Thursday, February 7, 2013

Physical Therapy: Dovetails & Practice

I have been getting a wee bit antsy about getting back to the bench.  So yesterday I thought I would do a little physical therapy to take off the edge.  This came in the form of dovetails and practice.  I surmised what better therapy for a recovering shoulder than a little light sawing.  It has been close to nine months since I last cut dovetails and I figured I needed to knock the rust off of that skill.

In keeping with my goal for this blog, I thought I would share some of my thoughts, no matter how psycho-pathetic they may be, on practicing woodworking skills.  Sounds odd I know but stick with me for a moment!  Think about this; a guitarist doesn’t learn to play a song like Hotel California without first practicing and learning some basic skills.  First they must learn and practice chords and chord changes while keeping time.  It is only after the basic skills are learned that the musician can move forward with learning songs.  So why do we as woodworkers attempt to build things without first practicing and learning the basics?

Quality shop time is hard to come by for many of us, so why not make the most of the little time you have.  Practicing basic skills can help greatly in this area.  It has been my experience that a little time spent practicing a basic skill prior to building a project pays off in many ways.  I rarely ruin material anymore and the time it takes to complete a project is dramatically decreased.  By taking time to correctly practice these basic skills they have become second nature allowing me to concentrate solely on the project at hand.

Sawing is a critical and basic skill required to properly cut dovetails.  When I first started cutting dovetails by hand I took 10 – 15 minutes a day for a week and practiced rip sawing to a line perpendicular to the board and angled while stopping on a scribed line.  In the same practice session I practiced rip sawing perpendicular and a vertically while stopping on a scribed line.  These are the basic sawing skills needed to accurately saw pins and tails.

If it has been awhile since you last performed a specific skill, like it was for me in cutting dovetails, do some warm-up practice before jumping straight into your project and risking ruining your material.  I took my own advice and practiced the two exercises as pictured above.  As a result the dovetails I cut were pretty good.  It wasn’t great because I need to sharpen my chisels, but that is another post.

So if you only have 15 – 20 minutes don’t blow off going into the shop.  Grab some cutoffs, your saw and marking implements and practice these sawing skills or whatever basic skills are required for the project currently on your bench.  I guarantee it is worth the effort and you will be amazed at the results.  I know I was!

~ Ray Schwanenberger

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