Sandor Nagyszalanczy’s Dovetail Sled Jig – Initial Observations After First Use

Susan was working late yesterday so I made use of my time and popped down to the shop and try some test cuts on the new sled. Very briefly, here are my thoughts on the first session. Remember, absolutely no experience with this jig and extremely limited experience laying out dovetails.

  1. I realized that I can barely layout tails first and had no idea how to layout pins first. Sandor’s instructions indicate cutting the pins first. (Note, this would have helped:
  2. I decided to layout and cut tails first because I didn’t have unlimited time to struggle with pins.
  3. Which side of the tail line to cut was fairly intuitive as the angle of the kerf lined up with the angle on the tail.
  4. Setting the blade height was not intuitive. I used trial and error, creeping up a bit at a time. This was time-consuming and part of the problem simply came from first use. However, after properly setting the blade height on one side, I switched sides and started cutting away only to realize the BLADE HEIGHT NEEDED TO BE LOWERED. The ramps are reasonably symmetrical however the miter slots apparently are not. Ruined the first piece but that’s why they call it a test.
  5. After marking both ends of another tail board, I cut both sides and was pleased with the results. I took this board to the band saw to clear waste between the tails. PATIENCE was required but taking time, I was able to clear the bulk of the waste without messing up the tails. Caution is required, it takes time. I don’t have a 1/8″ blade but that is what Sandor suggested in the instructions.

The Good

After a few missteps the tails I cut looked rather nice. I am hopeful this system will work with a bit of practice.

The Bad

I was surprised that blade height needed to be adjusted from left station to right station. I will figure out a way to easily and accurately set the blade height. Cleaning the waste between the tails requires refinement on my part. I was also pretty clueless as to which line to use for cutting pins. Another trial is required.

The Ugly

Peeking over the edge of the jig to watch the cut being made will result is a face full of sawdust. I encountered this at I initially attempted to adjust the blade height. Speaking of blade height, in order to cut 3/4″ stock that blade has to be pretty freaking tall and it is a bit scary doing so much cutting with beast spinning “out of its cage”. It would be more comforting albeit much slower to clamp the piece each cut and keep your fingers away from the front fence.  Whether or not I will actually do that is another question.


Sandor Nagyszalanczy’s Dovetail Sled Jig

“Never let lack of creativity or talent get in the way of accomplishing a task”, I always say. With the tool tote effectively finished I spent time over the weekend building Sandor Nagyszalanczy’s dovetail sled for the table saw. I have dabbled with using the band saw to speed the dovetail process but it too would need a jig (at least a wedge) to make the cuts effectively. When I saw this plan a year or so ago, it was on my list of things to try.

Table saw dovetail sled

I’m pretty sure that I found the plan for free but it’s not my plan so I wouldn’t presume to publish it. Rockler sells it for $8 but you can probably find it other places as I’ve seen it around.

Basically the jig has four stations, and uses both ends of the sled. The end comprising the ramps are for cutting your tails, the other end with the angled fence allows you to cut the slope on your pins. Each side has a left and right cut. I can’t tell you how well it works yet as I just finished up my build late yesterday afternoon.

Last task for the day, gluing up the blade "guard".

Last task for the day, gluing up the blade “guard”.

I always read about how “it should only take a couple of hours to whip up this jig” but this one took me two sessions. During the first session of a couple of hours, I cut out most of the pieces of the project including the making of a really basic tapering jig. The tapering jig I made was nothing more than a piece of MDF notched to form the 8° slope recommended for the ramps.

Most of the pieces were cut and ready for assembly over the weekend. Notice the simple tapering jig (bottom left)

Most of the pieces were cut and ready for assembly over the weekend. Notice the simple tapering jig (bottom left)

For materials I used 1/2″ MDF for the bulk of the parts. I used pine for the tail ramps because I didn’t have any 3/4″ MDF on hand and I had lots of suitable pine scraps. I also used pine for the blade exit guards. The pins fence called for a piece 28″ in length and unfortunately for me, I had cut my MDF piece in such a way that I didn’t have it. What I had on hand  was a 24″ x 24″ plywood panel, so I built the fence in three pieces which I believe will work just fine.

The pins fence was built in three pieces instead of one.

Pins fence built in 3 pieces.

To support the center fence piece, I cut an extra support and slightly modified the placement of the other supports for best fit.

Dovetail Sled guts.

Dovetail Sled guts showing fence supports.

