The Anne of All Trades Blog

Learn to Cut Dovetails by Hand

IMG_9845.jpg

I love teaching people to cut dovetails because, contrary to what seems to be popular belief on the internet, they are not really all that hard. With some basic instruction, nine fairly basic tools, and an afternoon in the shop, I’m pretty confident anyone can cut a perfectly functional set. It may not be the prettiest set, but, in antiquity, dovetails were actually invented because hand forged nails were the only option at the time, and were too expensive to produce. If you go to an antique store and look inside the drawers of old furniture, chances are the dovetails you see are not going to be all that pretty. They weren’t meant to be the Everest of woodworking, they were meant to hold two pieces of wood together.

IMG_9815.JPG

You’ll notice in this video I use a whole lot of fancy tools. I use them because I have them and I am proud to have purchased them from boutique toolmakers pursuing their dream of making beautiful things and in so doing, supporting their families with small batch tools of extremely high quality. I’ll go through the list of tools I use and love at the end of the video, but as I mentioned at the beginning of this video, you can cut dovetails with 9 basic tools that most people already have, in some rusty form or another, in their garage.

While this is meant to be a comprehensive guide to dovetails, here are a few tips covered in this video:

When I’m done chopping, I want to check every mating piece for square. I also want to make sure that there is no material sitting proud of the joint which will stop the dovetails from fully seating. Any offending bits of material get removed with the chisel and rechecked with the square.

57415913896__DCD6DB45-77C1-46F9-AA13-8E47EACAC953 2.JPG

While I don’t like to test fit my joinery, I do want to make sure everything is going to go smoothly come final assembly. To that end, using a fat pencil, draw a line across the tips of all your pins and gently press the mating boards together. If there are any tails or pins that are still proud, the pencil carbon will transfer to the opposing board, and you’ll know where to remove a little material. It’s important to re-test often when doing this because removing material from one area might make another area seat differently. The real goal is to get confident enough in your sawing that you can assemble your dovetails sawcut to sawcut. The more fussing and fixing you do with your joints, the more hours you add to your projects and the higher the opportunity for introducing or exacerbating error.  

Before glueup, I like to pre-finish the interior of my cases to avoid glue marks and finish absorption errors later on. You want to get glue on every surface that will mate. It’s not super necessary on end grain to long grain connections, but I always say it can’t hurt.

When putting the case together, most yellow glues have an open time of about 30 mins. Well cut dovetails don’t need clamps, but it’s always nice to have clamps and cauls laid out and at the ready just in case. I also like to have a piece of wood slightly thinner than my tails to use to tap the tails together to make sure they are fully seated. Before walking away, I check the case for square, then let the glue sit. You can plane or sand your pins flush, then add the finish of your choice to really make them pop. I like to leave the baseline, so I don’t remove much material, and that is just a nice tell that the piece was handmade.

34777AFD-B15E-406B-9AC7-1BF804ED9549.JPG

Before I go, I want to give a HUGE thank you to my sponsor, Woodcraft, for supporting me while I produce this kind of free educational content. Woodcraft is a great resource for woodworking tools and supplies- but more importantly, every store has woodworking experts who can answer your questions and build your community. Many stores also offer classes.

Posted on May 1, 2019 .

Sculpted Walnut Table for the Tiny House

While I’m waiting for the chimney parts and solar panels so I can continue work on the Tiny House, I figured I might as well get to work on the furniture that will fill it when it’s actually finished! To that end, my friend Erik Curtis (follow him on Instagram @encurtis) came out from Philly to help me build the sculpted table he designed for the space!

We had four days to construct it from walnut, and I’m super happy with how it turned out!

9acdd40eca11eab133d5b16a657bd987.JPG

Erik and I met five years ago working together at Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. When I was in Maine assisting Ashley Harwood teaching bowl turning at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship this summer, Erik happened to be doing an artist fellowship there as well and we got to talking about collaborating together on a project in Seattle over Christmas. For me, square is easy. Coming up with a square table or cabinet design is no problem at all. Erik specializes in sculpture and design, and he had plenty to teach me on the subject during his visit. I got to apply the power carving techniques I’d learned carving the alpaca sculpture with Michael Alm a few weeks ago, Erik showed me how to design using foam insulation (carves quick and easy) and he taught me a new joinery technique I hadn’t used to affix the legs to the top.

