Dovetail Fixes (If You Must)


Yes, you can see a shim here if you look really closely…but no one other than you will likely notice (unless, of course, you point it out…as all woodworkers seem compelled to do.)

I’m scheduled to teach myriad classes next year both at Lost Art Press and around the country ( at Port Townsend School of Woodworking, Highland Woodworking, Lie-Nielsen Toolworks – that one will be posted soon). Almost all of them involve dovetails. Plus, I’ve received a couple of questions in the last week or two concerning how to fix “bad” dovetails. And Christopher Schwarz is now in the glue-up stage of a multi-case dovetailed project, and I’ve parts for four dovetailed drawers on my bench at this very moment (which I plan to cut later today and tomorrow…to clear off my bench before this weekend’s class!)


Which is to say I (just about always) have dovetails on the brain.

So, below is my bullet-point list of talking points for dovetails fixes

Baseline Error Fixes
1. Try to clamp it out. Blocks on the tails, squirt a runny glue in there (white glue, Old Brown Glue, West System epoxy) then clamp the snot out of it.
2. Bishoping (if tails/pins are proud). Wet the tail/pin, then tap gently with ball-peen hammer to mushroom it a little. Don’t peen below carcase surface.
3. Controlled spelching (that is, try to break out the fibers when planing…in the correct direction).
4. White glue & sandpaper.
5. For big gaps, shims (in same species and grain direction). Glue them in, them flush when the glue dries.)
6. Durham’s Water Putty, then paint.
7. Live with it; the build will (likely) stay together.

Splay Error Fixes
1. Kerf through middle of tail/pin then wedge.
2. Kerf through joint for even gap, then wedge.
3. Durham’s Water Putty, then paint.
4. Live with it; the build will (likely) stay together.

(Other) Errant Sawing Fixes
1. Cross the baseline? Glue in a flat or round toothpick. Flush. Color w/Sharpie.
2. Bite into a pin or tail while coping? See above.
3. Live with it; the build will (likely) stay together.

Assembly ‘Error’ Fix
1. Crushed tail corner? Glue in a flat or round toothpick. Flush. Color w/Sharpie.
3. Live with it; the build will stay (likely) together.

“Cabinetmakers have been hiding dovetail mistakes from rich people for centuries.”
— the guy who taught Schwarz to cut dovetails

“Everyone who has ever cut a dovetail has &*%^ed up a dovetail.”
— Me and everyone else who’s ever talked about the joint

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True Confessions: I’m Grinding Averse


These secondary bevels are embarrassingly wide.

I always avoid grinding far longer than I should (unless I hit a nail or something else catastrophic to a cutting edge). But with a year’s worth of loaning tools out to students and hundreds of dovetails of my own this year, it was a job on which I’ve procrastinated for far too long, on all my chisels and bench planes.

My secondary bevels (35°) were on most of my tools wider than my primary bevels (25°). As a result, my edges have breaking down quickly, and I’ve had to sharpen and hone a lot more often than I should. This has for weeks (months, really) not only been a waste of time, but also means I (and students) have been sharpening and honing a lot more steel than necessary, and as a result, probably not doing a very good job of it.

So today I sucked it up and pulled out Christopher Schwarz’s Veritas Mark II Sharpening System to regrind the primary bevel. Are grinding wheels faster? Yep. But (to my shame) I’m a bit scared of grinding wheels. I prefer the reliable consistency that a disc grinder and guide provides to the need for user skill and paying attention when using a wheel. (Note: I’ve also used and like the Work Sharp, and if I had carving and lathe tools to grind often(ish), might prefer it to the Veritas machine…but I rarely carve or use traditional lathe tools, so…).


