Square satisfaction

Every night I head out to the shop to empty the dehumidifier. It’s damn near romantic out there that time . A single soft lamp, the scent of wood, neighbourhood dogs and kids quiet. Looking at the shavings and works in progress brings a level of satisfaction and contentment that is new to me, at least as far as day-to-day work goes.

A lifetime ago I could have been considered successful in the white collar world, a world I never have given much a f*** about. Even though I was “headed places”, I walked away when my daughter was born to be a stay-at-home dad. While caring for my daughter was enough reason to go, it helped that leaving the office did not feel like a loss. Success, whether in a completed project, raise, or promotion was fleeting or absent. Satisfaction was rare, contentment  non-existent.

Getting a real handle on sawing dovetails this week? Now that is something. For those of you who can do this already, the following may not be of interest.

Sawing tails that don’t need repair has been a challenge. I was somehow sawing rounded shoulders – the cut was not just angled down, but in as well. Cleaning them up was tedious and led to just as many mistakes. After some time and focus, I’ve found a stance that works for me. It’s similar to a wrestling or boxing stance – left leg forward, right foot back. Knees bent, back straight. Left hand forward resting on the workpiece, right hand loosely gripping the saw and forward enough that I can go for a full stroke without moving my body. The wobble from body movement was causing me to pull the saw in or out with my shoulder, and thus the rounded tail.

This stance lets me start the kerf comfortably with the heel of the saw while not hovering over the vise. When the saw is set in the kerf, I can then do fuller strokes without wobbling . The light grip is key, and difficult to maintain. I have a natural inclination to kung-fu grip. With a soft grip the kerf holds the saw in line and the saw does what it wants to – cut straight. Tensing up causes the saw to wiggle , then the kerf becomes jagged and off.

Watching the saw move along the line introduces enough of an optical illusion to get off square for me. A slight, very slight parallax is created by the angle of the saw as its tilted down. The toe end of the saw seems to be closer to the line then the heel end. I overcorrect, and throw the kerf off square. This is such a tiny little thing, and sometimes almost unnoticeable. Other times really a pain. The less paring and cleaning needed, the better the joint, or so I am finding.

I’ve corrected for this by starting the kerf along the line, then watching the reflection of the board in the blade as I cut. If the reflection doesn’t look like a straight line continuing through the blade, i.e., it heads away or towards me, then I know I’m not square.

Starting the kerf at the angle of the tail has also helped since I don’t turn my hand in the middle of the cut. I’ve slowed down. Deep breaths and measured cuts to get the kerf started straight. The seconds that costs on the front end saves minutes on the back end repairing shitty saw cuts.

All of this really comes into play as I cut the left-hand side of tails, with the line awkwardly on the right-hand side of the saw. It doesn’t seem like that be such a big deal, but at times it feels like it throws everything out of whack.

For some of you that may induce a loud “duh”. But that got me to a really snug dovetail that didn’t look like it was chewed by a rat. And that was immensely satisfying.

2 thoughts on “Square satisfaction

  1. Wesley Beal January 8, 2015 / 7:09 pm

    Nice. Have you considered a Moxon style vise yet? They are very simple to build, and it is so much nicer than holding my work in a face vise.


    • streetzelwilson January 8, 2015 / 9:26 pm

      What’s a mox…couldn’t keep a straight face. Indeed, and I’m gonna take it one step further to do a benchtop bench with a moxon vise-like thing. I say that because I am going to attempt to use holdfasts as the jaw hardware. As we say down here, vamos a ver.


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