Don’t Gang Up On Me

From time to time, whether in a class or online, someone asks the age old question, “Can’t you put several dovetail pieces together and cut several dovetails all at once?” I usually ask them why they would and the answer’s are always the same. “Speed! Saves on repeat layouts. Gets the job done!” That sort of thing. Another more recent one was stacking up pieces for the workbench, drilling through three or four pieces at the same time. Whereas I understand these considerations, and of course anyone can do it how they want to, I try to help others to more ‘feel‘ what they are doing. You know, get inside the process. Deindustrialise the processes a little. In industry it is practical to gang up pieces to load them into the carrier and feed 20 pieces into a cutter-head. I’ve been there too, sadly. Using a tenoner that cuts 20 sash bar tenons is expedient, cope and all. But I want the real woodworkers I work with to fully understand the drills and drivers, the drill bits themselves and then too the wood’s response to a more gentle and less aggressive approach to working their wood. This is how we learn without bypassing the significant essentials that inform us, and by ‘inform’ us I mean ‘form in’ us. I like people to build their ability and skill, gain confidence through what they master and achieve quality levels of workmanship. That way they feel benefit from personal research, the gentleness in embracing and being embraced by their work. There’s enough cut and thrust in the daily grind they work in day in day out so evenings and weekends is a way of disengaging one realm to restore themselves in another.

In my view it’s much more about perception. For some, cutting dovetails is tedious and so too even drilling holes. Trying to save time or a few screws by screwing three pieces all at once with longer screws often fails because it becomes like juggling to a new woodworker. Managing several pieces for a perfect alignment increases the likelihood of shifting components leading to failure. We’re often driven by the concept that greater efficiency takes less time and therefore the outcome is more acceptable but with the same end result. By that I mean you still end up with a dovetailed box and a workbench. But the truth I’ve discovered follows the old adage, “More haste less speed.” I say it often enough and it’s what I know now to be true so I penned the statement for others to consider: ‘It’s not so much what you make that determines the outcome but how you make it.’ This directly relates to the working, the deployment of your mind and the union between the mind and the hand. How you make then affects the overall wellbeing because you appreciate the processing of your work and your body at a pace you can truly assimilate and absorb everything of the work you’re involved in. Having worked in mass-making ways for just long enough in my life I saw, see, chose and continue to choose a different way based on my life experiences. You see it’s discovering the process of hand work as an alternative possibility that dismantles the industrialising of the industrial. Whereas we can see benefits of the Industrial Revolution, we must also see and admit that the long term effects have damaged all areas of life itself. We see that just as industrial processes have improved many areas of life, greed by the few have led to the demoralising condition the majority find ourselves in to today, unless of course we are a part of the elite minority that dangle the carrots.

Whereas the Industrial Revolution was the beginning of a continuing period hailed as one of the greatest advancements in the history of a developing and progressive industrialised world, it also polluted the same world with what we must now export to other continents and spend centuries trying to clean up the result of our failure to recognise boundaries of limitation and habitation. Industrialism and economy only thrive through out and out consumerism. There are indeed hundreds of thousands of miles of conveyor belts that come to us in different forms but all in the name of progress (good or bad or starting out as considered good but culminating in bad) and all of them make us dependent on their systems. From schools to airports and health care to motorways we face conveyor belts and the pushing of buttons all day long. My computer right now causes me to push buttons a few thousand times in a given day, though not anywhere so many as most are forced to. For us, dismantling the nuts and bolts begins with a simple step of building a workbench and buying 10-20 hand tools. It’s the very start we need that releases the build up of unused chemistry in the brain–brain cell stimuli that have been log jammed in most of us for years and decades. Did you know that the very act of sharpening a chisel, sawing a dovetail and fitting the tales alone immediately releases dopamine to activate the processes you are doing. This alone increases wellbeing even when the results don’t match the expectations. Countering depression and anxiety begins, but the acts must be practised to get the results long term. In some ways it’s not ethereal so much as taking a step towards discovering a process that’s been missing in our lives. Though I say it is not etherial, it is enjoyable and yet it does become something of an etherial experience once you begin to bring order into everything it takes to cut that perfect dovetail or even just learn how to plane a piece of wood.