I’d say the Veritas system is foolproof, but there’s always a bigger fool. But it is easy. Clamp the blade in the blade holder, using the setting jig to get the right projection for your desired angle, then rest the blade holder on the properly set tool rest, and lightly touch the blade to the right side of the wheel, moving it across the sandpaper to spread the wear. Stop every few seconds to make sure the blade isn’t too hot to touch (and if it is, dunk it in water), and keep grinding until your secondary bevel isn’t as wide as the Ohio River in spring (as mine were) – or until any nicks are gone, if that was the issue (as it was on two of mine, that I suspect had been dropped). Chris has a good video on it here.

I reground five Lie-Nielsen chisels and three blue-steel Japanese chisels (cue the slings and arrows…to which I say, so what; it works) and three Lie-Nielsen bench plane blades. It took me a couple hours (the penalty one pays for waiting too long), then another 45 minutes or so to sharpen and hone them all (on my Shapton Pro #1,000, #5,000 and #8,000 waterstones) and clean out all the grimy crevices on my plane bodies.


All (much!) better now.

I do still need to regrind my jack plane iron, but for that, I’ll just have to stay awake at the wheel – the 10″ radius I want on that blade can’t be done on a disc grinder.

The only problem I encountered was being too stupid to keep a swarf rag handy. Now I have to wash it out of my jeans.


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Not Dead Yet!


My bench and I are happy here.

It has been one year to the day since I got the biggest (thus far) shock of my life. And despite my terror at the time, I’m not dead yet (nor scooping ice cream for a living, as I did when I was 16).

In late 2012, I was promoted to editor at Popular Woodworking Magazine and thought I’d retire from that at age 65 or so; the end came sooner than expected. (And on Dec. 6, 2017, I had the mother of all hangovers – not the best coping mechanism for anxiety and fear, and a terrible waste of good bourbon.) I’d been with Popular Woodworking for 12 years, and with the parent company for 19. When I joined the magazine in 2005, I planned to stay for maybe five years as I earned a Ph.D., then pursue a career in teaching. But to my surprise, I fell in love with woodworking, and sharing woodworking education and information to help people develop skills that translated into tangible objects. I hadn’t thought about a new career – and on the cusp of 50 at the time, how was I going to find one? And did I want to?

I do not do well in a corporate structure. I’ve never been afraid to stand my ground, or speak what I see as the truth to power…but I’ve never learned to do that in a politic manner. While I don’t actually know what led to my leaving, I’m sure my inability to blithely follow directives made the corporate decision easier. And despite feelings of failure, I also felt relief. I was tired of fighting.

So my trepidation notwithstanding, and with the unflagging encouragement and help of Christopher Schwarz and John Hoffman (who have my eternal gratitude), I decided to  stick with the old career, but on my terms.

Thanks to your support I write and edit in my home office, with cats on my lap and in my pajamas if I like; I can pop over to the Lost Art Press shop or my basement shop to build things; I can still pay the mortgage and feed said cats.

Thanks to you, I don’t have to sit in corporate meetings or ever write another employee review; I’ll never ask, “do you want fries with that?”; and I have the luxury of swimming or sinking by my own decisions (and if I do go terribly wrong, well, I can still make a mean milkshake).

Thank you for taking my classes, for reading things I’ve written and edited, for buying books. I tape every package and make every trip to the post office filled with gratitude.

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Get ‘Em Started Early

MacI can’t use my bench at Lost Art Press this weekend because we’ve a class going on. I came across the river with thoughts of getting started on the drawers for my built-in – I can mill stock and cut it to size in the machine shop without disturbing the class.

But Monday, I’ve 220 board feet of poplar coming from Frank Miller Lumber to prep for my upcoming Dutch Tool Chest class…and I need 260 board feet or so. I think I have enough in the basement to make up the difference, plus enough for the drawer parts, but better safe than sorry.

So instead, I’m hanging out and reading (it’s warmer here).

Among the many books in what we call the Covington Mechanical Library are some that have been favorites since I was a young kid. I remember reading David Macaulay’s lavishly illustrated books on construction over and again; they gave me dreams of becoming an architect…until I later realized one has to be good at math to be an architect. But they early on instilled in me a fascination with how things are built, which has informed my unexpected career in woodworking and writing about it.

