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Dovetails a la Underhill…. by Matthew Cianci

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It was my birthday last week, and despite being buried in saw work, I figured I deserved some woodworking time on my special day.

So, I took a couple hours to make some new bookshelves I need for our living room. My collection of woodworking and history books is growing by leaps and bounds (when I’m not in the shop, I always have my nose in a book) and I’m running out of places to pile them up.

So, I came up with a quick and simple design for some dovetailed shelves that would also let me try out a dovetailing method I read about in one of Roy Underhill’s books. Roy is my absolute woodworking hero and I adore his work.

Ever since I read about this particular method of cutting the tails for a DT joint I have wanted to try it. What struck me about his method, which I’ve never read or seen anywhere else, is that besides the base line, there is no marking involved for the tails. So all you need to make them is your board and a saw. No knife, no pencil, no DT gauge or bevel gauge and no dividers or rule to lay out the spacing. You don’t mark the tails at all…you just cut everything by eye.

Cool, right???

So let’s get to it and you’ll see what I mean…

After I mark the baseline for the thickness of the stock on the tail board, I clamp it up in my Moxon twin screw vise. In my mind, for a 9 and 1/2 inch deep bookshelf case, I see three large dovetails joining each corner of the case. It’s with this layout in mind that I begin…

To start the first tail, I grab my saw and make a shallow kerf to define the edge of the first tail by drawing the teeth back along the end grain. As you can see, there’s no mark what so ever for the tail cuts…

I just guesstimate about 3/4 to an inch in from the edge of the board and pull back to establish the cut line. And this is the great part of Roy’s method…you lay everything out by eye and don’t mark anything…

Then, I switch to the other side of the board to define the cut line for the edge of the opposite tail. Same thing here….eyeball about an inch in and draw the saw back to establish a kerf line….

The trick here is to use the shiny saw plate to ensure that this kerf line is square. You can see the reflection of the board on the saw plate, and once you line it up equally in the reflection, you know you’re square and you draw back the teeth to mark the kerf.


 
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