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Best tools for hand-cut DOVETAILS

webdesigner's picture

Please tell me, in your opinion, the best chisels and hand saws to buy for doing hand-cut dovetail work. I know many people have both Japanese and Lie-Nielsen type saws and chisels. For $35 you can't go wrong with the Japanese saws, but choosing the right chisel set is a tougher choice. Two Cherries or Blue Steel? Is Pfeil the best value? Also, there are chisels and there are dovetail chisels, I want to do strictly dovetail work.

I've been a woodworker for many years, but new to hand-cut dovetail work. My budget is about $150 to $200. Goal: tools that are accurate and will grow with me for many years.

Can you recommend a good video and book too?

Value your opinion, thanks!
Gary

ThePosterFormerlyKnownAs's picture

(post #98898, reply #1 of 59)

I have old Marples Blue Chip chisels that work fine but I probably wouldn't buy the ones made now.  I think I would go with Ashley Iles for a new set of beveled edge firmers.

 

I wish I had a nickel for the dovetails I've cut with a $8 Stanley dovetail saw (the gent's saw pattern).  I happen to use a Pax gent's saw now and it works fine.  I think it cost around $20 or $30.

 

You don't need to spend a fortune. 

Please read this disclaimer which is an integral part of my post:  Do not copy, print, or use my posts without my express written consent. My posts are not based on fact. My posts are merely my written opinions, fiction, or satire none of which are based on fact unless I expressly state in writing that a statement is a fact by use of the word "fact." No one was intended to be harmed in the making of this post.

woodsplicer's picture

(post #98898, reply #2 of 59)

Japanese dovetail chisel is my choice for hand cut dovetails.The bevels along the sides rise steeply almost from the edges to a point in the centre, giving the chisel an almost triangular cross section, ideal profile for dovetail work.
I suggest you start with the sizes of chisel for the sizes of the dovetails you cut.
Good luck.
Woodsplicer

MikeHennessy's picture

(post #98898, reply #3 of 59)

For sawing, I use the LN dovetail saw -- my wife prefers the japanese saw. Purely a personal preference thing, but the LN saw is a joy to behold and a dream to use. I retired my Pax after using the LN the first time.


As for chisels, I have a lot of great chisels but I never use 'em for DTs. I find short (2-3" long) butt chisels are faster and way easier to control when chopping DTs than the longer cabinet chisels. I just use cheap Woodcraft chisels and make sure to keep them sharp. I also use a round metal carver's mallet instead of a wooden one -- less tireing. Almost all my DTs are in hardwood, and most are in maple or, even worse, red oak. I usually trim to within 1/16 of the line with a coping saw and then pare away the waste in two shots. Again, a personal preference thing, but I find this much quicker than cutting to the line with chisel alone as some do. (E.g., check out Frank Klaus' videos.)

Mike Hennessy
Pittsburgh, PA
Everything fits, until you put glue on it.

Napie's picture

(post #98898, reply #4 of 59)

I use what I learned from Tage Frid. I prefer a bow saw with a wide 12 tpi rip blade, I make my own and they are easy to use, easy to sharpen and I file my own blades.  Also good blades are easy to find and I keep plenty sharp and ready to go.  I like butt chisels, flea market specials, look for old Buck Brothers, Greenlee, Stanley, etc.  Polish and sharpen and away you go, no sense spending big $$$$ on new ones.


 


Frank Klaus’ video, (now on DVD), is GREAT.  The best lesson on hand cut DT.  I wish I had it when I was learning to cut them.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownAs's picture

(post #98898, reply #5 of 59)

"I use what I learned from Tage Frid."


 


"Frank Klaus’ video, (now on DVD), is GREAT.  The best lesson on hand cut DT.  I wish I had it when I was learning to cut them."


 


I thought you learned to cut dovetails from Frid.  What about that experience left you wanting and wishing for the Klausz video? 


Edited 9/26/2005 12:48 pm ET by ProWoodworker

Please read this disclaimer which is an integral part of my post:  Do not copy, print, or use my posts without my express written consent. My posts are not based on fact. My posts are merely my written opinions, fiction, or satire none of which are based on fact unless I expressly state in writing that a statement is a fact by use of the word "fact." No one was intended to be harmed in the making of this post.

