Posts Tagged ‘veritas’
I had this idea pop into my head the other week and decided it wasn’t going to stop nagging me until I tried it. So here’s what went down and where it’s headed next.
When sawing to a line, there’s a few typical steps and hand tool individual would take. First, use a marking gauge to scribe a line parallel to an edge. This creates a crisp target to work to, but trying to drop a saw against that line is difficult to do without crossing the line. If you’re sawing off a tenon cheek, for example, you want that shoulder cut cleanly and free from defects caused by the saw jumping the line when trying to get the cut started. So, step two is to chisel a little V that butts up against the knifeline you created prior. You obviously want to remove the material on the waste side of the line. Now drop the saw in the V and go to town.
I got thinking about this two-step process, looked at my Veritas dual marking gauge, and went to work. The two posts each have a dedicated cutter at one end and nothing at the back end of the post. I added a 45 deg bevel to the back of one post, tapped a 4-40 hole (which matches the holes at the front of each post) and installed a prototype cutter. When the post was re-worked, I installed it so the tips of each cutter lined up.
The idea at this point was to drag the gauge across the board in the usual fashion, but after the vertical cutter has scored its line, the angled cutter would follow along scoring the little V typically removed by a chisel.
So how did it work? Not too shabby.
To be really effective I’d like to have a pair of custom cutters made up, that’s where I’m headed next. For now it worked well enough to prove the concept. I like the fact that the modification is really just an addition to the existing gauge without taking anything away from tool as it was originally intended to function. Just flip the post around and you’re back to two vertical cutters. So until new cutters are made, that’s all folks.
Sterling Tool Works makes one tool (so far), but they make it well. The Saddle-Tail (S-T) can be used as a dovetail marker or a saddle square and is made in America from machined brass and tool steel. Before I get too far along, let me say I love dovetail markers. They are fast, accurate, and repeatable and after using one I think you’ll be very reluctant to go back to squares and adjustable bevels. Now lets talk details.
For years I’ve been using the Lie-Nielsen (LN) dovetail marker and am relatively pleased with it. It’s made from brass and cocobolo, comes with a 1:7 slope and 1:6 slope and costs a reasonable $35. The S-T from Sterling Tool Works is different. Instead of two slope options like the LN guide, the S-T has one sloped face and one square face, thus making it both a saddle square and dovetail marker. In addition to having a saddle square, the claim is that with one sloped face you won’t accidentally flip the tool in use and mark two different slopes on the same board. Personally, I could go either way on this point. I like having more than one slope option and with the LN guide you get two options in one tool. You can get up to three slopes from Sterling but you have to purchase multiple tools. This would be my only quibble, it’s a matter of personal preference and it’s not really against the tool itself. If Sterling ever offers a dual-sloped version (and I think they should) there would be no debate on who owns the dovetail marker market… though I suppose a dual-sloped guide could no longer be called a “Saddle-Tail”, oh well.
Now lets get into the things I like… and there is a surprising amount for such a small tool. First off, the manufacturing quality is top notch. The fit is outstanding and the finger recess machined in the brass is the first indication of the thought that went into the tool. There is also a relief notch in the corner to allow a snug fit even on boards with rough edges.
Next, the heft of the tool is substantial. Instead of aluminum or wood, the body is brass which adds appreciable weight especially when combined with the thickness of both the brass and steel. This thickness not only adds weight, but gives the user more surface area to register a marking knife against (though you’ll probably use a pencil most often with this tool).
Now for my favorite feature, the size. After all a dovetail marker is little help if it doesn’t mark full lines. This is my only complaint about the LN guide. It’s a beautiful tool and works well, but any stock over 3/4″ thick doesn’t get a full line marked across it. 3/4″ is plenty for a single drawer side, but most people cut both drawer sides at the same time, doubling the thickness of the cut. As a result, drawer sides over 3/8″ thick can not be marked in pairs without going back and extending the line with a standard square. Dovetailed carcasses are also over 3/4″ in many cases so the additional length of the S-T, as I said before, is my favorite feature. How much reach do you actually get? The brass body extends 1-5/8″ and the steel extends 1-1/4″.
The length is also necessary for making the tool a useful saddle square. My favorite saddle square is from Veritas. It’s inexpensive, large, and comfortable. The S-T, however, is almost the same size and makes owning the Veritas version unnecessary.
Finally, the slopes being offered by Sterling are somewhat unique in themselves. When cutting dovetails in hardwood today, a slope of 1:7 or 1:8 is suggested, softwoods use a steeper slope at 1:6. However, pictures and existing pieces of older furniture suggest steeper slopes were often used. Sterling decided to offer slopes at 1:4, 1:6, and 1:8. As you can see in the first picture, between my LN and two Saddle-Tail guides I can choose from 1:4, 1:6, 1:7, or 1:8 so I’ve got plenty of options.
In closing I’ll say this, the Saddle-Tail guide from Sterling Tool Works is an outstanding tool I highly recommend and one you will be proud to own. However, premium tools are never cheap and the S-T guides run a hefty $75 a piece. If you can’t swing that for a layout tool, the LN guide is well worth the $35 (though be aware of its length limitations as I mentioned above) as is the Precision Dovetail Template from Wood Joy. And if you’re really pinching pennies you can get the aluminum guides from Veritas (just don’t buy this version, they’re useless in my opinion).
If only cutting dovetails were as easy as laying them out. -WMT
Update: click here.
I recently returned from the Handworks event in Amana, Iowa, held on 5/24 & 5/25. It was an awesome trip featuring only hand tool vendors and only the best of the best. The chance to meet so many talented tool makers and try out so many premium tools in one sitting was unparalleled. Hopefully this becomes an annual event and maybe even moves around the country year to year to give more people a chance to attend.