IMG_8708 2.jpg
IMG_8838.JPG
IMG_4137.JPG
IMG_8822.JPG

It’s always fun to have a friend in the shop, and even more fun to have a concentrated block of time in the shop to devote to starting and (finishing) a project, a luxury I don’t often have between running the farm and keeping up with my writing, photography, and social media businesses. However, a goal I’ve set for 2019 is to find more hours in the day to spend in the shop, as I’ve got some really fun project ideas and a nice new shop in which to build them!

Posted on January 14, 2019 .

TV Tray/Lap Desk/Sofa Table? Whatever You Call it, I've got a new Project!

When Erik and I built the sculpted walnut table for the tiny house, there were several mid-project design changes and design ideas. One of which we actually made, then realized we didn't like the way it looked. We spent a huge amount of time resawing and flattening this piece of black limba by hand, so I wanted to make sure I came up for a good use for it when we decided not to incorporate it in the original table design.

IMG_5284.JPG

I saw someone eating breakfast in bed on one of my favorite shows, and came up with the perfect project idea: a bed table. This could be used as a TV tray, a tray table, a couch table, a workstation for working in bed, used as a tea party table seated on the floor... so many options, but most importantly, the Limba top found a table to go with it, and I couldn't be more pleased with the design.  

I had chosen Black limba for the sculpted table top because not only is it one of my favorite woods to work with handtools, it’s coloring and open grain structure make it a really nice match for walnut, which is what we were using for the leg stock. The original plan was to glue up and resaw a piece of black limba to create two bookmatched round pieces for the sculpted table. We cut down a slab and prepped it for the first glue-up, then I used the tablesaw to cut dead center on the piece and establish a starter kerf around four sides to act as a guide for the framesaw as we resawed it. The framesaw can be used by one person or two, but I was definitely grateful Erik was around for this cut. The saw cuts surprisingly fast because it’s sharp and there is a low tooth count per inch, but it was still quite a workout. Because we wanted to be sure to preserve as much thickness possible for the resawn piece, I added domino joints to align the panels. This is a largely unnecessary step, but considering how thin the panel actually got at the end there, I was really thankful I thought to add them. 

IMG_9156.JPG
IMG_9172.JPG

One tip for large panel glueups is to choose the show face before glueup, then adjust the glue line with mallet taps after the piece is in the clamps so the show face has as few undulations as possible.

IMG_9180.JPG

With the panel out of the clamps, it was time to flatten it. It was too big for my surface planer, so I had to do it the old fashioned way. I started with a scrub plane, which has a curved blade that scoops material and cuts quickly. Wood grain is weakest when cut across the fibers, so when a lot of material needs to be removed, cutting across the grain, or traversing the grain is the most efficient way to do it. The scrub plane removes material in a hurry, so it’s a good idea to stop and check your progress often.

After the scrub, I use a jointer plane to finish truing the surface. This gets rid of the scoop marks from the scrub and ensures the panel is flat along it’s surface. Even with the jointer, I stop and check my progress with a straight edge often, marking the high spots with my pencil. When the pencil line is gone, I recheck and redraw my lines when necessary.

IMG_9232.JPG

Despite my greatest efforts, the final thickness of the panel was a tad too thin for my liking, and, since the grain of the wood runs perpendicular to the long side of the table, I added some walnut supports along the bottom. You’ll notice that the middle hole in the supports is round and the fastener holes at either end are elongated. This will allow for seasonal wood expansion and contraction. The fasteners will hold the two pieces of wood together, but when the panel expands and contracts, the screws can slide freely within their slots on the supports. 

I really liked the way the scrap leg material curved outward. I wanted to utilize that as a design feature in these new legs. I used all the 3d design and carving I’d learned from my past two projects and put them to use on this one, designing curvey, faceted legs that came out exactly how I wanted them to.

This is a pretty simple two day project that would be made even easier if a few more power tool methods were used and/or available to be used, but I’m so pleased with how awesomely ELEGANT this piece looks. It’s light, I love the lines, and it’s built well, and thus should last a nice long time. Another win for Black Limba and Walnut if you ask me!

tv+tray.jpg
Posted on January 13, 2019 .

The Dream Shop is Done!

Finally, after a year of work, my dream woodworking shop is finished. What was formerly an old, broken down, moldy, condemned building is new and beautiful again. All my tools are out of storage and ready to be put back to work and OH BOY do we have some fun projects on the docket! After 3 years building furniture by hand in our tiny laundry room in the house, I cannot express the pure joy of having space for pirouettes and machine “apprentices” in my woodshop. So many of my friends showed up in huge ways to help me with this project, and I couldn’t have done it without them.