Napie's picture

(post #98898, reply #23 of 59)

I still use the bow saw, (easy to make and maintain), as I learned from Frid, and his practicality is something I look too every time I start a project.  I incorporated the, “non-measuring”, method of spacing and learning to saw straight down without a line that Klaus uses.

kesac's picture

(post #98898, reply #27 of 59)

I cut the tails on the tablesaw, at about 7°.  I use some Dewalt 7 1/4" blades designed to cut aluminum that I had reground.  I can cut tail all day to fit pins .060-.070" wide.  My arms never get tired, and all I hve to chisel out is a little "v", less than 1/8" wide.


I cut the pins with a router jig I made that can adjust for what ever angle I am calling 7° today, and I make most of my tails 3/8-7/16", or whatever my eyeball puts me at.


I can do a drawer in 15-20 min. and every pin, and every dovetail, looks as handcut as all getout.  No 1/4" wide pins, or 3/4" tails.  I can very the angle of every pin if I want to show off.


I know how to saw by hand.  It makes me tired.  I can get the aesthetics, and structural integrity equal to anything made by the devoutest Shaker, and I don't have to worry about what brand of saw is coolest du jour.

webdesigner's picture

(post #98898, reply #28 of 59)

Nice, how do you line-up the cut on your table saw?!
Do you have a jig? How do you get the tails and pins to line-up?
Very curious now.

Thanks, Gary

kesac's picture

(post #98898, reply #30 of 59)

Fine woodworking has shown several ways of doing that.  Lining stuff up is just eyeball to my layout lines.


I will try to attach a picture here, but I don't always succeed at that.


I think I have got a few pictures in there of some boxes I made from leftover oak flooring.  I put them in my rollaway, to hold tools and hardware, and have never had one come apart even bouncing around on concrete floors and being drug across town in a pick up.


I usually make them 1/8" or so oversize all around, and trim to size after glue up, so the look nicer when finished than they do rough in these pictures.

Napie's picture

(post #98898, reply #29 of 59)

I have not found my 18 ounce bow saw to be that tiring. I like to keep proficient at hand tool skills, just a personal preference.  Less clean up too.


 


I still use a Keller jig for production runs of blanket and sailors chests, (at least five at a time), the people who buy those do not really care if the joints are hand cut. 

kesac's picture

(post #98898, reply #31 of 59)

I use a pattern I made off of one of those Stotts Masters, sometime.  I like using hand tools too.  I use one of those Veritas guides on occasion, when I want something real small, like in 1/4" to 5/16" thick sides.


Most people will never know if they are hand cut or not, or even understand that some of us think it is a big deal.


Sometimes I will make the center pin 7° on each side, and the next ones moving outboard 7° on the inside and 8° on the outside, and continue on to get a sort of rising sun effect.  Even my 75 yr. old mother can recognize that you can't do those with a router, and that they took a little bit of extra talent or effort.  My kid knows, that I can whip them out on the table saw, but he is happy knowing he is one up on Grandma.

kesac's picture

(post #98898, reply #6 of 59)

You can cut perfect dovetails with any of those chisels.  I use a 2 cherries 3mm.  You probably won't really be abusing the chisel much.  I seem to have gotten into the habit of using my chin to push the chisel, and that works just fine.


The saw is more important than the chisel.  I cut mine on the table saw so my little arm don't get so tired. 

robert1's picture

(post #98898, reply #7 of 59)

I like the book "The Complete Dovetail" by Ian Kirby. In the book, it looks like Mr. Kirby is using Marples Blue Chip chisels and a standard dovetail saw(not Japanese).


Edited 9/26/2005 8:18 pm ET by robert1

ThePosterFormerlyKnownAs's picture

(post #98898, reply #11 of 59)

I like the book "The Complete Dovetail" by Ian Kirby. In the book, it looks like Mr. Kirby is using Marples Blue Chip chisels and a standard dovetail saw(not Japanese).