So that’s about all I know about it. I was going to buy a fancy miter bar but I just couldn’t bring myself to place the purchase. There are many fine products but I opted to make mine out of an oak scrap. With some patience and a bit of planing, I came up with a good fit.

Finished dovetail sled for the table saw.

Finished dovetail sled for the table saw.

I might get a chance to try a few cuts today after work. I’m still a bit loose as to which side to cut on but I’m sure after a couple of test cuts I’ll figure it out. Building the jig with the pins and tails angle right is a big deal, they have to be the same or the two will never fit together. I feel cautiously optimistic that I got it right but the proof will be in the cutting.

You’ve been machine-making with the Turtlecovebrewer….


Toolbox – Part 4

This will be the last post on this build. For a relatively “simple” project this has taken quite a bit of shop time which I attribute almost entirely to design changes I made of the original plans. It’s really OK because I learned along the way although I’m ready to get this project off my bench and get on with the next one.

One thing that I got right was figuring out in what order to assemble this piece for glue-up. On Saturday I recreated this assembly prior to gluing just to make sure everything still fit and that there weren’t any snags. I decided to use Titebond III over original Titebond for the slightly longer open time I would need (10 mins vs 5 mins). Because the ends were dovetailed and the upper shelf and te handle fit into mortises, assembly began on one end making sure to glue and insert these pieces. Next the shelf was glued to the back, captured in a dado. Then finally the other end dovetails were carefully joined making sure to simultaneously glue and capture the shelf and handle. It wasn’t exactly simple but with the dry fit test run, it went without major problems. Once together the tote would mostly hold itself in place which made adding clamps easy.

Tote glue-up.

Tote glue-up. Pretty much used all my clamps.


Glue, mortises and dados pretty much hold everything together.

The Last Mistake??

So I had cut recesses in each end to capture the handle and I had the bright idea to use a long screw to strengthen the joint. The plan was to counter bore and plug the hole but wouldn’t you know it, I drilled right on through the remaining thin piece. Now I screw would be useless unless I wanted to plug and start over. I decided to deepen the 3/8″ drilling into the handle and used an oak dowel piece to both strengthen the joint and plug the hole. That worked OK but like so many features of this design, was not what I had originally envisioned.

Finishing Up

After the glue set up, I sanded the assembled tote and wiped on a coat of diluted Zinsser Bulls Eye clear shellac. I’ll still wipe on a few more of these coats and also need to make the latch for the drawer but otherwise this project is pretty much completed.


I’m calling this project completed. Making my own design changes was costly in time but rewarding for the experience.


A few more coats of wipe on shellac and a drawer latch and it’s ready for tools.

Concluding Thoughts on this Project

My goal in redesigning the original Popular Mechanics plan was to eliminate all of those unsightly screws. Even counter bore and plugging so many screws didn’t seem ideal to me so I decided to use dovetails for the sides and a dado to capture the shelf. As built I didn’t use any screws, but I’m wondering if the tote will hold up as well without them. Time will tell.

Also, the use of 3/4″ stock makes this beast quite heavy. Add to that all the oak pieces and it became even heavier still. My recommendation would be to use much thinner stock if building a tote for real use. Without the tools to mill my own stock, I am pretty much limited to using dimensional lumber for time being.

It’s good to get back in the shop… Turtlecovebrewer

Categories: Woodworking Tags:

Toolbox – Part 3

Finally, a block of uninterrupted time in my shop over the weekend. The last time I was in my shop I spent the better part of a day reorganizing the equipment. I can’t really say that I was excited over a shop work-day rather it came more out of a total necessity. I can also say that the changes I made really has improved the work-flow. This is most certainly not my last re-organization, nor is it a “perfect” setup but it is working way better than the non-sense I had kluged together previously. Perhaps I’ll post a before and after for my next post.

Tool Tote – Fixing Mistakes

I’ve developed a little bit of confidence now in my woodworking and it’s not because my skills are that refined. I have learned 3 things that contribute to this feeling and I’ll share them here.