I love my new shop, of course, but what I love most is having a space that is warm and inviting, a space that inspires creativity, and a space where my friends and I can gather to build awesome stuff together.


Posted on December 16, 2018 .

TINY HOUSE BUILD!

This summer, my best friend April Wilkerson made two trips out to Seattle to help me build a Tiny House for my mom. Building a tiny house has been on my bucket list since we bought the farm, so it was SUPER AWESOME to finally get to tackle this project. During the process of this build, April taught me SO much about construction, and I must say, after all the remodeling I’ve been doing on the farm, it is SO MUCH more fun building fresh than trying to fix an old building. Everything happens so fast! As the tiny house sits currently, we have about 3 full weeks of work into it. It’s primed, roofed, dried in, drywall is up, windows, door and subfloor are in, it’s wired for electricity, buttttt the project is currently stalled as I’m waiting on some Solar Panels and a special piece for the roof so I can install the tiny woodstove, dry out the interior, and finish mudding and painting the drywall. At 8x16, this is definitely a TINY house, but once it’s all outfitted, it will be a really cozy, totally liveable space. I can’t wait to bring you the next portions of the build, so stay tuned!

Posted on December 11, 2018 .

Barn Renovation

This was a VERY long overdue project on the homestead, in which I tore down a wall separating our heavy use area in the barn and put in individual stalls and sliding doors for my miniature donkeys and Nigerian dwarf goats. I used all reclaimed lumber from a Parkour studio in Seattle which was torn down, and my neighbor donated the stall doors he was tearing out of his own barn to the cause. Between this project and the French Drain system I installed in front of the barn in October, the animals are far better set up going into winter this year than they ever have been before. With these upgrades, I’m hoping hoof rot, worms, and other minor illnesses resulting from staying damp all winter will be a thing of the past.

These farm projects are of an enormous scale. They are hugely demanding both physically and financially, but it is a major goal of mine to give my animals the best life I possibly can. They unselfishly give me so much unconditional love and affection, and bring so much joy to our lives, I feel it’s the very least I can do.

Posted on December 9, 2018 .

Tusk Bookshelf Build

This summer, I was honored to be invited to teach at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. I taught a basic joinery class, in which we built a japanese style Tusk bookshelf. I had to build one to prepare for the class, so I decided to bring along a camera while I did. This is a great project to practice all kinds of woodworking joinery including hand cut dadoes, mortise and tenon, and, with a few simple design modifications, dovetails.

Posted on December 8, 2018 .

Making Cheese... and Dough... Pizza!

Learn how to make cheese at home with just TWO ingredients, milk and cheese! One of my favorite things about homesteading is having fresh milk every day, but that milk adds up QUICK, and cheese is a great way to use up that milk, get some delicious fresh cheese, and enjoy a great byproduct as well, whey.

This is my favorite recipe for cheese for Pizza, and to that end, I’ve included the recipe for my favorite pizza dough below as well. And, while we’re at it, my Pizza Oven video as well.

Posted on December 7, 2018 .

Making My Own Woodworking Tools

When I first started getting really into handtool woodwork, I realized if I learned basic blacksmithing, I could make my own handtools, so I set out to make all the tools I'd need to turn the trees I fell at the farm into heirloom quality furniture. I forged a drawknife, a carving axe, several carving knives, chisels, an adze, splitting wedges and made my own shavehorse. Check out those videos on my channel. Green woodworking, and riving green wood for furniture is an important skill to learn because it teaches a lot about wood grain, wood movement, and why wood "acts" the way it does. Becoming a blacksmith was just a means to an end for me, and another step towards sustainability and self-sufficiency on my homestead. I'm incredibly thankful for the instructors and facilities at Pratt Fine Arts Center for the opportunity to learn forging and metal work. If you're in the Seattle area, be sure to check them out- http://www.pratt.org

See the video below!

Posted on December 6, 2018 .

Honey Harvest!

After 4 years keeping bees, I’ve finally been able to harvest some honey! This is really “part 1” of the Honey Harvest video, because I’ll be making another video next week showing how to extract and process the honey with a centrifuge. I’m hoping to keep more hives at the farm next year, and am excited to have found a local mentor who will coach me a bit more in the process of keeping bees.

Posted on December 5, 2018 .