Working alongside a man who brought stacks of wood into my workshop to use my machines regularly resulted in him losing stack alignment and him dropping a dozen pieces all over the floor. I reasoned with him that carrying half the sticks would give better control. He didn’t listen and continued in his disruptive methods over a couple of weeks. The irritation gained predictability and became too much for us all. I took him aside again and said I’d rather he didn’t come again because his calamities affected me and my staff. A week later he came and asked if he could use my shop and equipment again if he did as I had asked him. I said we could try it. The result was order and efficiency. I suppose the methods I use bring order and efficiency that results in the levels of pleasure I feel are unsurpassable. When I sharpen my plane in readiness for planing oak the result is effective planing. A sharp plane pulls itself to the wood and takes less effort to effect the cut. As it dulls, stroke by stroke, I have become well disciplined to know it’s dulled and I take care of it by sharpening rather than procrastinating. The process I have developed and taught is the most efficient of any I have used or seen. In under two minutes I take a dull edge back to surgical sharpness. I’m back to task. It didn’t start out like that but what matters is I looked for the answers and came up with a result. When others tell me I should do this or that, use this or that, I can say how I got here was through that process of trial and error. Through the decades I have changed and so have thousands upon thousands of others. People evaluate and then copy what works best for them.

I suggest we all ask ourselves why we want to gang up on the work to force it through the passage of conveyor belt production when we might just examine what the real purpose is in our woodworking at home.

66 Comments

  1. Phill on 1 March 2019 at 7:04 pm

    everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.



    • Ernest Avey on 5 March 2019 at 4:45 pm

      I have gotten into hand tool woodworking because I wanted to learn the process. I do not need to complete the journey as much as enjoy the trip. Until they throw dirt in my face I have all the time in the world.



  2. Phill on 1 March 2019 at 7:05 pm

    I don’t sail to get there fast.



    • Paul Bouchard on 2 March 2019 at 3:10 pm

      My very first furniture project, I first took all the lumber and flattened the boards full length. There was some considerable twist in some of them, making for a huge waste of time and material but it was how I’d seen wood flattened at the lumber yards – an industrial process I thought I was supposed to be emulating at home. I like what I’ve learned working with hand tools.



      • Jake on 6 March 2019 at 4:14 pm

        Paul, I’m fairly new at stock prep with hand tools and have been under the impression that getting the full length boards S4S first was the way to go. Is it better to cut boards to rough length first and prepare them individually?



        • Paul Sellers on 6 March 2019 at 4:53 pm

          Absolutely. you will waste too much energy and time doing full lengths. Just adda little length, 1/2″ to 1″and then maybe 1/8″ to thickness and width.



  3. Adam Welker on 1 March 2019 at 7:23 pm

    Wonderful read as always. I don’t, however, see how any of that pertains to stacking 2 drawer sides together to cut the tails. How does working more efficiently with hand tools compare to industrialization?
    When I was initially taught dovetailing, I certainly wasn’t taught to gang boards together. I was expected to learn the basic process first. But a year later I would’ve heard it from my foreman had I been cutting a single board at a time. Perhaps this isn’t a good example for the home woodworker and I realize that is who you cater too here. I would also believe that you were not taught this way in your youth as an apprentice. Nothing wrong with that. But many, many other professionals and instructors endorse this method. Anytime I have two drawer or case sides or whatever I gang the two pieces together. A simple jig for my vise makes lining them up nearly foolproof. I can’t imagine wasting the time of all that additional marking and moving around of wood especially on a wide case side. I still gain the same satisfaction from a well fit joint and get more done in less time as a bonus.
    I don’t know. I guess this article just surprised me a tad. I’ve long enjoyed your blog and have gleaned numerous little tidbits, tricks and techniques from you generously sharing your lifetime of knowledge and experience. It’s just hard to understand why you would not advocate ganging two boards together for cutting tails. Definitely not the way to learn dovetailing but after you have grasped the basics ganging up just increases your productivity.



    • Paul Sellers on 1 March 2019 at 8:18 pm

      I don’t feel that putting two board together becomes a gang in the same way two people walking down the street is a gang either. I think you perhaps present a straw man here because two’s company and mores a crowd.



      • Dave Larson on 3 March 2019 at 2:21 pm

        I just find doing both tails sides together makes it easier to keep the cut across the top perpendicular. It’s not a speed thing.



        • Paul Sellers on 3 March 2019 at 3:53 pm

          Whatever works. But don’t you think you might perhaps be postponing just cutting the singles? Just another view.



  4. DayJ on 1 March 2019 at 7:35 pm

    Difference between fly fishing a trout stream and throwing stick of dynamite into water. Both will most likely “catch” fish. (One will relax you, other get you arrested)
    In future, when that question arises, show ’em the exit… ’cause they do NOT get it. Save everyone time and grief



  5. Michael Murphy on 1 March 2019 at 7:40 pm

    Speed vs. quality. The age old struggle. I’d tell the person asking the question to go ahead and try it. The simple fact that the question was asked signifies a lack of patience or lack of quality-mindset. Then ask them how much filler they have on hand to make a mediocre job look worse plus the far more time it takes to fix the mess. Like all things requiring skill and concentration, the speed will come when the fundamentals become ingrained. Practice, practice, practice.



