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