Everyone Should Cut Dovetail Joints

January 10, 2020 - Kerikeri, Northland, New Zealand

Why is there still a place in the world for the hand-cut dovetail joints, given there are means to cut a joint that will prove strong enough, by machine only methods?

The dovetail joints are intriguing. It draws you in to question the processes that took place in order to make that tight fit.

Before I had any thoughts about building furniture, the mission to cut a dovetail was an end in itself. That first dovetail took me 4 hours and it was heinous.

A properly cut dovetail is beautiful.

But, the pendulum swings both ways, and that dovetail is humbling as often as it is majestic. The saw travels a little too far in the cut, the angles are slightly out - these small errors are present in cuts from the most well-trained and expert hands.

It's these small elements of humanness that put us, craftsmen and women, in our place.

And to take the idea of humility a step further, consider this time-honoured and supposedly complex joint, juxtaposed against the often-overlooked complexity inherent in timber itself.

Here we are scoffing at a tight and neat looking joint when, within the timber, are many different types of cells, all with a special role to play. In any hardwood, there are five different cellular types: vessel elements, ray cells, parenchyma cells, tracheids and fibres. Some suited to strength, others, the conduction of sap.

The joinery and function of cells within timber puts our human hands to shame.


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