You're exactly right and his dovetailing leaves nothing to be desired.

Please read this disclaimer which is an integral part of my post:  Do not copy, print, or use my posts without my express written consent. My posts are not based on fact. My posts are merely my written opinions, fiction, or satire none of which are based on fact unless I expressly state in writing that a statement is a fact by use of the word "fact." No one was intended to be harmed in the making of this post.

5418's picture

(post #98898, reply #8 of 59)

I'm on my 3rd Japanese chisel, and is absolutely hooked. If you take good care of them, paring is a lot more fun. I'm not all that happy with my Ashley Iles.

webdesigner's picture

(post #98898, reply #9 of 59)

Thanks for responding so late at night 5418!

Which brand/model of Japanese chisel did you buy?
Blue Steel? How long does the edge stay sharp, I don't like sharpening tools too much.
With four kids, I just don't have the time.

Seems like the Lie Nielsen dovetail saw is THE way to go, what do you use?

Which online store has the best price on the LN Independence saws?

Gary

ThePosterFormerlyKnownAs's picture

(post #98898, reply #12 of 59)

If you spend a lot of time paring a dovetail joint then your sawing technique is lacking.  All you need from a chisel during dovetailing is the ability to chop.  The sockets are undercut and do not have to be glass smooth.  End grain cannot be glued.

Please read this disclaimer which is an integral part of my post:  Do not copy, print, or use my posts without my express written consent. My posts are not based on fact. My posts are merely my written opinions, fiction, or satire none of which are based on fact unless I expressly state in writing that a statement is a fact by use of the word "fact." No one was intended to be harmed in the making of this post.

BG's picture

(post #98898, reply #13 of 59)

webdesigner,
Learning to cut dovetails well is important because it is a transfereable skill to almost all the other hand tool functions in woodworking. It's a matter of correct process(Ian Kirby is great), body position and, lastly, tools. The actual execution is a function of muscle memory developed from practice and good feedack..the LN saw gives great feedback...it demands you hold it and move it correctly.
I bought the japanese chisels that Woodcraft use to stock and they're terriffic....long time between sharpening. However, if your making drawers primarily then your stock is mainly 3/8"-1/2" thick and should not require hard chopping from each side...so almost any chisel will do and not require frequent sharpening if handled considerately. One issue is getting the corners clean and the angle sharp...if the chisel it too thick it's a problem...I use a thin paring chisel for the corners.

5418's picture

(post #98898, reply #14 of 59)

I'm not sure if I agree with the other poster that the best tools are the cheapest ones. (Well, at least that wouldn't be so much fun for us tool junkies.) I think if you have reasonably good, well taken care of tools, working becomes more pleasurable.

My chisels are from difference sources (Masashige 1/4", Matsumura 1/8", and Chutaro Imai 5/8"), and I think they're pretty comparable. What I like about them is that the edge is sharper and stays sharp for a much longer time. I have a small shop and have to sharpen in the kitchen, so that saves me a lot of walks :) I didn't hollow-grind my blades to begin with, so the move to Japanese chisels didn't require any adjustment for me. You do have to learn to sharpen them well (as in all tools) though, otherwise the money you spend is worthless. Once you're comfortable, it only takes a minute or two to sharpen a tool.

I use a disposable-blade dozuki (Z-saw) for my joinery cuts. I like the fact that they start easier.

DonStephan's picture

(post #98898, reply #15 of 59)

I really like the american pattern bevel edge chisels at www.toolsforworkingwood.com for their shorter length.

dlb's picture

(post #98898, reply #16 of 59)

I just recently purchased a dozuki saw to cut tennons and dovetails. I would use nothing else. The kerf is exceptionally thin and the saw glides thru the wood. The more I use the saw the more uses I find for it.

The undisciplined life is not worth examining.
CharlieD's picture

(post #98898, reply #17 of 59)

If you ever get the chance, give Toshio Odate's dovetailing dozuki a shot. It's a "modified" rip tooth, crosscuts ok, rips pretty well, but is outstanding at ripping on the diagonal, which is what dovetailing is, really. Love that saw...

