If you call Blue Spruce Toolworks you will either talk with me (Dave) or more likely, Kim. She is the nice friendly voice who takes your order and helps out with shipping issues, etc. She also writes the checks including our paychecks so I try to stay on her good side
The other day Kim was shopping on that giant online auction site and won a locking mail door from an old post office. It even came with the correct combination! When she asked if I could make a box to mount it into, I thought it sounded like a fun project and one in which I could talk about the tools used in the process. Kim wanted the design to be very simple and clean in appearance and she liked the idea of exposed dovetails. We decided on a box with through dovetails and mitered corners that would sit on a small stand.
A quick sketch was made to illustrate the concept. The box was sized using an age old technique: Kim says, “how about this big?”, while holding hands apart. I further refined the size by making sure the sides would fit between the screws of my mini Moxon vise. (I hope George Walker is not reading this!) Cherry was chosen to complement the antique bronze patina of the door. This blog post will look at the box joinery.
I found some cherry in a stash behind our usual curly maple, jointed the edges and glued them up so I could later rip them to 9 inches wide, give or take. I do not actually have any “real” woodworking benches in my Toolworks shop so I used the table saw as a temporary flat surface.
I also cleaned off one of my assembly benches, mounted the mini Moxon work bench and screwed a planing stop to the surface. Not quite Roubo but good enough. I cleaned up the panels with my Stanley 4c type 11 smoothing plane, one of my first hand tool purchases. Next up was cutting the panels to length, I used a cross-cut sled on the table saw.
A Hamilton Marking Gauge made quick work of scribing the baselines. I forgot to take a picture of laying out the dovetails but I used the divider method demonstrated many places such as: Laying out with Dividers. I incise the tail layout in the end grain using a joiners knife or marking knife and a high quality square.
It is faster mark and saw two boards at the same time. Here I am using a Wenzlof and Sons dovetail saw. The teeth are a little fine at 18 tpi for this size work but the saw is sharp and did a great job.
You have the choice of chopping or sawing out the majority of waste in the pin sockets. I think I currently like sawing as it is faster for me.
Here is my chopping effort though. For smaller scale work I like to use Dovetail Chisels, they are lightweight and perfect for the task. I do not hesitate to use a mallet with the dovetail chisels for light chopping work. Here I have been using our 16 oz Round Mallet.
I cut or chop close to the layout line and then use a block as a paring guide. This is probably a crutch and more experienced woodworkers may scoff. That is okay, I am still developing my skills.
One thing I would like to point out is how the concave edges of our Dovetail Chisel allows you to get right into the corner and really see what you are doing.
After all the tails are cut and cleaned up, mark the pins from the tails. You can use either a traditional Spear Point Knife or a Joiners Knife but they take slightly different techniques. The single bevel spear point knife is held flat against the tail while the joiners knife is used between the tails and held at an angle equal to the bevel angle. If you are interested in using both kinds of knives, we offer our new Marking Knife System which can use either style of blade as well as other options. I wrote a short blog post about it here: Blog Post
Again, you can either cut the majority of waste using a coping saw or chop it out using chisels. One issue of interest that I ran into was that no matter how sharp I honed my chisel I would get significant tear out while chopping (here I am using a prototype O-1 firmer chisel). I have come to the conclusion that the wood is more than partly to blame as I did not have the problem when testing other woods. Perhaps during the kiln drying process the wood properties were altered, turning it to mush. I will need to look into this more.
After paring the waste to the line using a wood block as a guide, I cut the miters for the mitered dovetails.
Here I have already added the grooves for the front and back panels and you can see where I made a mistake. Part of the pin was shaved off when cutting the groove. This will need to be repaired but I will wait until final assembly. It pays to double check your initial layouts!
I tested the joints and discovered that still I have a long way to go to be a decent woodworker! My miters did not close exactly tight and the fit of the dovetails was not as precise as they are in my dreams. (notice the lack of photographic evidence) I am not going to beat myself up too much though; every project is another step on the path to honing my skills. Note that the leather face on this 16 oz Mallet is very handy for assembly and dis-assembly tasks as it does not mar the work piece.
At this stage I will try to refine some of the miters and fit using a Paring Chisel and start work on the other pieces. Stay tuned, next will be the completion of the box and making the stand.
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