Dovetailing Machine of 1890

The year was 1890 and the first ever dovetailing machine was patented by the Britannia Company, Colchester for £2 2s. It’s a dovetailing jig as we would understand it which is used on a foot powered table saw.

It was an unfortunate year, the beginning of the end of yet one more skill, but in the interest of gaining historical woodworking knowledge we shall read more about it and how it’s used.

A pine board 24”x 18”x 3/8” is clamped at each end on the table saw. A spline fitting the groove in the table saw ensures accurate movement, with a slot exactly in the centre of the two frames when in their places, for the saw to work through as shown in Fig.1.fig1

Fix on the gauge, (Fig.3) which is a piece of wood with slots at intervals, according to the size of dovetails required- upon platform, (Fig.2), of frames, as shown. These gauges are generally fixed upon the lower ledge, but for some work the upper ledge may be more convenient.  These gauges can be easily made by an amateur, or are supplied with the dovetailer.

The appliance in Fig.2 is to be fixed upon the board as shown, so that the saw may run clear when the movable frame is at either end of the segment.fig2Put in the screw through the frame Fig. 2 and screw down so as to allow the frame to move backwards and forward. The frame is to be fixed as shown 2 ¾” from square line of saw. To cut the mortises, place the wood upon the inclined plane, having adjusted the table so that the saw will cut the correct depth. Bring the front edge of the wood up to the end of the gauge, holding the marker in the left hand so that it falls into the various slots s the wood passes up the incline. The positions of the operator, the movable table, the frames, gauges, inclined plane, wood, marker and saw are all very clearly indicated in Fig.1

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When one row has been made, turn the wood round and take the marker in the right hand and follow each cut up the incline until the cuts are completed. To cut the tenons or pins, adjust the saw table so that the saw cuts the required depth. Fix the gauge on the lower ledge of platform, the inner end of gauge forming the distance for the first cut.

Of course, it will be understood that the cuts only are made by the saw. The clearances of the mortises and the wood intervening between the pins must be affected in the usual manner with a chisel. The merit of the entire appliance lies in the presentation of the edges of the wood to the saw in such a manner and in such a position that the saw kerfs, first in one direction and then in the other, are made with such sure and certain regularity of distance and direction, and perfect parallelism, that an operator who is comparatively an unskilled hand can be enabled to perform work which, if done by the hand, must be the outcome of long practice combined with the utmost care in execution.

England has been at the forefront of invention of engineering marvels since their creation of the Industrial revolution in 1830. I’m in midst of writing an article on the industrial revolution and its effect it had and still has on human lives.  All I’m going to add is that this machine or appliance eliminates the need for a skilled dovetailer. I’m sure it would only take two minutes to train anybody to operate it and produce flawless dovetails.

For the sake of mass production and of course profits, we have traded something more valuable in fact something priceless; skill.

Something to ponder. We marvel at how skilled craftsmen they were. But how many pieces made were actual hand work?  I think it’s safe to bet that our craftsmen in the 18th century were machine free and therefore truly skilled at their jobs. On the same token it would be grossly unfair if I said the opposite about our craftsmen in the 19th century.  I can’t help but wonder how many of those dovetails we see on antique furniture of that period were made by hand or by the patented dovetailing machine.

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How to fix a wonky Auger bit

I wish I had of taken a photo of the auger bit prior to the fix, but I didn’t think of writing about it till it was too late.

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Just because it’s an antique or vintage doesn’t mean it’s flawless. This set of Irwin auger bits is pretty good, but far from flawless.  I bought this set years ago and haven’t used them much in all this time.

Anyway, I remembered that I had a bit 3/8″ that wasn’t straight and of course it’s always the one that is used more than others or at least second to the 1/4″. The shaft was bent and pretty much I might add.  Maybe someone dropped it, either way it needs fixing.

On the metal part of my lathe which is now serving as an anvil until my luck runs out, I tapped it straight with a rubber mallet they use in panel beating.  (This mallet is pretty good and will not leave a mark on wood not matter how hard you hammer it.) I would hammer a couple of times and check the bit by eye. Once it looks straight, I would finish it by hammering whilst turning the bit 360°.

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This is the result.

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I chucked it in the brace and held the bit and brace vertical while slowly turning the bit. No wobble, good news, it’s not a bin job. It’s fixed.

Issue III has finally been released as you all know and there has been a lot of downloads, but zero feedbacks.

Hope this post helps someone.

