WIA 2010 - Dovetails

The dovetail competition at the Hand Tool Olympics during WIA is always fun. The competitors run the gamut from skilled woodworkers to those who have never cut a dovetail before. For those who have never cut a dovetail before we guide them through making the joint and show them how it is done. For those who know how to cut dovetails we sometimes challenge them to a “throw down”, a head to head competition. These head to heads are usually accompanied with lots of humorous trash talk and posturing.

A happy first time dovetailer

At St. Charles WIA a skilled woodworker came through the booth that had never cut a dovetail before. Brian Boggs is a talented chair maker and he knows his way around woodworking tools. As a chair-maker he had never had cause to cut a dovetail so had never made the joint. It was interesting showing him how to cut a dovetail because he was the first person I had worked with whom I didn't have to show how to saw and chisel as well as cut a dovetail all at once. Because he already had the requisite skills he progressed rapidly, his first joint took him 11 minutes and 16 seconds and was fairly tight. His second joint took him 7 minutes and 50 seconds and was very clean. He had to run off after the second joint as he was a presenter and needed to get to his next session but I am pretty sure his next joint would have been in the 4 minute realm.


In Covington other luminaries passed through the booth. Here I am giving a dovetail “lesson” to instructor Eric Matson from the University of the Rio Grande. There appears to be a great group of people at the University, these two guys were certainly good sports

On the Rio Grande

In the “You never who is going to show up” category, we had a visit from woodworker extrodinaire Frank Klausz. What a great guy and fine gentleman he is. Frank was willing to go head to head so I gave him the run down on the Olympics. We use the tools we are given (in this case some fine dovetail saws by Klaus and Pedder and chisels by JCP toolworks) The only chisel you get is ½ inch wide so you need to plan for this. Frank makes those big dovetails so this wasn't a problem. We both work at the same bench so it moves a bit. I describe it as more like rodeo than woodworking. The timer yelled go and when the dust cleared Frank had finished his dovetail in under 3 minutes while I brought up the rear with a time of 3:11.

When we got out the cards to judge the dovetails Frank said I hadn't told him anything about cards and scoring so he sawed the end off of his dovetail and wanted to go again. This time I finished ahead of Frank with a time of 3:48 while Frank came in at 4:12. This was great fun with a lot of heckling from the peanut gallery.

Head to Head with Frank and Mike

My friend and chief heckler Chuck Bender than stepped up to give it a go. Since he was cutting his dovetail alone Frank was glad to shake the bench for him to keep it fair. Chuck came in with a time of 3:17.

Four sets of fairly fast dovetails, 3:11, 3:17, 3:48, 4:12

I called out Rob Cosman who was also working at the show. I was afraid he might be too much of a Prima Dona to show up but to his credit he did. I was glad to learn that he is pretty much a regular guy. Unfortunately it was after we had shut down and given most of the tools away so we will have to save that showdown for another day! Keep practicing Rob! The rest of you keep practicing too and, no matter your skill level, stop by for some good fun and camaraderie. The key to the whole thing is not taking yourself too seriously.