I don’t know if every kid will love them as much as I did (and still do), but if like me you like giving books as gifts, you can’t go wrong with any of Macaulay’s. (Note: His books on construction are also appealing for adults – but his “Motel of the Mysteries” is my favorite for older readers. It tells the story of an year 4022 archeological discovery of a late 20th-century motel (it was buried under junk mail); the explanation of the various finds is hilarious.)

Posted in Books/Editing/Writing, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

New: Rude Mechanicals Press T-Shirts


I ordered the gray/blue (indigo) for myself…of course (size medium).

You can now order a Rude Mechanicals Press long-sleeved T-shirt from my online store. This cotton T-shirt is available in sizes from small to 5X ($22.50 for S-XL, $2 more for each size up from there, plus $4 shipping). They’re available in white, grey, olive, red, indigo, navy and black.

On the navy and black shirts, there’s not much contrast between the logo and the cotton when the shirt is newly printed – so it’s perfect if you want folks to stare at your chest. But wash it a few times and the shirt color will fade, making the logo stand out more clearly.

Why long-sleeves? Because I like them…and because I’m guessing that like me, most people already have a plethora of short-sleeve T-shirts. Why not also offer a short sleeve version? Because as Jameel Abraham says, you shouldn’t have more wearables than other products – so until my next book is available (2019), I’m at my limit.

These are printed on demand and usually ship in three-four days. (Order now for Christmas.)

Note: Available through the online store only in the U.S.A. for now…but if you live elsewhere and just have to have on, send me an email and I’ll try to work it out.

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A Note from the Shipping Manager


Available with or without cat hair.

In case you are considering a copy of “Mechanic’s Companion” for holiday gift giving: After a grueling computer session (sleeping on the  keyboard for several hours), the RMP shipping manager informs me that the recommended ordering deadline for Christmas delivery (media mail) is no later than Dec. 14 in the lower 48 (and that might be pushing it). And for Hanukkah, were you to order today, your package would likely arrive before the eighth day thereof (sorry…JJ has been slacking in his delivery research duties).


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Contemporary Hanging Plate Rack (or Shelves) for Sale


As much as I love the look of this curly maple piece – “Kelly Mehler’s Plate Rack,” which I built in for the December 2013 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine –  I simply don’t have a suitable place to hang it in my home…so it’s been taking up closet space ever since. I’m hoping someone here wants to give it a good home.

It’s actually three separate dovetailed units, and the plate dividers are simply a friction fit – they are easily removed to use these as hanging shelves instead (but as a plate rack, cup hooks under the center shelf for the middle one might be nice, which is without a bottom shelf so that it fits over a sink).

The top shelves on the two outside units are adjustable; the rest are secured in dados – and I should note that on the center one, there are two screws into the lowest shelf on either side to hold it together (you can see them in the snap below), to allow for the absence of a dovetailed bottom piece. These screws don’t show if they’re hung together, and could be plugged if they’re not. The depth of each is 11-1/4″, the width is 21-1/2″ and the height is 35″. The finish is three coats of satin pre-cat lacquer.

Now I must confess that these are not my best dovetails. I think this was my first dovetailed project in hard maple…and hard maple is, well, hard without some practice. So while I’m not completely displeased with my work from a few feet away, up close, I can see that it is not as perfect as (now) is possible for me – and that’s why I’m willing to re-home the piece(s) for a commensurately low price – $400 (plus shipping, but I’ll deliver for the cost of a decent lunch plus fuel within 125 or so miles of Cincinnati. Or you can pick up and I’ll buy lunch).

If interested, please send me an email.


As I have them “arranged” in the closet, you can see the two screws on the side of the center unit, and the removable plate dividers. And if you look closely, you can see the sub-perfect dovetails.

And if I can’t find a home for it, in to the “dustbin of history” it goes (as David Savage would say).

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