the rabbet on (D), and trim out the corners with a chisel after the sides of the box have been glued together.
Before gluing the four sides of the box together, fit the small chest lock to the box front. This step is much easier to do before you assemble these four pieces. After gluing together the sides of the box, trim out the corners on the bottom and glue the plywood floor to the bottom of the box as shown in figure 3.
Cut and sand two thin strips of wood (F) to hold the tray. Glue one of these to each end of the inside of the box.
Make the tray. Tray sides are made of ¼ inch-strips of wood, 2 inches wide. The construction is clearly shown in the drawings and especially in figure 5.
The lid, with edges around the upper side rounded, is fastened with small brass butt hinges to the side in back. Of course the latch plate of the lock must be fastened to the lid in the front.
On the box shown here, no stain was used to color the wood, only varnish. The last of three coats of varnish was a satin finish varnish that dries to a less shiny gloss than ordinary varnish.
BILL OF MATERIAL
(A) 2 Box sides ½" × 5" × 8½"
(B)1 Box lid ½" × 7½" × 8½"
(C)2 Tray sides ¼" × 2" × 7 3/8"
(D)2 Box ends ½" × 5" × 7½"
(E)2 Tray ends ¼" × 2" × 6 1/8"
(F) 2 Sticks to support tray 3/16" × ½" × 6 ½"
1 Bottom for box ¼" × 7" × 8"
1 Bottom for tray 1/8" × 6 1/8" × 7 1/8"CHAPTER 3
Queen Anne Stationery Box
THE SMALL stationery box shown in figure 1 is made of zebra-striped mahogany. The box is suitable for keeping folded stationery or note paper and envelopes on or near the desk or table, where they will be within easy reach when needed.
This one, made from my design by a student, is particularly attractive because of the beautiful wood grain. The initials were sawed from a sheet of pewter with a jeweler's saw and inlaid into the front of the box. Of course they can be changed to apply for whomever a reproduction of the box is made. Copper or a light colored wood could be substituted here. A metal inlay has the advantage of being easily cleaned off when stain is applied, whereas greater precautions are necessary to prevent discoloration of inlays made of wood.
To make the box, try to select beautifully figured wood. It need not necessarily be mahogany, though as figures 1 and 2 clearly indicate, the wood selected in this instance was a happy choice. Since all pieces used, excepting the feet, are made of stock ¼ inch thick, the required amount of stock needed should be planed and sanded to this thickness as the necessary first step. Then saw pieces (A), (B), (D), (E), (F), and (H) to required widths and lengths. Plane and sand edges square and smooth to the sizes shown in figures 3 and 4.
Pieces (C) and (I), from which the ends of the box are made, are 3 ¾ inches long, but can be made from single pieces 7 1/8 inches wide or wider that are then sawed apart to make lid and box ends (C) and (I). A full-sized pattern of this curve can be made from figure 7. After cutting them apart on the band saw or the jig saw, carefully file and sand the curved edges. Then lay out the grooves on the insides of box ends (C), into which partitions (J) and (K) are to be glued.
These grooves are easily made with a hand router plane, after first scoring both edges of each groove with a succession of knife cuts until the router plane has removed the waste wood to a depth of 1/8 inch. As you will see in figure 5, these grooves are stopped ¼ inch short of the bottom on ends (C), where the ends of the box bottom is joined to the ends.
While glue alone would probably suffice to hold all joints together, use a few brads as well, especially on the box. Lid joints may not need brads for extra strength, though even here you may want to use a few.
If initials or some other decoration are desired, they should be inlaid before the box is put together. The same holds true of line carving, like that used to make the scroll on the slanted lid front. Small brass butt hinges are used to fasten the lid to the box.
Feet for this small box, while diminutive in size, are nevertheless carefully formed. Figure 8 shows the best way to saw them to shape. A stick long enough to be held easily and to remove the waste safely on the band saw is shown in figure 8. After removing the waste from two sides of each foot, as shown in figure 8, and sawing each foot from the stick after the waste is removed, you can round and shape the foot with a pocket knife and a rat-tail file. Drill one hole through each foot at the top for the small wood screw which holds the foot in place when gluing it to the bottom of the box.