  1. Plans are useful –  It just occurred to me that project plans are analogous to a road map for traveling. Maps are useful, showing you the overall route and potential obstacles you may encounter along the route. Like a map, you can’t expect to blindly follow it without regard to the actual reality of the road conditions you experience along the way. If you are building without a plan, expect to make a few wrong turns and assume you’ll need to “figure out and fix things along the way”.
  2. You will make mistakes – There, I’ve said it. The question is how many mistakes will you make on a project. You’ll need to find a balance between, thinking it through and diving right in because you will need to do both if you want to get anything done.
  3. Anything can be fixed – Did I overstate my case on this one? Sometimes you can fill the hole with wood putty, sometimes you can cut a patch, sometimes you can change the design and sometimes you simply cut a new piece of wood. On this project I used all those fixes and I’m not finished yet.

I probably err a tad on the “dive right in” side of axiom #2 above. I’ve been putting all my recent projects in SketchUp but oddly, I’ve been doing this after the builds. A bit of time spent in SketchUp prior to the build would have saved me a few missteps on this particular project.

Weekend Tasks

Although the tote appeared mostly completed in my previous post I actually had many details left to complete. I wanted to add oak trim as a design element to the front. The use of oak trim as a design element was initially used to cover up gaps caused by ill placed dados. In this case it is simply a design preference, tying the oak strips in the back and drawer front together.

Oak trim added to front panel.

Oak trim added to front panel.

While the glue was drying on the trim piece, I decided to move forward with building the drawer. It would seem wiser to wait until the tote was fully assembled and glued up but, it was already dry fitted in its final form so I felt OK moving forward. Although no dovetails were involved in drawer assembly the design did call for two 3/4″ rebates, two 3/4″ dados and a 1/4″ rebate along all four pieces to accept the drawer bottom. I was too lazy to fit my dado stack for this small job so I cut the 3/4″ rebates and dados making multiple cuts using my crosscut sled and cleaning up the floors with my small router plane. The 1/4″ rebate was cut at the router table using a 1/4″ straight bit and a handful of trouble. Cutting the oak front I neglected to fully tighten the fence, thus my cut wandered. This was not severe enough to warrant a repair so I choose to overlook the imperfection. While cutting the drawer back rebate I made a more serious mistake. I had to make the cut in a series of shallow passes and while setting up the bit for the last pass I neglected to check the orientation of the piece and began routing the TOP rail. DOH! Of course I felt the router bit bite into the piece and I knew immediately that I had messed up. That one mistake I had to fix by patching.

Drawer construction.

Drawer construction.

So while I was waiting for the patch to dry, I moved on to the next task which was to shorten the shelf. Adding the oak trim to the shelf left it a bit proud so while the tote was assembled I set a depth gage to the capture the overhang. It was just about time for another mistake. Like a goof ball, I trimmed the pine edge which inserts into the dado thinking that I’d like the more valuable oak. Unfortunately the oak piece had to be trimmed because it overhung the end pieces. The oak overhangs actually needed to be reduced which I marked and cut at the band saw. Cleanup was completed with a chisel.

Shelf over hang was proud.

Shelf over hang was proud.

With that task completed, I flushed up the drawer back patch and assembled the drawer.

Assembled tote drawer.

Assembled tote drawer.

After relieving edges on all the pieces, I finished up the day adding a coat of shellac.

Pre-finished with shellac.

Pre-finished with shellac.

Not too much left on this project. With the pre-finish completed I’m now ready for glue-up and final touches.

You’re back in the shop with the Turtlecovebrewer.


Categories: Woodworking Tags:

Toolbox – Part 2

April 15, 2015 Leave a comment

Wow, not sure what I must have been smoking before writing Monday’s shop note. I was pretty beaten down by the weekend. I spent most of my shop time on Saturday redoing the dovetails on the toolbox (tool tote). After only two more sessions practicing the dovetail dance I decided that my first effort could be improved upon if only slightly.

Learning to Cut Dovetails

Learning to Cut Dovetails, I have a way to go yet.

Sunday I was so frustrated with how cramped my shop space had become, I decided to spontaneously rearrange things. The work I was able to do is by no means the last word on layout but it was a huge improvement that involved moving my miter saw station out-of-the-way and moving the dust collector to the freed space. It meant re-attaching dust hoses but and coming up with a way to reach the dust collector switch but in the end it was of great relief to be able to move without bumping into something. This was good news.

More good news was that I had received my new Woodworker II saw blade and a Dewalt dado stack and I got a chance to mess with them. Everything folks say about the WWII blade appears to be true, I purchased the full kerf so I could continue to use my Grizzly riving knife. Deciding on the dado stack about drove me crazy and even though I’ve read great things about the Freud Dial-a-Width, $300 was more than I wanted to spend. So the next best stack ranged about $200 and even that was more than I wanted to spend. The bottom line was that several owners were really happy with the Dewalt stack and it was within my budget so I Amazon One-Clicked it and it arrived 2 days later. I don’t profess to be an expert but I was impressed with injection molded case and provided cutters and shims. Although I only cut a few dados, the 3/4″ setup was impressively perfect sized. Your mileage my vary.

