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ShopCam HiLites for 11/8/00
A Pocket Full of Walnut

This morning was somewhat of a washout. First I get up late after spending way too much time watching the election results flip back and forth. Then, after working in the shop for an hour, my neighbor called to ask me to pick him up at his mechanic's shop - bad ball joints.

Still, during that hour, I got the drawer parts face-jointed and planed to thickness. In the photo right, I'm feeding one piece into the planer while catching another coming out the back. Even with the feed rate set at it's slowest, keeping the short pieces butted to prevent snipe was fairly athletic. I'm awake now! ;)

During planing, I found this bullet buried in the wood. This one is all lead and didn't nick the knives - whew!
After the faces are thicknessed to 5/8", it's time to joint one edge very smooth and straight. This edge will become the top edge of the file drawers for Mr. D.'s wall unit.
Then the parts are carefully ripped to their finished height of 10" and crosscut on the Glider. Square corners are the key to easily dovetailed drawers and the Glider really helps out here.
At this point, it's time to make some decisions. I sort the parts and figure out which faces are seen from the outside and which faces are buried behind the files. The inside face is identified by a heavy pencil line about where the drawer bottom groove will be located. This line also tells me which edge is on the bottom so I don't get confused and put the sawn edge on top. The line also comes in handy at the dovetailer - more on that later.

My dovetail jig is homemade and patterned after one I used to operate in a semi-production shop. With a 24" capacity, it can be used to mill two corner joints at one setup. Or the middle clamp can be removed to half-blind case parts together.

The whole deal is built around a solid-core door biscuited and braced at a right angle. Some of the parts for the jig were scavenged from my old 12" half-blind dovetailer. The rest are common hardware items and five De-Sta-Co toggle clamps.

In the photo, I'm replacing the old 100 grit PSA disks used to keep drawer faces and backs (pins) from sliding back from the force of the dovetailing process. A rubber ink roller pushes the sandpaper down securely to the jig.

Using the jig is pretty simple. Roughly clamp the sides (verticals) in place and butt the adjoining front/back up tight behind. Then align the ends of the sides so they are flat with the top. Some folks use a straighedge for this - I just use my fingers to make sure the clamped parts are level.

The two parts for each joint are offset 1/2" and but up against two stop bars on each side. I also make sure the pencil line is up and to the outside so I don't dovetail the wrong way.

The wooden pressure bars are milled to a steep curve so with the ends pinned down at the clamps, significant pressure is applied to the middle.

In this picture, the template has been clamped in place and dovetailing is under way. I start from the right side and climb-cut a shoulder edge across both joints. Such an initial cut will prevent any tearout along the inside faces of the drawer sides.

Most standard dovetail templates have their templates machined to result in dovetails 7/8" on center with 7/16" wide fingers. When it came time to make my template, I didn't want such an odd spacing so I made mine on 1" centers with 1/2" wide fingers and 1/2" wide spaces in between. Since I'm still using the 7/16" guide bushing, I have to go in along one side of each finger and out on the other side. It works fine.

So in use, I just follow the template from the left end to the other end. when I'm finished and before removing the template to swap in new pieces, I inspect the joint for any fingers I may have missed.

Here's a closeup of the different parts in the jig. The only parts from my old dovetailer are the brackets screwed to each end of the template and the knurled knobs for locking down the brackets. Other than the toggle clamps, everything else came from the hardware store.

The template is made of 3/16" phenolic and I cut the fingers using a box-joint jig on the tablesaw with a 1/2" wide dado set. Then the fingers are rounded over with a 1/4" radius roundover bit.

I had to make three test cuts to get the bit depth dialed in correctly. When it's too loose, lower the bit. When it's too tight, raise the bit.

I try to get them as tight as I can without having the dovetail corners break off when the parts are banged together.

Today, cleaning up the jig and doing the test cuts took about 90 minutes. Machining the actual dovetails took about 30 minutes. Anyone see a trend here?...;)

When all the dovetails are cut, the next step is to cut the 1/4" groove along the pencil line. The fence is adjusted to center the groove between the half-pin at the bottom and the first whole pin on one of the drawer fronts or backs.
Similarly, the groove for the sides goes through the back side of the lowest tail - this prevents the groove for the bottom from popping out the side.

The next step is laying-out the location of the pilot holes and countersinks for the drawer face mounting screws. I like to drill these before assembling the drawer - it looks more professional this way.

Placement of the screw holes is rather delicate. One thing we don't want is sending a screw into the thin portion of the panel-raise, where you can see the screws from the front of the cabinet.

Another thing we don't want is putting too many screws into the panel for fear it will constrict it's movement and cause the panel to crack. Luckily (and it was luck) the frames for the drawer faces are wide enough to catch them safely leaving only one screw to go into the panel.

Here's the setup on the drill press. I only mark up one part and transfer the marks with a pencil to the fence. Then I don't have to mark any other parts - just follow the tick marks.

After cutting out the 1/4" plywood bottoms, the last step of the day is sanding the inside faces of the parts. It's just so much easier to do it now. Incidently, I was a late convert to ROS sanding, mainly because my old sanders worked fine. When it came time to upgrade, I thought it might be wise to try a sander with a dust bag/vacuum attachment. I tell you folks, this is the bee's knees! Gone are the days of working in a dust cloud if you don't want to... and who really wants to!

In the photo right, I stop the sander just shy of the ends on the fronts and backs - I don't want to take any wood away from the precise fit of the dovetails.

Tomorrow the drawers will get assembled - the easy part of the operation!

If you have any questions or comments about Mr. D's Walnut Wall Unit, please post them at the Info Exchange.

Jim Mattson

 Onward to the Next Installment

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