Things I’ve Read Now Put to the Test

I doubt that I’m the only woodworker out there that subscribes to a number of woodworking sites that send out information and, of course; lots of invitations to either buy or subscribe to something.  Even though the commercial part of it is annoying it does expose you to a number of ideas and processes you would otherwise not know about.  That’s why I’ve titled this blog “Things I’ve Read Now Put to the Test“.  For the most part  the advice I give students when asked about how to do something is to investigate all the resources they can, then come up with their own method and perfect that.  I suggest too, to put on a pair of blinders because that information we get via the internet always claims  to have the best, easiest, way to do anything!

In my opinion, Fine Woodworking Magazine is the most reputable source of information out there.  I bought my first issue when I was in the Industrial Arts department at San Francisco State and about 8 years ago sold my complete collection to a collector!  I now have an on-line membership and check out the latest issues from the library for reading.  In any case, I’d like to talk about some articles that came to mind as I was preparing for the upcoming Hand Tool Class.  The first was one by Michael Peckovich and had to do with a method he came up with to help his students as they cut dovetails.

Clear Pine; Radiata

Clear Pine; Radiata

It came to mind as I was making the project for the class, a dovetailed box made of Radiata Pine. This is a species I hadn’t heard of before and if you click the link you’ll find that it is a fast growing species of Pine which explains its’ very soft characteristic.  My guess is that it is fed copious amounts of fertilizer to yield a fast growing but not very stable wood.  See the picture at the right, I was dismayed to see how the end grain “chunked out” rather than cut cleanly like a harder wood tends to do.  There’s a belief that softwoods are easier to work with than hardwoods which I believe and this experience proves that!  With sharp chisels the edge grain can be cut cleanly and since that’s where the glue strength comes in I can’t be concerned with the appearance of the cut between the pins and tails.  I tend to worry about how the students will work with this and that’s when I remembered the masking tape trick.  Getting a clean scribe into this Radiata Pine is difficult due to its softness.  The technique Michael Peckovich described used painters tape, he found that the tape not only gave the students a better visual it also seemed to act as a stop for the dovetail saw as the joint was cut, you know what; it seems to work!

Pin board taped, ready to scribe

Pin board taped, ready to scribe

Cuts made, ready to chisel out waste



The process begins by putting a layer of painters tape on the end of the pin board.  I needed to re-scribe the shoulder line.  The tails are then transferred to the pin board and the tape is removed from the area that will be cut away.




As I began cutting to the line it was a bit easier to hold the saw onto the waste side of it.  Due to the soft nature of this wood, scribing a clean, crisp line was difficult so the tape actually acted like a barrier of sorts to help begin the cut.



This is the initial fit after chopping out the waste between the pins.  Really not too bad if I do say so myself!  It’ll be very interesting to see if my experience with the class is similar to the one discussed in the article — certainly hope so!



MDF Caul

MDF Caul

Another method I wanted to try prior to the class was to use soft pine as cauls for the glue up.  This is another “Things I’ve Read Now Put to the Test“. The usual way I go about this is to make cauls from some scrap material that has sections removed so that there is only pressure on the tails and the pins, which are slightly proud, have somewhere to go, here’s an example of one.  I’ll take a piece of MDF or scrap, mark the tail locations, remove them with a series of cuts on the tablesaw, and finally cut them into strips as shown.  This way clamping pressure is placed on the tails and the pins, which are usually slightly proud, have somewhere to go as the clamp applies pressure.

I recall reading an article in Fine Woodworking that mentioned using soft pine for the cauls because it’s soft enough for the pins to “dent” into when clamping the box together. Thought to give that a try as well, much easier to put packaging tape on a piece of soft pine than it is cutting grooves.  The other thing to try during the glue up came from yet another “Things I’ve Read Now Put to the Test” and that was just start the box assembly and apply glue to the sides of the tails only.  After seeing how the end grain “chunked out” from the Radiata Pine there certainly wouldn’t be any glue strength there!

Glue up

Glue up



For this project bar clamps were supported on some blocks.  After partially assembling the box my glue of choice; Old Brown Glue, is applied to the long grain sides of the pins and the box is clamped together being sure to check for square.


Clamped up with soft Pine cauls

Clamped up with soft Pine cauls

The soft Pine cauls that I’m experimenting with are covered with packaging tape to prevent the any glue from sticking to it.





Soft Pine caul with pin impressions

Soft Pine caul with pin impressions

After drying over night I wanted to see if the theory went into practice and if you look closely at this photo you’ll notice the impression of the pins in the Pine, it worked!

That’s all for this blog but these are things I can share with my class that starts tomorrow (1/17) at 11:00 am.  The class is more skill based than project based, looking forward to meeting with them and sharing my woodworking passion with them.


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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1 Response to Things I’ve Read Now Put to the Test

  1. Pam Lassila says:

    I love watching how wooden furniture is made. It’s so intricate but simple at the same time. I love the look of wooden furniture as well in the home. It’s so comfortable and practical but beautiful as well.


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