Meanwhile back at the Toolbox

So after two hard days in the shop, I finally find myself back at the toolbox project. As I mentioned in my last post, I wanted to eliminate all those unsightly screw heads show on the box. So far, everything I’ve built has used either screws or nails and I just thought it would be an excuse to try some different things. I decided to put the shelf in grooves instead of butting and screwing. Now that I had the dado stack I could experiment, which I did. This led me to my first mistake. After cutting a test dado using my cross-cut sled, I realized that my piece was too long for the sled. I removed my sled and began cutting on tote back.  Er’ dude, you didn’t lower the blade after removing the sled, what a dolt! Well here’s a “leftover” piece of pine, time to cut a new back. Er’ dude, you were supposed to make a stopped dado, I can see the gap. Well shoot, this is my first day using this equipment and actually I’m pretty tired.

Dry Fittings Some Toolbox Pieces

Dry Fittings Some Toolbox Pieces

Instead of a groove, I decided to secure the shelf to the upper face from underneath, probably with screws but they won’t be visible. But after mocking up I realize there will be a gap between the ends and shelf that would look awkward, hummm…

Design "challenges"

Attempting to hide my design screw-ups in these snaps.

So without beating myself up too much, suffice it to say that several other challenges and mistakes have been made on this design so far. I recessed the ends to accept the oak dowel, then proceeded to cut the dowel the exact length of the bottom. Exactly too short by the depth of the two recesses. Great news was that the brand new WWII blade made an awesome cut. The fix, I glued a piece of dowel to each end and sanded. When recessed, they won’t be “as” noticeable. I will probably reinforce this glue joint with a long screw which will also secure the handle to the ends, then plug the holes.

So here is my revised design, using oak trim pieces to cover gaps.

Revised Design

Revised Toolbox with Oak Trim to Cover Gaps

All is Well

So all is well, I will not be defeated. I feel good and SketchUp was kind to me today. Unlike yesterday’s attempt, I was able to add all the “as built” and “as needed” changes to the original design. I know I have a way to go on this build, but it isn’t a race and I’ve really not yet focused my energy on it. Getting the shop usable was my priority so now that it is, I’m betting my concentration will be better.

You have been reading the rambling shop notes of the Turtlecovebrewer.

Categories: Woodworking

Lead, follow or get out of the way!

April 6, 2015 Leave a comment

a musing on learning, originality and creativity

What we have here is situation where I haven’t had much shop time since I finished the “10 Drawer Small Fossil Chest and Lower Chest”. For unexplained reasons I seem to have an affinity for tool chests and totes. I can’t explain the attraction. Too date,  I’ve built two of the 10 Drawer chests and one tool tote and have given them as gifts. That fact has lead me to my current quick project, a DIY tool tote with lower drawer.

Popular Mechanics Tool Tote

The plan was published by Popular Mechanics and may be found on the web if you’re interested in its design. I liked the addition of the lower drawer and also that it was potentially simple to build and it was in that vain that I decided to make a change or two to its construction. The drawer is hard to see in the 3D model image above, this image shows it more clearly.

Tool Tote Drawer

Although I didn’t want to “over build” this shop work piece I decided to step out of my shadow and learn something new. Instead of screwing the bottom to the sides, I decided it would make a good excuse to get some dovetail lessons in. If I don’t make myself do it, I’ll never learn how and there is no way to learn a practiced skill without actually doing it. Other changes are to use pine for the carcass and oak for the dowel handle, drawer front and catch button. I also want to eliminate all those hideous screw heads while at the same time trying more traditional joining methods.


So I start with an idea in the form a detailed plan. Plans sometimes get a bad rap if they are used as a crutch but I am now of the opinion that at the beginner level it really is useful to build the piece as detailed in the plan. Why? Well there is a very good chance that you really don’t know how the thing goes together until you’ve built it once. There are plenty of opportunities to learn and make mistakes even with detailed instruction. At the intermediate level, you may very well want to venture from the original plan, perhaps customizing it for your own needs, simplifying construction or perhaps even complicating the construction to try something new.


