Dovetails and mindfulness

Posted by on Mar 8, 2012 in Blog | No Comments


I’m preparing for a couple of one day dovetailing courses I have coming up this weekend. I find people’s attitude to the dovetail interesting. It has a certain mystique about it, but in fact it is like any other joint just requiring careful attention to method, technique, accuracy and concentration to produce good work. Because the dovetail is held in such high regard it is often used inappropriately, often spoiling and otherwise good design. This is often true of those following the arts and crafts style.

As with all craft work cutting dovetails always goes better if you are “in the zone” or, as it is coming to be known, in a mindful state. Being mindful means focusing awareness on what is happening here and now. In our daily lives we are used to running on automatic pilot, we are often doing many things at once, for instance the teenager walking to school, listening to an ipod and texting at the same time. I know women pride themselves on their ability to multitask but multitasking means you are never really experiencing properly the things you are doing. By being mindful of just one activity or task you can do amazing things and also get more enjoyment out of doing them. When cutting dovetails you should aim to fit the joint straight from the saw, this means careful focused attention to what the saw is doing, particularly at the start of the cut. You can’t achieve this whilst texting! But when truly “in the zone” you can be surprised by what you can do. Before sawing I would suggest making a few cuts in a piece of scrap first, partly to renew you acquaintance with the feel of the saw, but also to settle yourself into a mindful state for the real cutting.I recently saw a design for a box on a woodworker’s forum. The designer was clearly in love with dovetails. So much so that he was dovetailing across the grain, an extraordinarily weak joint, in fact so weak as to be useless! The designer had let his love of the joint get the better of him. In the right place, in drawer making or on the corners of carcasses in shaker or arts and crafts work perhaps, dovetails can be elegant and appropriate, but use them sparingly. Don’t design the piece round the joint, design the form then decide on the best way of constructing it.

cutting a dovetail joint

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