  6. ajens on 1 March 2019 at 8:04 pm

    I so agree with you, Mr. Sellers. I guess 99.9 per cent of us woodworkers who work with hand tools aren’t in any way doing it to achieve a commercial goal. It really doesn’t matter when our current project gets finished. Perhaps you could even say that the longer time it takes, the longer time you have to enjoy the proces. Of course it’s not quite so, cause you also want to enjoy the result of the finished project plus the satisfaction, pride and personal succes you experience when you see your good job done. So why hurry?

    All my life I’ve admired dovetailed joints but never thought it would be possible for me to make one. But your videos made me dare to try to make a 16” deep cabinet. I myself thought that perhaps 10 dovetails per corner was a bit optimistic. The first corner went very fine, the pins and tails fitted well and tight. Except two, where I cut on the wrong side of the line. I learned from that, so the second corner went fine, a little loos, though. The third corner ended out just perfect. The fourth corner ended with a perfect fit – just too bad, that I had given the dovetails the opposite direction!!! I had to make a new top for the cabinet, so I got the chance to make 6 dovetailed corners instead of 4. So my project lasted longer than expected, but finished I was a wiser man and in the end I think that the lost time has been a benefit for me. My wife patiently waited until the cabinet was finished and she still uses it ands says that she’s happy to.

    Looking back I ask myself if it would have made me happier if i had succeeded on the first attempt. And it wouldn’t! After this blog of Paul Sellers’ I can ask myself: What if I had dovetailed all 4 corners in one operation? And what if I had made one or more mistakes, then?… I think it’s good to our minds and souls to rather to say “I did a good job” than to say “I did a job”.



    • Rob on 5 March 2019 at 2:16 am

      Ajens – your comment re “the longer time it takes, the longer time you have to enjoy the process” sums up my sentiment beautifully. I had never stopped to think of it in such a way, but it is a lovely way to describe it! Thank you.
      And thank you Paul, for your tireless dedication to furthering the craft. A true inspiration.



  7. Ben on 1 March 2019 at 8:21 pm

    I’ve actually fallen out with friends about this issue, they fail to understand I’m deliberately doing a job slowly and with great care, one of them suggested I need machinery…. this resistance is quite common in people I meet. I know that what I make will easily outlast me and my lifetime, I think once you start cutting corners, you loose pride in your work.



  8. nemo on 1 March 2019 at 8:36 pm

    For what it’s worth, one thing that helped me in slowing myself down when I would notice I was beginning to rush things, trying to get a project finished as quickly as possible, was telling myself: “You’ve lived without [project at hand] for [insert age] years now. Surely you can manage another day or two more without it.”

    It really helps me to stop rushing a project and focus on working to as high a standard as I can. It provides a sort of rest, relaxation, to take the time the project needs. If that means stopping work and waiting for the stores to open next day to buy the right size of screws, then that’s what I do, though I may not like it. I suppose it’s a form of quality control.

    This works for many projects but not all; it’s counterproductive when dealing with a leaking roof or other urgent problems. But most projects aren’t that urgent when you sit back and take a look at the bigger perspective. Relax, take a deep breath, and do what’s right.

    Another way of saying it is, “you can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.” Some things simply take the time they need.

    Finally: efficiency shouldn’t be an issue for something you do to enjoy yourself. What’s the point of reading a poem or making a painting as efficiently as possible? Efficiency matters in running a business, but not for something you do for your enjoyment.



    • Steve D on 2 March 2019 at 1:00 am

      The process of impregnating nine women could be both efficient and enjoyable. While you won’t get a baby in one month, you have to be mindful of getting nine babies in nine months.



  9. Ken on 1 March 2019 at 8:40 pm

    I have just completed my second dovetail box. The second one came out better than the first so that’s good. I believe the next one I do I am going to gang the tail boards together and try that. I don’t care about the time savings particularly but I have heard the opinion that doubling the boards makes it easier to keep the saw square.



    • Sylvain on 1 March 2019 at 9:57 pm

      “I have heard the opinion that doubling the boards makes it easier to keep the saw square.”
      I think there is a Paul Sellers video showing such a thing but it is for accuracy and getting the same aspect on the four corners not for speed.
      Sylvain



    • Keith on 2 March 2019 at 1:36 pm

      You should just practice sawing square more. Ganging will make any poor cut twice as bad on the back piece as it continues a poor path out of square



  10. Bill Hall on 1 March 2019 at 8:46 pm

    I’m not so sure I personally would be in favor of ganging the pieces together for a drawer as it doesn’t take that long to lay everything out anyways. The vertical lines for the rails can be pencil and you stil need to put the horizontal lines on using a knife wall on each piece. Just not sure that much time is saved.

