Dovetails & Dutchmen

Assembled with one coat of  shellac, bottom has Dutchman.

Assembled with one coat of shellac, bottom has Dutchman.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about woodwork it’s that using woodwork and perfection in the same sentence is a rarity!  Let’s face it, wood being a natural material is unpredictable and apt to move on its own whenever it wants to.  Working here in the desert the humidity changes aren’t much of a problem but I recall that at San Francisco State guys would have a wood joint that fit perfectly at the end of the day but in the morning the fog rolled in (with its humidity) and that joint no longer fit.  Here the problem seems to be the other way around, it is so dry the wood tends to shrink a bit and become more brittle.  All this is leading up to a gap in a dovetail on the wine presentation box.

Dovetail-Dutchman-1Having never dovetailed quarter sawn White Oak before I was curious to see how it would work.  I always marvel at woodworkers that can cut a perfectly fit dovetail in mere minutes!  It doesn’t take much to be off your line ever so slightly and have a tiny gap like this one.  It may have been the result of moving the saw away from the line or a little chunk of the tail breaking off due to the character of the wood.  If this were a drawer I might have let it go but since this is in a presentation box it needed to be fixed.

Cutting Dutchman, tablesaw and rip fence.

Cutting Dutchman, tablesaw and rip fence.

I took a small piece of the Walnut and scribed a line of the required thickness.  The way I cut a Dutchman on the tablesaw is probably not OSHA approved but works so remember all of the disclaimers about woodworking being an inherently dangerous activity and pay attention to what you’re doing.  Carefully wrap your hand around the fence and have the blade just barely protrude above the wood.  Guide the wood into the blade, cut about 2″ or so and then turn off the saw.  You can either wait until the blade stops before removing the wood but I prefer to lower the blade as it coasts to a stop to avoid any possibility of a kick back.


Dutchman ready to be removed

This is what the piece will look like after you cut it.  Use a chisel or a utility knife to separate it from the rest of the wood.  Now it’s a matter of trial and error.  If you’re lucky your first attempt will fit as it should, if not you’ll need to completely remove the piece and try again.  This fix is called a Dutchman and since I’m Dutch and born in Amsterdam I like the name.  I’m certain that it comes from my heritage of being frugal.  Frugal sounds so much better than being cheap doesn’t it?

Fine tuning the Dutchman with sandpaper

Fine tuning the Dutchman with sandpaper

Once the piece is pretty close to fitting you may need to do some sanding to fine tune it to the gap.  Use liquid hide glue to prevent swelling of the wood which would make it difficult to insert into the gap.  After the glue has set for 10 minutes or so, trim off the excess but leave enough to block plane off flush after the glue is fully cured.

This presentation box is finished with a shellac called Kusmi Button #2.  This product is one of the many shellacs available from Shellac.Net and the top photo gives you an idea of how it will look.  I’m padding it on and used a brush to get into the corners.  All of that will be followed by hand rubbing the shellac out and I’ll post some pictures of that when it’s done.


About woodworksbyjohn

I'm a retired woodshop teacher. I build one of a kind furniture pieces and custom picture frames. You can see some of my currently available work, boxes, carvings through my Etsy store: Contact me about your project -- always up for the challenge of unique work.
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