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Friday, April 13, 2012

A Journey In Search Of Easier Joints

I love the look of dovetail joints. While I know how to hand cut them though, people just don't want to pay the price for my work to make it worth me going through that trouble. Besides that, most average people cannot tell the difference between a hand cut and a machine cut dovetail. Now don't get me wrong. If someone wants hand cut and is willing to pay for it, I enjoy doing them. For the average person though, the fact that a joint is hand cut does not matter to them as long as the overall quality of a piece of work is up to par. So I went into some research of an easier way to make dovetail joints.
Before I done anything else, I spent two days testing the quality that is possible with a certain dovetail jig I already had. I started to post a photo and name of that jig but decided against it. I instead posted a photo of some of the test pieces I made with the jig. With some time and patience, it can be of use to some people. As picky as I am though, this jig just did not consistently provide repeatable quality that I could ever be satisfied with.

What you see in this photo is the machine I built using plans I purchased from a man known in certain wood working circles as Stumpy Nubs. This machine provides me with everything I want in a dovetail jig. It does so much in fact, that it is not called a jig, but the Dovetail Machine. This thing provides consistent repeatability, tight joints, adjustability. It has it all. A comparable, factory made machine, is extremely expensive. I wound up with around fifty bucks in the building of the Stumpy Nubs Dovetail Machine.

So what makes it so great? Notice the fingers. They slide along the track they are mounted to so that you can adjust the tails and pins of your dovetails as wide or narrow as you'd like. Also, you can even do variable spaced joints to give it more of that hand cut look. This machine also provides a means for cutting sliding dovetails. It is everything I want in a device to machine cut dovetails and more. I am extremely happy with it.

If any of you want to build this yourself, you have to wait. There is more to this story. I will provide links to more info at the end of this post though. First, read on.

And the proof is in the joint. This photo shows the first test piece from the Dovetail Machine. This was quickly whipped up out of scrap and hastily setup of my router. It is tighter than most hand cut dovetails I have done. Even without any glue on it I wouldn't be worried about using it as is. When I use this joint in projects with glue, it will give plenty of strength in addition to the good looks of it.

So after building the Dovetail Machine, my attention quickly grew to another type of joint after looking at what else Stumpy Nubs had to offer, the box joint.

I already had a way to cut box joints. I made a jig for that a long time ago using miter gauges. While it was primitive, it worked. It had it's limitations though. It was set up for three quarter inch fingers. I'd always done just that size because it was such a pain to reset the jig to do anything else. It would have been easier just to do hand cut dovetails. Well, Stumpy offered plans for a machine that offered infinite adjustability and looked like it would work well. So after I had such a good time building the Dovetail Machine, I just really wanted the Box Joint Machine as well.

The Box Joint Machine design using a lead screw system that is controlled with cranks and a handle on the left side of the machine. You can cut any width fingers on your box joints simply by counting different amounts of turns on the crank handle. It is a pleasure to use and opens up a whole new world of possibilities for me for using box joints.

The lead screw controls a carriage that you clamp your stock to that is being cut. This means no more moving my stock for each cut, which was always a pain in the butt. Every time I moved it, I had to take the time to reassure everything was straight and square before making the next cut. With this machine, you clamp your material to the carriage. Then your carriage moves when you crank the handle, while the stock stay clamped in the same place. This, in addition to the fence that keeps everything square, means I can now cut box joints in a fraction of the time it used to take me.

The machine rides in both miter slots on my table saw instead of one. This helps assure everything stays square. I really don't know how much more I can brag on this machine. I guess the best way is to show you what it can do.

This is again just a test piece in scrap wood. These are quarter inch box joints. They provide amazingly strong joints. Now let me tell you, this is the first time I've ever put this small of box joints on three quarter inch thick wood. I've just never had a way to cut box joints accurately enough to make fingers that small. I am overjoyed with this machine and am sure it'll see plenty of use in my shop.

So I recommend the plans for these machines to anyone who likes them. They are worth more than the ten dollar price tag that Stumpy Nubs gets for them. Stumpy, like me, is not trying to make a huge profit on his designs. He just wants to keep his shop running. So if you think you'll like something like this, go watch some of his videos and order some plans from him.

You can watch videos of Stumpy Nubs at Blue Collar Woodworking.

You can go straight to the Dovetail Machine video here.

You can go straight to the Box Joint Machine video here.

You can see the available Stumpy Nubs woodworking plans and purchase them at the Stumpy Nubs Store.


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