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Friday, June 17, 2011

Pins or tails....on top?

First, a warning to those who follow this video blog to see sawdust flying and wood magically shaping before your eyes (go along with me here). We got the power tools cranked up in the last episode, but before I ventured further, I decided another discussion of design was in order. After I posted the 3D model in episode one, I got what seemed like a fairly innocuous question from Mark Rhodes asking why I had designed the dovetailed case with the tails on top and the pins on the side. My initial reaction was - "that's just how I've always done it, so there must be a good reason". Fast forward another 20 minutes, and I was locked in full brain-spasm. If you think the debate over cutting tails or pins first can spin your head, this is as much if not more of a conundrum. So before you post "I thought we were past the design phase, when do we get to see speed dovetail cutting?" bear with me one more episode. Don't worry, you'll get to see plenty of hand cut dovetails in the coming episodes (over 115 by my last count). As always, I'm all ears when it comes to your comments - especially if you have an opinion on "tales top".



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16 comments:

nr said...

I'd be interested to hear whether you found examples in your research where the tails were on the sides? Another good resource (besides the forums) might be to ping one of the masters, someone like Phil Lowe (I think you're a mass guy, right?)or another period furniture maker might have some insight into the history of where and when each type was used.

Mark Rhodes said...

I still think if its being wall mounted the tails should be on the sides, because you are relying on the glue to hold it together rather than the joinery. The two historical pieces that you showed are both sat on the floor, so the load passes down through the drawer web into the sides and in turn the feet. But both ways have compelling augments and that said, I dare say it will be here long after we are both gone, and I look forward to seeing it made.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Mark here. In addition to his "wall mount" point of view, and that a chest of drawers would sit on the floor, a tool chest, or similar piece, sometimes would have a handle on top to carry it. Therefore you would want the joinery to hold the piece together vertically.

Doc

Rob Bois said...

I absolutely agree on the comments about wall mounting, or adding a handle. If any horizontal forces were being applied to the case, you'd want to reverse the orientation of the tails on the case. However, this piece is intended to sit on the ground, and in fact it would be rare to see a chest of drawers wall mounted (drawers are inherently hard to access from higher up). So all the historical examples of chest of drawers I saw were also floor-resting designs. I'm really thinking about this piece as a chest of drawers that will hold tools, rather than a tool cabinet that happens to have drawers (if that makes any sense). My intent is that this piece could just as easily sit in someone's dining room, as in my shop.

Bruce Somers said...

Rob,

Interesting and thoughtful discourse on the historical usage of the DT's. So, you decided to stay with the plan and make the top and bottom boards your tailed ends. Did you consider using the half-blinds for the top boards?

Mark Rhodes said...

That makes much more sense now, I thought you were wall mounting it. Looking forward to see how you go about cutting dovetails.

Rob Bois said...

I did actually consider half-blinds, but perhaps the one area I do actually concur with arts and crafts is that good joinery should be exposed. It just shouldn't be the focal point. OK, I said it - bring on the hate mail from the G&G lovers :)

Kevin R said...

Absolutely loved the theory section of this entry. I wish more would go more into the theory of why they are designing things. That helps those of us that are starting up to start looking at things rather then just start cutting!!! Thanks again and keep up the good work!!!

Rob Bois said...

Thanks Kevin. I believe design is a sorely neglected aspect of woodworking by most trade pubs (PWW does the best job here) and certainly by the woodworking TV shows. In my opinion, furniture creation should be about 1/3 design, 1/3 woodworking, and 1/3 finishing. However, I'd say 80% of the content focuses on just the woodworking part, so I'm trying to buck that trend a bit.

Aaron said...

Very interesting topic, Rob. Thanks for tackling it, and I really enjoyed the discussion of the historical approach. Like you, I think we sometimes get too analytical when we design joints. Kudos on the decision.

Guy Bucey said...

Great video Rob, I completely agree with you on this topic. Even though strength and solid joinery in a piece is vital to its life span, as woodworkers we constantly focus in on joinery techniques and worry about the sturdiness of a particular joint. Meanwhile we forget about design and the true purpose of furniture(something that is visually appealing and performs a particular purpose. Thanks for the great vid and discussion.

Kip said...

Rob I researched Jim Tolpin's " The Toolbox Book" for this conundrum you are in. In every case that the dovetails were discernible the tails were on top. I saw at least a half a dozen examples. I hope this lets you sleep better.

Rob Bois said...

Kip, thanks for the additional research. It's funny, when I first designed this chest, I never even gave a moment's thought to which side the tails should go on. I think I've just seen the tails on top so many times in books it was just natural for me to orient them that way. It wasn't until Mark asked the question I really started thinking about it. I think its important to step back and think about why you're doing something one way versus another, rather than just robotically doing things the same way you always have. This was a helpful exercise for me, and hopefully for you guys as well.

Kip said...

To address the hanging tool box issue, I found plans by Chris Schwarz for a Craftsman styled wall hanging tool cabinet that had the tails on the sides. So the precedence for side tails suggests wall hanging cabinets and the top tails for tool boxes/chests.

Mark Hochstein said...

I agree that the orientation of the pins and tales in carcase construction should depend on what forces you are expecting. A hanging piece is a great case where putting the tales on the sides makes perfect sense. When I built the Media Cabinet I also put the tales on the sides even though it's going to sit on the floor. I did this because the height of the piece makes it natural to move it by opening a door and lifting by holding onto the top.
I discussed this with Chuck Bender as well just to see what he thought. He indicated that we were all on the right track. There is no "rule" about orientation as long as what you're doing makes sense.

Rob Bois said...

Mark, I love that you ran this by Chuck Bender. Everything you stated in your post pretty much jives with the research I did. What I did find a bit striking is how many resources I found seemed to have a universal answer that the pins should always be on top or on the side. Like most anything in woodworking, any time you hear about a hard and fast rule, you probably want to raise the BS radar.