    The part of Paul’s teaching of dovetails that I often question is in removing the waste. While I am glad to know and understand the chisel it out technique, it’s so much easier to just use a coping saw first and then clean the dovetail up with a chisel.

    I know Paul has written something on that, which I was going to go back and read, but trying to find something like that again seems impossible. I checked the main site as well as common woodworking to no avail…..hopefully will stumble on it again. Maybe it was a blog, YouTube or something.

    Anyway, other than preference I guess, that’s the part of dovetailing I don’t fully understand the reasoning for and would like more information / insight on.



    • Bill Hall on 1 March 2019 at 8:48 pm

      Vertical lines for the tails



    • Paul on 2 March 2019 at 8:01 am

      I agree on the coping saw. I’ve always found it easier to hack most of the waste off with a saw before picking up the chisel. Each to his own.



      • Paul Sellers on 2 March 2019 at 9:16 am

        I guest therein is the difference–the word “hack” says it all.



    • Michael Ballinger on 5 March 2019 at 10:45 pm

      I think it was on the zona coping saw blades blog post?? I’m making the joiners toolbox at the moment, 11 dovetails on each corner and I’ve opted for chisel over coping. Originally I was going to do two corners in each method but after putting together the first corner and enjoying it so much I’ve settled on practicing that on all 4 to improve my skill. I’m glad Paul that you finally answered the question that I saw so many ask in the past because I was curious as to your position on it.



  11. Tom Hitchner on 1 March 2019 at 9:05 pm

    I work at a computer most of the week, stressing over my job and trying to get through the daily grind. It is exhausting and feel mentally and physically tired.

    But I work a day in the shop on the weekend with hand tools and I feel fulfilled and energized. It must be the dopamine.

    I would never like to speed up the hand tool process. It is invigorating and rewarding and satisfying. Roy Underhill gave me the inspiration to pursue it, but I think Paul gave me the knowledge and understanding to make it part of my life style and be successful and fulfilled.



    • RODNEY MAGEE on 1 March 2019 at 9:17 pm

      I believe Adam is doing this for a living, not to unwind and calm the soul, that is the difference.



  12. joe on 1 March 2019 at 10:20 pm

    Thanks Paul. Very well said. I do spend all day in front of a computer at work and more time in from of my not-so smart phone. Woodworking is a happy hobby for me. I enjoy that I am a hobbyist. I have no strict production schedule to meet (unless it is Christmas gifts). Speed is very low on the list of priorities. Enjoyment of what I do and as close to zero stress about doing it is highest on the list.

    Over the next 10 to 40 years (if I make it to 90) I suspect I will get very good it hand tool woodworking and have some fantastic pieces in my household that I made myself that I likely couldn’t afford to purchase.

    Speaking of dopamine, I further increase it by having my dog in the workshop (cats come in too) and when I rest I pet my dog as well. Life is great in my little slice of paradise. Thanks for helping teach me the skills. I hope to meet you in person some day. To that end, it would be delightful if you could come to one of the big USA woodworking shows so people could shake your hand and thank. you in person.



  13. Adriano J. M. Rosa on 2 March 2019 at 12:51 am

    The main reason why I follow mr. Paul Sellers is because of the wood and mr. Paul thoughts, then the English language (the English language is not my mother language) and the very interesting comments of the subscribers.
    I am 64 years old and have already had my share of stress, speed of running and adrenaline that suffice.
    Now, I have the rest of my life to do things that I like but I’m not in a hurry to execute them because “soon and well just who.”
    Although during the school holidays I have worked with wood in a wood sawing factory and carpentry being a helper of a roving machine, I am a newcomer working with manual planers, chisels, etc. Although I already have some lights while working the wood I lack the knowledge of years of execution but I am learning thanks to sr. Sellers and team.
    Calm down, gentlemen, because we are getting old, life is short and we do not have time to fool ourselves and do things again.
    Let’s practice, let’s practice.



  14. Stephen McGonigle on 2 March 2019 at 1:06 am

    I recently took up a class in French polishing, and set to with some older family furniture which was looking tired. My initial thought was to get a sander and take the finish back. My wise teacher insisted that I strip the wood with Paramose and then sand it by hand. I was at first impatient, and I’m surprised at this as I’m patient with hand tools. Anyway I soon came to realise that patience and preparation are the key. Her method made me feel the wood, study the grain and closely inspect my project, rather in the manner of Paul when he is assessing a piece.
    The results needless to say were so much better. Making a rubber, and the repetitive process of French polishing is so rewarding in that after a lot of work and physical effort, the finish miraculously seems to appear before my eyes. My sander is now somewhat redundant, care and pride are incalculable with your work.
    I was recently shown around a beautiful old trawler which had been converted into a pleasure boat and was quite luxurious. The man showing me had been responsible for refurbishing it, and when I commented on how well he had fitted some recessed hinges with all the screw heads facing the same way, he was so pleased that I’d noticed. He said that nobody seemed to realise the effort he’d made, however he commented that HE KNEW, and that made him content.



