Cutting the dovetails and coping saw usage
It’s not the best way, using a coping saw or a fret saw, but it can speed up the operation if you are in a hurry or making a beehive. On finer joinery it’s not really accepted. That said, a tool box of this type would not generally be exemplary of of fine work but more the vernacular toolbox of the carpenter joiner. It was the unpretentious representation of nothing more than the working man providing protection for his future in respect of his valued and hard worked for tools. It was his way of transporting them to and from work places and indeed emigrating with them to other continents and countries. I have cut dovetails with a coping saw for five decades and done that by the multiple thousands. I doubt that many have cut as many dovetails in their lifetime, but that’s more because of demoing my craft to get people off the conveyor belt and out of using mass-making methods that substitute for developing real knowledge and skill in woodworking.
I decided to do one of the corners if this toolbox with the coping saw, so that I could talk about it and so I can explain what the method offers and what you need to watch for with it. As always, the coping saw blade is used on the push stroke cut not pull, so you will likely need to flip it end for end to maximise effectiveness and push the fibres to the inside as you work. Push pushes the cut fibres into the body of wood so unsupported fibres that might fracture at the edges will be unseen. Simple.
Using the coping saw gives an easy way into the recesses to remove waste. With practice you can become accomplished at it and even cut to a line that needs no trimming. As I said, its not the way for fine work but you may want to use it from time to time for lesser work. The important thing with using a tensioned saw is to cut near to the line without going past or into it. The reasoning here is that if you leave the grain too long then the fibres tend to tear and compress when you further refine them with a chisel. Cut close means you can pare them better and without damaging the recess.
The following pictures show the steps I take for cutting the first set of tail and pin recesses using the coping saw method for one corner only.
Having laid out the dovetails as shown in the previous blog, I mark the depth of the recesses with the pencil, to put me in the ballpark for my saw cuts to stop at. The pencil line is a temporary mark used only as a guide.
In most cases people use marking gauges for this and pass the pin along the whole length of the board. that means that the tails and or pins are also marked permanently. That’s not my preference but in this case I will use it to show how.
I run the saw down the side of the line just on the waste side as shown.
If I am going to use a marking gauge for the depth then I take the depth setting directly from the adjacent board that will form the corner.
With each dovetail sawn down I use the coping saw to access the lower line of the recess. As i have set the blade to cut on the push stroke, I must make the turn on the push stroke too. As I push forward I start to make the turn with each forward thrust until the corner is turned. Once turned I follow through with steady strokes across from one dovetail to the other just leaving the line in. On wide boards like this I use a backer of stiff wood to stop flex in the board away from the vise.
Now I chisel to the line if I am using the marking gauge or I can also use the knife wall to establish a pristine cut line for my chisel to follow.
The outside recess is done with the saw and the chisel. i first further define the knifewall with the chisel to form a recess for the saw and…
… saw down with the dovetail saw until I meet the previous tail cut.
I trim off the fuzzy bits with a sharp chisel.
With all of trimming done I am ready to trace the tails onto the end of the side piece. I sharpen my pencil so as to get tight into the corners.
I square the lines down along the outside face of the pin piece.
I use the marking gauge to mark the depth of the cut for the tail recess.
I saw down the angle lines on the end grain to the depth of the gauge line.
Again, I will use the coping saw to cross cut the bottoms of the tail recesses but before i do I make a knifewall on the gauge lines to make certain I cut exactly on the line.
Now I cut close to my line with coping saw as before.
I trim out the exact depth with a wider chisel.
The joint is ready for dry assembly before i cut the others. Keeping the joint together as much as possibly stops the boards from cupping.
Now I can cut the others. Hang on a minute though. Before you start let’s look at the way I really do them in the everyday of life. This is a craftsman’s way.