Charlie

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher
a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts,
build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders,
cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure,
program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.
Specialization is for insects.
- Robert A. Heinlein
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. - Robert A. Heinlein
WillGeorge's picture

(post #98898, reply #22 of 59)

Toshio Odate's dovetailing dozuki ..
Can't say for sure but in Nov. Popular Woodworking it looks like Lonnie Bird is using one. Well, looks Oriental!

Just love all my pull saws..

Have a great day.. Life is wonderful even if you are having a bad day!

dennis2's picture

(post #98898, reply #10 of 59)

Hi Webdisigner:


 


The best chisel and handsaw to buy for dovetails is the cheapest one you can find.  The quality of the dovetail has nothing to to with the tool and everything to do with the operator. 


Get some scrap wood, old pallets are a great source, and start cutting dovetails.  If you don't know how, take a class.  If you do know how, you should get good results by the 50'th practice cut.  If you don't , take a class.


Tools don't make a good dovetail......practice and skill do.


Think about it.


Dennis


 

Elmer's picture

(post #98898, reply #20 of 59)

That was well said, until you got to "think about it." 


As I recall, most of us were so passionate about joining the ranks of higher level craftsman when we learned hand cut dovetails that most of us were ready to spend some cash to be SURE we did well. 


In your defense though, one guy I knew who did it well and VERY quickly told me it was all about ...."developing the muscles in your hand." 


I do think a good yellow plastic mallet is worth looking for though! 

dennis2's picture

(post #98898, reply #21 of 59)

Hi Elmer:


My earlier post was a bit strong.   It was a bit of a rant against the tool dilettantes.  When you read some of the posts, it sounds like you can't build a piece of furniture with out Lie-Nielson  planes and Japanese chisels. 


I love fine tools -- they are a joy to use, but  they will not make better dovetails. 



Dennis

Glen's picture

(post #98898, reply #18 of 59)

I've just started cutting dovetails too.   I have Japanese saws which I really enjoy using for cross cuts but not for the end grain.   I nearly bought the PAX saw from Lee Valley but opted instead for the Adria Dovetail saw.  It is very very similar to the Lie-Nielsen (perhaps slightly taller and shorter).   It was a toss-up between the two but I decided to go with the lower production Adria.    You can check them out at www.Adriatools.com .   For chisels I have a set of Marples Blue but I also bought a 1/8" Veritas chisel for getting into tight corners.   I'm thinking about Japanese chisels but I've spent enough on hand tools lately.    


 


 

webdesigner's picture

(post #98898, reply #19 of 59)

Thanks for the reply Glen.

Hold off on the Japanese chisels, heard mixed messages about them. They hold an edge, beautiful work of art, but they chip easily if one is not super careful. Even then, some hard woods can chip them.

So, I bought a set of Two Cherries, very nice. But, now I have to learn how to sharpen them! They don't come ready-to-go...yeah, me the rookie. Wishful thinking.
Then, I want to buy the Lie Nielsen Independence saw, hopefully at the Woodworking Show in San Mateo this month. 10% which will cost me around $113 plus tax, not bad if it's going to last 50 years. Reminds me, I have to get my 7 year old daughter interested in woodworking now. Glad to heard, more and more women are getting into it.

If anyone can tell me how to sharpen my Two Cherries, please let me know.
Don't have a clue which stones or honing guides to buy!!!

Cheers,
Gary

kesac's picture

(post #98898, reply #26 of 59)

Get a fine DMT Diamond stone, which will be a lot couser than you think.  A 12x12 ceramic tile and some wet and dry sandpaper going from 220 or so to 1500 or so.  Then finish with aluminum polish, machined buffing compound, on a paint stirring stick, and you will be able to shave with those chisels.

tigerstripe's picture

(post #98898, reply #42 of 59)

when your at the woodworking show, drop by the lie neilson booth. You'll be glad you did. They have norton water stones there. I bought mine about 4 years ago now and absoulty love them. If Rob Cosom is there in the booth take his dovetaing course. It was fantastic.