  15. Ben on 2 March 2019 at 3:40 am

    I’ve only begun the transition to hand tool woodworking about six months ago, having worked entirely with machines prior. After learning the basics of dovetailing, I ganged up a couple of pieces for the next box I was making and did the layout, and then contemplated cutting. And had the epiphany that doing so was defeating the entire reason I was moving to hand tools in the first place. I want to slow down and enjoy the process, gaining skills along the way. To gang them up was to short change myself in multiple ways.

    As I’ve worked more, I’m getting more and more efficient – dovetailing a box takes about 1/3 the time it did a few months ago – but ganging up items will never be part of my workflow. It’s like taking the scenic route and driving at double the speed limit.



  16. Laura Smith on 2 March 2019 at 12:47 pm

    I searched your blog about this very thing not 24 hours ago. Whether coincidence or otherwise, thank you as always for the great advice!



  17. George E Perentesis on 2 March 2019 at 5:18 pm

    By all means if you are working from home take your time, you don’t have a dead line for production. Enjoy the process. Remember the faster you go the more you screw up.



  18. Richard on 2 March 2019 at 5:37 pm

    In most cases, especially when using stock 4″ wide or over, I gang cut my dovetails. It is not much about speed as my results as just as good cutting them individually, but more about a habit of dovetailing and consistency.

    Why, for instance, not drill a stack of boards at the same time, instead of marking each board individually and drilling them individually? What is to gain? If you are talking about taking the time, feeling the process, enjoying the journey, etc., gang cutting doesn’t take that away from you, as you can simply do more dovetail projects. I don’t see how efficiency and enjoying the process are mutually exclusive.



    • Paul Sellers on 2 March 2019 at 7:16 pm

      Ah, but this is not in any way good practice for new woodworkers getting used to hand work as they get into woodworking. And from my personal experience I would never do gang cutting because I feel less control and less connection to my work. I could never in all integrity advise anyone to develop their skills through gang cutting or mass drilling methods.



      • Richard on 2 March 2019 at 11:45 pm

        I guess I missed your point in your post about beginners needing more practice. I agree that as one starts to learn to cut those joints, cutting them one by one would afford them more practice and skill development. As beginners tend to make mistakes, gang cutting could mean doubling the mistakes, resulting in more fire wood.



  19. Ed on 2 March 2019 at 9:21 pm

    I like sawing. That’s not where the time goes anyway. For me, the time goes into removing the waste. Once you finish the tails, if you are working by hand, you must mark the pins one by one, board by board. My point is that gang cutting the tails only speeds up one part of the process, and it’s not even the slow part. You can transfer the layout from one part to the next.

    I shall refrain from engaging in the coping saw war.



    • Paul Sellers on 3 March 2019 at 11:10 am

      I don’t think most people realise that if wood is stacked to four times the thickness of one piece it takes the same energy to effect the four-cut version as it does to cut the individual one cut four times. Bit like climbing stairs in twos takes twice the energy of one and so on.



      • Mike W on 5 March 2019 at 3:32 am

        It is also a bit “fiddley” to get all those boards lined up just right. And when you make the mistake cutting the wrong way…there goes 4 boards not one.

        Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

        Thanks for all your efforts on your blog and site.



      • Ed on 5 March 2019 at 4:38 pm

        If you want the process to be faster, probably the single biggest thing you can do is to choose a decent hardwood for the drawer sides and runners and then make the sides 3/8″ thick. That won’t work for big drawers or drawers that will have a lot of wear, but for many drawers it is fine. The thinner the drawer, the faster you can clean out the waste and the simpler fitting the dovetails and pins will be. I also like the look of thin drawer sides half-blind into a thicker drawer front. With thin material, give a rub or three to get on your line, then a push to really be in the groove, and finally one confident push, maybe two, and you’ll pretty much be to depth.



        • Paul Sellers on 5 March 2019 at 5:15 pm

          Really not for 3/8″drawer sides, Ed. You do compromise strength and also groove depth for drawer bottoms as well as wear resistance surface width. Now it does work for small drawers carrying very lightweight material/content. No doubt they look nice too, but I do see many thin drawer sides that are cracked because of racking, sticking drawer etc. So it must be carefully considered.



          • Ed on 5 March 2019 at 6:44 pm

            Thank you for the correction. I must admit, my drawers haven’t been tested by time and I was going by some drawers I’ve seen in 50 year old pieces. Would you be comfortable with 1/2″ other than for big dresser drawers?