BILL OF MATERIAL
(A)1 Front of box ¼" × 4" × 9"
(B)1 Back of box ¼" × 6¼" × 9"
(C)2 Ends of box ¼" × 6¼" × 3¾"
(D)1 Bottom of box ¼" × 3¾" × 8½"
(E)1 Front of lid ¼" × 3 1/8" × 9"
(F)1 Top of lid ¼" × 2 7/8" × 9"
(G)1 Back of lid ¼" × ¾" × 9"
(H)1 Front of lid ¼" × ½" × 9"
(I)2 Ends of lid ¼" × 3" × 3¾"
(J)1 Partition ¼" × 4½" × 8¾"
(K)1 Partition ¼" × 5 5/8" × 8¾"
(L)4 Feet 1¼" × 1¼" × 1¼" (Cut all four feet from one stick.)CHAPTER 4
Dovetailed Box with Carved Lid
THE BOX shown in figure 1 is another good example of the fine decorative possibilities you can achieve by combining two kinds of lumber having sharp color differences. Their contrasting hues are accentuated when the two lumbers are united with dovetail joints. Still greater interest and charm is achieved by boldly carving the lid with the outstanding design shown in figure 2.
As to its usefulness—a box this size can be put to more uses than I find it possible to list on one page. This is reason enough to include it among my offerings here.
To make the box, select boards wide enough to make each side from one piece if possible. It's obvious from an examination of figure 1 that I did not follow my own advice when I made this box. Instead I glued several narrow strips of wood together to make the front and back of the box shown. The colors were not uniform in hue after I applied the filler and varnish, but in the course of the year since I made the box, these hues have blended. Now their colors nearly match, and in a year or so from now, I expect this variation in hue to become almost indistinguishable. I used leftover narrow strips of wood, which some might be inclined to discard as scrap wood, to make the box. I consider the results to be reasonably successful, if not entirely so.
Sides and ends of box and lid are ½ inch thick. The lid is only 3/8 inch thick, a size that eliminates some tendency to warp. Lowering the background when doing the carving further reduces thickness in some areas, gluing together several narrow boards to get the 11-inch width, and gluing the inch-wide lid sides to it constitute ways to help keep a lid like this flat.
When making the box, you should make sides and ends wide enough so you can separate (A) from (B), and (C) from (D) with saw cuts on the table saw. Separate them after the box has been assembled and all joints have been glued. This is your assurance that the widths and lengths of box and lid are exactly alike. In planning to do this, however, be sure to allow enough extra width on the sides and ends. The pins of the dovetail joints where lid and box are sawed apart should be kept about the same size as those which are not reduced in size. In other words, make the pins, where the saw cuts are made, wide enough to compensate for the wood you lose when sawing off the lid and planing the edges to make them smooth.
BILL OF MATERIAL
(A)2 Sides of box ½" × 5" × 16"
(B)2 Sides of lid ½" × 1" × 16"
(C) 2 Ends of box ½" × 5" × 11"
(D) 2 Ends of lid ½" × 1" × 11"
(E) 1 Top 3/8" × 11" × 16"
1 Bottom 3/8" × 10½" × 15½"
Rabbet bottom edges of the box to fasten the floor without showing. On the ends (C), the rabbet is cut from end to end to hold the bottom, but on sides (A) the rabbet must be stopped ¼ inch short of both ends.
A pattern to lay out the carving can be drawn full-size on a piece of paper measuring 5½ inches × 8 inches, on which 1-inch graph-squares have been drawn. See those on the bottom half of figure 5. Trace this pattern with carbon paper on top (E) four times; the pattern itself is a quarter-pattern. True up your tracing on the wood with a felt marker, and lower the background about 1/8 inch with wood carving chisels. Most of the raised portion of the design is left flat, but from figure 2, you can determine the amount of modeling you must do to get the desired results.
I used natural wood filler on the mahogany. Then I put three coats of varnish on the box. Every varnish coat was smoothed down with fine garnet paper before the following coat was put on. Satin finish varnish was used for the final coat.
Excerpted from Making Furniture Masterpieces by Franklin H. Gottshall. Copyright © 1979 Franklin H. Gottshall. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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