Tag Archives: Dovetails

Pins First Pal

As I slowly work through the projects for my upcoming book Go, Go, Go I’ve been trying to do as many things the same way as Tage Frid did. It has been an interesting experiment.

Most of Tage’s advice has been sound and reproducible. Once in a while a given technique may want to induce fits. Those are often the most interesting to experiment with — especially if it clashes with what I learned in my manual training days. When I learned how to dovetail as a student at NBSS I was taught how to cut them either ‘Pins First’ or ‘Tails First’ and often switch between them depending on the project at hand. For drawers or boxes its nice to gang sides together and cut them tails first to save some time. For one offs and odd angles pins first sometimes makes the most sense.

Tage was a proponent of ‘Pins First’ arguing that:

“The reason pins are made first is that it is easier to follow the tail saw line. If the tails were made first and the pins were scribed onto the end of the wood from the tail, the first saw cut on the end grain would destroy the pin line since end grain fibers become fuzzy so easily. And we all know how difficult it is to follow a line started on end grain. By making the pins first and scribing the tails to them, we can begin sawing on the face side of the wood and we have more strokes to try to saw to the line accurately.” — Tage Frid, Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking Vol. 1

With decades of experience cutting all manner of joints his logic can be hard to argue with. To transfer the pins to the tail board Tage would often just hold the piece in place with his hands and mark the tails with a scratch awl. No skew block plane trick here. If the board was warped he’d flatten it with 2 clamps and a block of wood.

You may feel like you need a steady hand or super human strength to keep the pin board exactly where you want it to scribe the pins onto the tail board, but there are ways help make this easier when you are getting started.

When teaching students how to transfer the pins to the tail board I was taught to put a clamp on the setup — holding the pin board to the tail board, allowing you to adjust it a bit under tension and free up your hands to move around as needed to do a good job scribing.  The idea is reasonable but I’ve seen folks do all sorts of fiddling with a clamp to try and make this work, often with headache inducing dings and colorful curse words as a clamp falls over and mars a piece of wood or a pin board goes flying.

In cutting a lot of drawers and trays for a Tage Frid drawing table I figured I’d go for the full experience in cutting them all pins first and given the very thin stock used — 3/8″ thick 1-1/4″ wide strips mating to a 1″ wide front there was not a lot of bearing surface so I went to break out a clamp and after messing with it for a bit (and remembering why I prefer tails first) it hit me that I should try and be more production minded — there’s gotta be a less fiddly way of doing this as I have a lot of drawers to make. I was working at my Festool MFT/3 table and it hit me — if I side clamp a Bessey K-body to the edge of the bench the wide jaws of the clamp would do a great job overhanging a bit of the bench and if I moved the jaw up and down I had a nice consistent way of setting up my pin and tail board and apply a little pressure as I quickly and accurately scribe the pins to the tails as you can se here:

Transferring Pins to a Tail Board by clamping a K-body clamp to the side of your bench
Pins First Pal for Transferring Pins to a Tail Board by clamping a K-body clamp to the side of your bench

There’s no magic to what I show here, but a nice little setup that can be applied to any bench or work surface and save some time and frustration.

Take care,

The Woodwright’s School

For Labor Day weekend this year I flew down to the Woodwright’s School in Pittsboro, North Carolina to take a 3 day class on making a Jointer Plane with Willard ‘Bill’ Anderson (more on that in an upcoming post).

My flight got in early on Friday and I had the chance to hang out with some friends at the school during the last day of a class on building the Anarchist’s Tool Chest with Chris Schwarz.

The Woodwright's School
The Woodwright’s School

The Woodwright’s School is located in downtown Pittsboro which is a scenic town about 20 minutes from Chapel Hill.

Roy Underhill planing a groove
Roy Underhill planing a groove

Don’t let the sometimes quiet streets fool you, once inside the school you are in a lively space full of folks who as passionate about woodworking as you are. Roy was on hand to help students as they worked their way through the last day of week long class on building a traditional English tool chest based on Chris’ book ‘The Anarchist’s Toolchest’.

The class busy working on their Anarchist's Toolchest
The class busy working on their Anarchist’s Toolchest

One of the attractions to Roy’s school is its focus on only using traditional English/American hand tools — there were no whining power tools, no Dozuki saws and no plastic handles to be seen — or at least none that I saw when Roy was making his rounds. 😉

Feeding Bill's bar tab and Khrushchev's shoe
Feeding Bill’s bar tab and Khrushchev’s shoe

If you ever read Roy’s book on public speaking you’ll get why Khruschev’s shoe is an interesting trophy. Beyond the witty stories and advice on how to keep a crowd engaged and entertained, the last chapter on the morning after a presentation was the one that resonated the most with me. Applying the advice therein has improved several lectures I have to make each year.

Drilling out a mortise
Drilling out a mortise

Traditional woodworking can feel like a very small world at times — the gentleman in the photo above was also in the class I took earlier this summer on making a Name Stamp with Peter Ross at Roy’s school — even though I was 700+ miles from home I happy to see that I could still run into people I knew.

Roy's corner cabinet
Roy’s corner cabinet

Loitering in the back of the classroom is a corner cupboard you may recognize from Roy’s show. I heard his wife has been waiting on it for a while — which made me feel a tiny bit better about the dresser I owe my wife Alyssa — which reminds me I need to get working on that again….

Chris Schwarz teaching
Chris Schwarz teaching

It was also great to spend some time hanging out with my friends Chris Schwarz and Megan Fitzpatrick including a stroll through Ed’s tool shop above the school.

Chatting with Megan Fitzpatrick
Chatting with Megan Fitzpatrick

No toolchest is ever completely filled and Ed’s shop has a huge collection of traditional tools on par with some of the best regional tool shows. I tried my best to be good and save my pennies for the Nashua tool show later this month, but I did find some new toys.

Chris' Dutch Tool Chest
Chris’ Dutch Tool Chest

I had fun chatting with everyone, examining some interesting tools and helping to sweep up before a trip to the City Tap — which is a awesome bar just behind the school with great food and drinks.

Roy helping a student
Roy helping a student

On my way out of the school I saw my old friend Otto Salomon and various other proper woodworking models from the Teacher’s Handbook of Sloyd.

Sloyd Prints
Sloyd Prints

It seems the Woodwright’s School is full of new and old friends that are literally popping out of the woodworking.

If you’d like to learn more about the school, make some new friends, meet up with old friends, or sign up for a class you can check out the school’s website here.