          • Paul Sellers on 5 March 2019 at 8:27 pm

            I would. Also, amazingly, the Shakers used a unique system developed in Manchester UK where the drawer sides were 5/8″ at the bottom and tapered to 3/8″ and even less at the top on six to eight inch wide drawers to reduce weight but keep strength.



  20. Anthony on 3 March 2019 at 12:31 am

    No need to hurry up and finish yesterday.



  21. Allan on 3 March 2019 at 11:09 pm

    Would I be correct in saying that a “normal” dovetail saw is optimised for a cut in a certain thickness of board? Go over the optimum thickness and your efficiency will decrease as you are not clearing out saw dust properly.



  22. David on 4 March 2019 at 11:11 am

    The dovetailing obsession with ratios or degrees to me is a perfect example of this issue. Furniture makers hundreds of years ago likely cut dovetails as they saw fit not by following a formula. But post industrial man seems bent upon idolizing machinery and industrial production by debating 1:6 vs 1:8, 9.3 degrees vs 12.1 degrees as if there is a real difference. To me woodworking, and how I’m trying to teach my kids, is an opportunity to use my wits and creativity to solve whatever issue the wood presents me. It’s a reminder someone decided to cut the first dovetail and likely had to redo it.



  23. Michalofsky on 4 March 2019 at 11:41 am

    I am 74 and working wood for longer than I can remember. I have more and more projects to do as time passes.
    Shame on me but I don’t use dovetails since I acquired my domino. I love my domino.
    Speeds things up to one tenth the time. The joint strength is there. And through loose tenons look nice too.



  24. Dale on 4 March 2019 at 11:50 am

    Back in my days as an electrician, my boss sent me to the house of a friend of his saying he wanted me to do a good job, a fast job and a cheap job.
    I asked which one he wanted.



  25. Ron Tocknell on 4 March 2019 at 12:08 pm

    There was a time when cutting dovetail joints by hand was the only way to do it. So professional woodworkers who didn’t have the luxury of time would be well justified in finding methods of speeding up the process (and, no doubt, they did). Today, however, we have powered routers and dovetail jigs so, if you’re in a hurry, that’s definitely the way to go.
    If you’re into hand woodworking, however, why would you want to speed up the process of doing what you love doing?
    I do a lot of pierced work both in wood and soft metals like brass and copper. I make bespoke decorative hinges for the boxes I make. A while ago, someone offered me a laser cutting setup at a ridiculously low price because they no longer had the space. I declined the offer. “Are you crazy??” he said “Look at all the hinges you make! You could churn them out on a laser cutter!”
    “True” I said “I could also empty a cup of tea in a fraction of the time it takes to drink it simply by pouring it down the sink… but why would I do that? A machine isn’t capable of enjoying the process of making something… I am”.
    Speed isn’t everything.



    • Michael Ballinger on 6 March 2019 at 1:05 pm

      I love it – the tea analogy is brilliant.



  26. Mark N on 4 March 2019 at 12:49 pm

    Hi all,

    My first post here. Have been following this blog for a while now. Thanks Paul S for untying this together.

    I agree hand cut dovetails are therapeutic. It’s a skill. I have been doing these joints for 30 lus years by hand. Pairing up boards is OK. Hanging up boards for me is a no go. I don’t feel I have control despite the amount of clamps or if in a jig created to keep all boards in situ.

    Another great tip for cutting pins and tails is the blue tape trick.

    On a note last Christmas some of my more humorous friends bought me an Axminster dovetail jig. I used it anyway. Quite accurate. I will stick with hand tools though.



    • Mark N on 4 March 2019 at 12:53 pm

      *untying…tying. Predictive text.



  27. Ian on 4 March 2019 at 1:15 pm

    I think there is a place for using this process. If you cut tails first you can gang up the sides of a number of drawers for example and make all of teh initial saw cuts together giving you matched patterns without having to mark more than one side initially. In the days when someone was doing piece work making drawers all day I imagine this would be a great time saver but bulk furniture is now made by machine and individual quality work probably warrants everything done individually. If yo want all your drawers as mirrors of each other gang them up for symmetry not for speed. If you use the technique from James Joyce, used by Tage Frid and Rob Cosman to mark your pins from the tail cuts I would still use the side that will mate to the pin board and not use a master one to cut them all.
    Thanks Paul for your continued inspiration.