A side rebate plane’s fence, fix solution

A side rebate (rabbet) plane widens dado’s (housing) or trench (Europe) and grooves, wow so many names for one joint.   Sometime a dado is a little too tight to accept a shelf or a groove for a drawer bottom needs to be a little wider for a perfect fit, this is where these planes excel.

There are several versions and makers of these planes, I believe Stanley only produced two of the No.79 and the 98 and 99 which Lie Nielsen now produces. 98_99

Then there was Edward Preston, whom Veritas based their design on and not to forget record. When Preston left the tool making scene, Record took over the production of the Preston planes.


Some time ago I began my hunt for a decent no.79 and I found one on eBay. I can’t remember what I paid for it, but they’re stupidly expensive now. The one I found was in near perfect condition. Here are the eBay pictures I downloaded at the time.


Whoever bought it must have thrown it in the toolbox and forgotten about it.  It’s rare to see these planes in such good condition. Well, I was lucky. There is another version of the no.79 you should avoid. They have slotted round screws instead of the thumb screws like I have.

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I suspected at the time that the slots in the screws would wear out through repeated use, so I asked my friend Tony as he has one and he hates it for that reason alone. Tony’s tool chest was featured in Jim Tolpin’s book “The Toolbox Book.” page 28.  He fits over 400 tools in his chest and it weighs in at a whopping 400lb (181.43kg). That’s an entire workshop of tools he can carry to any job site and only taking up a small corner in the back of his pickup.
Let me see anyone do this with modern machinery.

Anyhow, the purpose of this blog was not to go into any detail about different versions of the side rebate planes, but to discuss a manfacturer’s flaw in the fence and the quick solution I came to fixing it.

So even though it’s basically new for a vintage plane, it still had a manufacturing fault. The fence wasn’t 90° to the surface of the plane. This rectification was on my to do list for many months, but I didn’t give it much thought on how to fix it since I don’t have a square metal block, I’ve left as is till this morning.  My day typically begins at 4 am when I’m not working my other job, this is the best part of the day as your mind is fresh with new ideas and it’s peaceful as the world is still asleep. It’s very serene.

I started off with a pair of pliers trying to bend it into shape and all I managed to do was create small teeth marks ruining what was once a pristine surface.

If Stanley did their job right in the first place, I wouldn’t have had to do this.

So, I kept bending it like a moron not realising that I was also creating a hump in the middle.  Now I was frantic and I looked around in desperation for anything that was square that could handle a beating and there she was. My lathe.

I threw a square up against the outside face and no go, so I tried the inside and alas she’s square.

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I placed the fence against the metal bar on the lathe and with the hard part of a rubber mallet I struck several light blows across the surface.

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Yes, it worked! The fence is square, but the hump is still there. To fix that I used a normal metal hammer and got rid of the hump.

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Had I given this proper thought beforehand, I wouldn’t have left teeth marks on a pristine surface. Lucky for me these marks are not sharp where it would mar the work. Surprisingly though they are smooth as a baby’s butt.

Is this a must have tool?

It’s a toughie to answer, yes and no. Yes, when you need one and I have used it more often than not, but it’s not an everyday “usage tool.”  I think it’s one of those tools you tend to forget you have until the day pops up when nothing else will work as the tool you forgot you had.

Rabbet Plane Build Split in Half

I had some free time on my hands, yeah, I know, shock, horror I got free time. I returned to an unfinished project I started a few months ago building a wooden rabbet plane.  I was boring a 1″ hole near the escapement when CRACK the bit split the timber in two.

Rather than chuck the plane away, I glued it back together again with fish glue.  Those cam clamps provide just enough pressure without risking crushing the fibres.  I say that because I reattached it as is without disturbing the break. Fortunately for me the break was clean with no missing parts.

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I left the plane oversized in length, width and thickness. When I inserted the iron and wedged it, I noticed the plane bowed ever so slightly.  Maybe when I put the cover on the rabbeted grip, the bow may not return.  I guess I’ll have to wait and see.

Issue III release date notice

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Finally it’s finished, all the articles completed, edited over and over again. This was a big project for me as the moulding planes article was a toughie to write about.  I needed to provide enough description without putting you to sleep and make it easy enough to follow.  I think I have accomplished both and I believe you will be able to make any h&r using a simpler method than the traditional British and American approach.  I have covered many aspects of the build and the reasoning behind the numbering system.

I’m sorry it took so long, but I think you will agree it was worth the wait.

As you can see I’ve also made some minor changes. Hope you like it.

As always I would like to thank Matt McGrane our magazine’s contributing editor. I would be lost without him.

Issue III release date is on Saturday 4th November 2017.

Yes, it is free