…”Have you made your dovetail template yet?”
No, I replied. Do I need one if I’m using yours? It was a genuine question, not intended to be cheeky at all.
You’re not using mine any more after today.” He dropped a short piece of mahogany my side of the bench and told me to copy his and I did. It’s this type I have used all my life to date and not because it’s the first one I ever used. There’s something about the balance of it, the usefulness of the square on it and such that just feels so right. It’s just a good, unpretentious template.
So with pencil sharply pointed, a sliding bevel set to a 1:7, I made my first tool. Two years later I lost it and I made another which I duly lost too. I have made many a dozen since then, for myself and for others, and now I have taught many a thousand woodworkers to make and use them too. Though I have seen many other types of guides since then, I have never seen one made by another that wasn’t a copy of mine and George’s. Who made the first and how many people copied it I have no way of knowing but it was not a common thing. There will be many a thousand out there now, all from that one day encounter back in 1965 with George’s dovetail template. That’s how it is with passing things on. They’re handed down you see, these trade secrets. These word-of-mouth encounters twixt boy and man at the well of a workbench, hand-on-shoulder experiences where avuncularism thrives and takes always a certain path. They’re verbally given and without reserve because its a symbiotic synchrony and one we are indeed losing day on day. But at least that is how it was for me in the day. I did it with my boys, with my apprentices and with my students. I just cannot help myself.
Some times we lose sight of the efficacy of things like that, things being ‘passed down’. Of course we are all the more losing the context for such things too. How many apprentices dressed in ragged overalls and Tuff boots standing at a bench laden with hand tools do you know? But worse still is when things are not handed down at all. Those guys who hide their work from others, tools even, drawings as they pass by the bench. I have been with them too.
Here’s the thing though, anyway. I’ve reinvented it. I’ve taken what I had and have used for half a century and added new features that refined it in a very unique way, made it better, more versatile if you will, after all these years. I may have also made it the engineer’s challenge. Whereas the original was made lovely by its simplicity and the fact that it can be made easily by any woodworker, mine will not be like that. But it’s quite patentable too; design wise it can be patented and made to look very beautiful by a range of added design features. The thing is I don’t know quite what to do. I don’t need more work. I mean I’m not looking for a second job! I’ve too many. of those. I just came up with the idea. Does the world need another dovetail template? So the question for me now is should I pursue it? It’s not something that’s going to make me rich, I know that, but I can see a few woodworkers advantaged by it. I can see them wanting to own one or even two of them. I’m also thinking of making it with the ability to add your own wood bits to it. Sort of customised from some piece you might treasure, you see. Oh, what to do!