  28. Rick on 4 March 2019 at 1:15 pm

    I was a machinest my whole life and have been working with wood in my later years. One thing I learned is, unlike steel, wood is a living thing. No two pieces of are identical. Because of that they don’t respond to tooling the same. Similarly yes, but not the same. Grain twists and turns and density changes throught out the tree. Steel is easier to machine straight and square. But even with that being said, it is easier to make a 1 inch piece flat and square within 4 decimal places, but much harder to do the same to a 6 foot piece. Yes you may be able to mass produce parts at great volume but only at the addition to the size of the scrap pile.
    And, from time to time I do make a cutting mistake. I would rather recut one piece than a whole stack of them.
    There are advantages to mass production, and if was working in shear volume, I am sure I would find an alternative method to pounding out tons of product. That however, is not the reason I make wood shavings. I find peace, calm, relaxation and sometimes frustration working with wood. And….. satisfaction.



  29. Philip Seers on 4 March 2019 at 3:12 pm

    David Pye has written a book on this topic – The Nature and Art of Workmanship.



  30. Peter Fabri on 4 March 2019 at 3:28 pm

    Surgeons will explain that fast surgeons “work” at the same speed as “slow” surgeons. But they spend less time doing useless motions. The Japanese focus on distinguishing “value added” efforts. Hand woodworkers identify what is important and do it accurately.



  31. Kent HANSEN on 4 March 2019 at 4:05 pm

    Paul Sellers, you’ve struck the proverbial nail on the head. It’s quite in parallel to your blog that I revisit my own entry into hand tool woodworking and understand its predominance in my world today. I began many years ago with a shop filled with tools plugged into every outlet available. However, life later found me living in the confines of a fifth wheel toy hauler as a result of occupational necessity. My hand tool journey began as a desire to “tinker” in my off time in the back of my camper. I managed, with your video tutelage, to produce a healthy batch of gadgets, implements, and even furniture while working in that temporary and very confined space. Now, having returned to the ample working space of a full shop, I have continued to work sans electrical dependence. My power tools, sold to less fortunate woodworkers, no longer fill the air of my shop with whirring noise and choking dust. Now you’ll hear the pleasant song of a Disston handsaw and the quiet snick of curled plane strokes accompny classical music playing quietly on the stereo. The products from my shop are now not the result of spinning machinery and mill but rather the offspring of hand and heart.



  32. Renea Buchholz on 4 March 2019 at 11:46 pm

    These are such wise words. Thank you! I have made two of the dovetail boxes so far. Improvement is happening. I keep them near to see my mistakes. The process is peaceful and contemplative. I have also fallen in love with Poplar. The grain is fabulous. I look forward to honing my skills and becoming much more accurate.



  33. Bob Wallace on 5 March 2019 at 12:53 am

    Amen. At 72 I just want to enjoy the process.



  34. Chris Anderson on 5 March 2019 at 7:20 am

    Paul, I’m new to the world of hand tools and about to make my first investment in planes, saws and chisels. Your approach truly inspires me. I love watching you work and teach—you do both well, and your attention to detail is remarkable. What I love most is the genuine satisfaction I see on your face when you’ve carefully completed a project—and it doesn’t matter whether you’re explaining, sharpening or cutting. I want to experience that same satisfaction, which comes from careful, deliberate and incisive knowledge of both tools and materials. I’m grateful you decided to go public with your skills. Your generosity in all of this is admirable. Thank you!



  35. Carl Socolow on 5 March 2019 at 6:12 pm

    William Morris would be proud of you, Paul. You embody his ethos in the face of impersonal industrialization. And you’re creating both the beautiful and the practical. I’ve found your blog and videos incredibly helpful as I progress along the journey of mastery. Somedays, after work staring at a computer or engaging in frustrating human interactions, I return home, sharpen a plane blade and just practice making shavings. The sound, the motion, the smoothness is incredibly relaxing. And my skills have improved immeasurably. Thank you.



  36. Nathan Jones on 6 March 2019 at 1:40 am

    If you take a walk through a big name furniture store you will soon see the very conveyor belt that i think Paul speaks of. They do the research as to find what people want, that is aesthetically , functionally and then costing is considered, well probably cost as a first consideration, how cheaply they can have it produced for and how much they can sell it for, something like this.
    The more one looks at furniture in those big name stores the more one sees the blandness and homogeneity of it. Instead the furniture offered up might ‘have a look’ in which you can ‘ get the look ‘ but none of it stands out as original or honest. Fill your home with this kind of furniture and one feels it misses the point, the power a piece of originally crafted furniture can have on a space in your home and bring a certain zen quality.
    Had I repeatedly asked myself the question why I was in such a hurry to get a piece finished, i might have said, “so i can move on to the next”, but every piece of furniture i have made that has been in a hurry i always look at through eyes of knowing i didn’t give it my all, instead i took short cuts, didn’t sharpen, didn’t measure twice, didn’t square up and then as the piece comes together and everything is a little out here and there i finish it but know I’ll never look at it with satisfaction i have when i let the process take it’s due course.
    We are so preoccupied with the end result, the instantaneous gratification maybe the necessity we overlook that time well spent is time well spent and time well spent just might look like a process that is considered and respected.



