Friday, January 20, 2012


As part of my Christmas pressie to myself, but that wasn't really - and as I've still to actually get to most of it anyway, it could still end up being an unexpected Easter Egg after all that - as part of that I finally got myself a copy of The Anarchist's Tool Chest. Naturally just after I'd given up hope and ordered from Forn Parts, announcement came of UK stockists, but so it goes.

The world has had more than enough opinions and reviews of same for anyone's lifetime (and it doesn't seem to have hurt sales any), so I shall not indulge. Actually I haven't read most of what's been said by other readers, so don't know if my thoughts about it are wildly off-base or not. I shall confine myself to merely observing that I believe I prefer His Schwarzness's words of wisdom when they're a little more... focused. The limitations of either space (such as in magazine articles) or an existing framework (such as The Joiner and Cabinet Maker) are, by my reckoning, of benefit.

Anyway, while reading the section on actually making the tool chest, and while fully admitting that it did nothing whatsoever for my conviction that a tool chest is just about the last form of tool storage to opt for, I was moved to ho-hum over one particular decision. Something that probably hasn't even bothered one single other person on the face of the planet. But it bothered me.

It's about joinery. And skirts.

Oh, I know; I hardly ever talk about actual woodworking these days, and joinery? Hardly ever at all. And I fully acknowledge that the amount of practical experience of same I have compared to, well, almost anyone you care to mention, leads this to be of little value. But it's my workbench to muse from, so...

As for skirts; I haven't worn one in 20 years. But that's not important right now. This is about tool chest skirts. The dovetailing of same, and the moulding (or molding) thereof. Now The Schwarz opts for simple through dovetails and is happy to chamfer the end grain because it's all going to be painted anyway. Well, o-kay... But he also mentions the "through dovetail with mitred shoulders" option, but he didn't fancy the work of the extra layout. Here's one I made earlier, in case you're not familiar with same:

This one is orientated to accommodate a groove for a box base, but flip it up the other way, and you can see how it's "of special value even when there is no rebate because it gives a neat finish; also because it enables the edges to be rounded over... or to be moulded." (Thank you Charles Hayward and the ever excellent Woodwork Joints; a book you will refer back to again and again if you own a copy.)

See? Ready for all your moulding (or molding) needs. Although I believe you'd be advised to mould first and dovetail second.

Now it pains me (and God knows, I've been sitting on this post for a coupla weeks, wondering whether to voice it at all) but a little bit of my respect for Chris died at reading this. Yeah, there's still more than plenty to go round, but a tiny bit was lost.

a) Paint hiding stuff is just... arrgh. How you can write a book bemoaning the crapola sold in the big stores and then write this is... well, I just don't understand. I feel like the boy on the courtroom steps begging "Say it ain't so, Joe". By-the-by, one of the reasons painted furniture is regarded with such suspicion (at least in Blighty) is the habit of it hiding all sorts of heinous crimes of woodworking.

b) In other places (more than one, even) I think Chris has written how if he's had to ask the question, then he already knows the answer. Honestly, I think the very fact he even mentions the mitred shoulder says he asked himself the question. I truly hope he did, because I'd like to think he maybe regrets the option he went with. (Should Chris read this; don't disabuse me of this thought, 'kay? ;)

c) The extra step of layout is nothing in the scheme of things. I mean dovetailing by hand is three-quarters layout anyway. Laying out the mitre (or miter) is as a mere drop in the ocean, and would be the correct joint for the job (in my opinion, and yes, I will argue in favour of it until death if necessary. How long have you got? ;)

But I was willing to swallow all of this and point out to myself just how very little right I have to criticise anyone's joinery choices, until I read on and reached the application of a bead on the top edge of the upper skirt. Oooo, nooooooo.

Hands up who's had a go at working a bead across grain. Fun, isn't it? Then throw in the eye-wateringly nightmarish only option to work the bead after the skirt is glued and nailed to the carcass. I've been guilty of wilfully riding the "workmanship of risk" roller coaster a few times myself, but this just gives me the horrors. Why did Chris opt to do it this way?

So I thought about this. A lot. I mulled. I rolled it around my mind, wondering what I missed. Then I looked at it another way, and imagined I was thinking like a tailed router user - and then it all made complete sense. That's exactly how you'd do it with a screaming demon - because it'd be hellish difficult to do the mitred shoulder with a tailed router (although I think the WoodRat claimed it as possible, but at least one additional fixture was needed, if I recall correctly). But conversely, working any profile cross-grain is a piece of gateau.

So now I'm resolved to stop thinking about it and have (correctly or not - again, hold the disabusing, 'kay?) put it all down to one simple thing: The power tool-using petticoat of former years subconsciously slipped a bit and showed under The Schwarz's skirt...

Long way round to muse: Why doesn't anyone ever seem to use mitred shouldered dovetails these days?


  1. Interesting, since Schwarz posted here about how easy a mitred dovetail is (unless you're talking about a different joint):

    I used one in a chest I built (not for tools, but using Roy Underhill's toolchest pattern). The only layout problems were due to the interlocking grooves between skirt and chest; the mitre was relatively easy, and I'd never have been able to stick an ogee molding on the skirt without it!

    Oh, and I'll raise my hand as someone who tried a cross-grain bead with a moulding plane. Never again!

  2. A good point well made

  3. For my part, I hope you will keep posting about joinery if you will keep your eye on such details. We should all keep each other thinking.
    I have been looking at some antique tool chests, with the idea of building one myself, and I have found that the molded through-dovetail, as described by CS, is fairly common, however apparently indefensible. I have my eye on a particularly fine example (circa 1890) in pine with oak skirtings, all unpainted and with perfect joints and moldings. No, I don’t understand why either.
    -John Vernier

  4. Not everybody regards painted furniture with suspicion - it's a respectable tradition and can be delightful. OK it could hide all sorts of heinous crimes of woodworking but so could veneer, or french polish even, and it's good way of using inferior material.
    In any case "a good workman covers his tracks" at all levels!
    Congrats on reading enough of Schwarzy's book to find fault with it- if ever a book needed an editor this is it!

  5. Not that I think I'm "Anyone", but the last dovetail I cut had a mitred (or mitered)dovetail.

    On a totally unrelated point. Nice use of a dog hole to store your dividers!


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