    • nemo on 6 March 2019 at 12:14 pm

      In your post you have expressed what I think very succinctly and much better than I could. I felt myself wholeheartedly agreeing with you whilst I was reading it.

      ” They do the research as to find what people want, that is aesthetically , functionally and then costing is considered […]”

      Yes, and the problem with marketing research is that people will tell you what they *think* they want, not what they truly want. If, in 1890, Henry Ford had done marketing research, the answer would have probably been, “we want horses that have more endurance, eat less hay and are cheaper to run.” It’s hard to think out of the box and marketing research will not capture, or, if it accidently does, appreciate out-of-the-box responses. And even if it did, that still leaves you with the one-size-fits-all type of furniture that you’d get anyway. Confection.

      “The more one looks at furniture in those big name stores the more one sees the blandness and homogeneity of it.”

      True, but it only looks homogenous and fitting in the store. When I buy a piece of furniture today, and another one in 3-5 years time, and another one again 3-5 years later, when you combine it all in your livingroom it just doesn’t match. Despite buying furniture that matches there will always be small differences in style, fittings, finish, etc., that make it less matched. What I like about building my own things is also that the construction style doesn’t change. There are certain characteristics of the things I make (dadoes, chamfered corners, layout, look, general construction, colour of the paint) that’s the same for everything I make. The things look matched despite very different construction dates. Something that’s near impossible to do when buying at different stores at different dates. And a store that’s in business today… how likely is it that it’s still in business in 3-5 years, when you want to buy the same or a similar piece of furniture with the same style and look? Fashion changes, stores come and go, manufacturers in China (or Sweden) come and go. Your very own hands, mind and taste in furniture are likely to be with you the rest of your natural life.

      Instead of fashion and confection, I prefer timeless quality made to fit. And if you can’t afford or don’t want to pay others for that, then that leaves only the option to do it yourself. Which also happens to be the option that’s most enjoyable…. (Actually, for me personally, it’s the enjoyment that comes first and the other benefits, such as matched furniture custom-made to fit, follow and are of secondary nature). Perhaps like with ants and bees with specialized roles, some people (the engineering type; whether actually formally engineer or not is irrelevant) have an inner urge to make and build and when deprived of this possibility, problems develop.



      • Nathan on 12 March 2019 at 9:57 am

        Thanks for your reply Nemo, I like the things you have pointed out.
        Eclectic is probably the way I like my furniture, timeless yes to that too.



  37. Steven Newman/Bandit571 on 8 March 2019 at 4:28 am

    Hmm, this may get “buried” here at the bottom….anyhoo…
    Was building a 5 drawer “Chester Drawers” for the past week or so…got to the last three drawers to be built…
    broke it down into a series of steps….the 3 drawer front got all their items milled, then the sides got everything done to them…then the backs were fitted, and then the bottoms cut to size….only then, could I assemble all three drawers. mainly because of the set-ups involved….whether it be grooves for the drawer bottoms, dados for the backs to reside in, or the 1/2 blind dovetails….even had to make a jig to locate where the holes for the handles’ bolts went on the drawer fronts, so all 10 handles lined up, as if on Parade.

    Due to gall Bladder Surgery a few weeks ago, I had to keep a time limit on the shop times…no more 12 hour days…now down to 3-5 hours at the most…



  38. Matthew J Zifchock on 8 March 2019 at 12:17 pm

    Thank you Mr. Sellers for this post. It really elucidates many of the thoughts and feelings I’ve had about this approach towards woodworking. In my opinion this is a fantastic, succinct and elegant culmination of ideas. Don’t get me wrong, I have an amazing ‘50’s-era RAS that I’ll rarely use to rough out lumber, but other than that I use hand tools. This was out of necessity because of the price and availability of reasonably priced used tools. I’d estimate that ~80% of my tools are used, so being able to restore and maintain them was, again, out of pure necessity. I fortunately have a little more free time than most, so the idea of speed and “efficiency” never crossed my mind. I will not delve into my strong personal opinions about the denigration of society that the industrial revolution has wrought, but, I wholeheartedly relate to what you said concerning that topic. With this style of learning and doing, the satisfaction and romanticism of hand tools were a nearly inescapable force that immediately swept me away. Needless to say, you have tought me many, many things in my five years of practicing the craft. I’m a fan. A million thanks for your work and sharing your knowledge with the world. You have truly impacted my life in such a fulfilling way. You are an inspiration.