Recently I have been drawing all of my projects in SketchUp. This project gives me an excuse to improve my SketchUp skills while documenting my journey. To me the most important aspect of SketchUp is that I can learn how the piece should go together without having to first build it. While drawing up the model for the lower storage chest, I discovered that I had chopped the mortises in the incorrect location. Had I drawn the model first before starting the project, I would have easily seen my mistake. Still it was advantageous to learn soon-than-later that I had to repair my error before proceeding.

I can cite another example of this on my current project. My decision to step outside the plan and attach the sides to the bottoms with dovetails resulted in my making a couple of mistakes. As I cut my first pin board, I left the half-pins on both ends but I mistakenly cut away the bottom overhanging piece. In other words, I made two additional cuts to free the half pins. The mistake was obvious when I showed the pin board to the tail board. DOH! In this case, I had actually modeled the original plan in SketchUp but had not had time to fool with my proposed modifications. Had I done so, it would have been clear the ends must not be cut away.

Popular Mechanics Classics - Toolbox w/ Drawer

SketchUp Model of “Popular Mechanics Classics – Toolbox w/ Drawer”

You will note I have not drawn the dovetail modification in this version of the model.  I did however, drop some material on the components to test my idea about using oak pieces with the pine. So my point is that the recommendation to “build it twice” can be further improved upon by building the model first before attempting your maiden build. The benefits of models should be self-evident. You can build you plan easily to any size and shape, altering materials, colors with the click of a mouse. You can design and print out full size templates which can eliminate layout frustrations for complicated parts. All this is true to be sure but for me, the single most useful feature of drawing it first is to understand and visualize in my mind, how the pieces fit together before I start cutting pieces in the shop.


If you happen to be reading this, you may think to your-self, self what a joke. This guy knows very little about woodworking, how can he lead? My only thought is that by being a good student, you eventually learn enough to add your own touch to a piece and to the craft. In this sense, we are all followers seeking inspiration and we should all be leaders as we search for our own originality. I’m suggesting the cycle is inspiration, learning, creation, teaching. Even a beginning would worker can inspire others to give it a try.

Get Out of the Way

So if you’re not inspired, not learning, not creating and not teaching (inspiring others), I suggest you move from where you are and find one of these states. I should think the last thing you want is to be caught “standing in the way”.

Shop Note: I’ve been inspired recently by two articles on learning to dovetail. The first recommendation was to mark out dozens of lines on a board and make cut after cut to work on your mechanics (lots of practice) without worrying about messing up your project. Great idea that I have already started. The second was “A Dovetail a Day – Hurray” by Christopher Schwarz. Chris suggest he never suspected people would actually take him up on the challenge of cutting a dovetail a day for 30 days but many folks have been inspired to do just that. I think I’m going to challenge myself to practice a little every day whether it be just sawing technique or actual joint making.


Categories: Woodworking

Avion Holiday 24′ c1962 – In the beginning

March 12, 2015 Leave a comment

Oh my goodness, so much to do where does one start?

First things first, rain is coming so getting the windows repaired is a reasonable place to begin. Of the six sets of jalousie windows in the camper, three have broken panes. The other three are in need of servicing of course but at least they have glass in them.

Fact Finding

So my very first task was to pull out broken panes and gather size information for replacements. We have a local and reliable glass supplier here right next to the University of Florida campus where I work.  Check, new pieces have been cut and are in my car awaiting installation.

But I’m not yet able to install the new pieces, much other work must be completed first.

Aft starboard Window

Aft starboard window the first of six sets to be serviced and the target of my first efforts.

First, I’ll not the virtually all of the screens are ripped and disintegrating. At first take I believed the screen frames to be riveted to the chassis but I now realize they are screwed but the screws require an atypical drive which might be Roberts. That is good news, they can be removed and re-screened with only moderate difficulty. It will also make access to the jalousie mechanism possible. The window to which I have started my  investigation has other issues, including a missing crank handle and a broken rivet on one of the panes and a partially broken pane holder. The latter is partially broken but not yet snapped off. I have the option of strengthening (JB Weld, etc) the holder or replacing it if one could be found. The good news, is the gear mechanism seems to work beautifully, so this was not why the window wasn’t working, it was the busted rivet.

Jalousie Pane Weatherstripping.

Jalousie Pane weather-stripping.

The top edge of each window pane had one of these on it whose purpose is to hold a smallish weatherstrip. If you look very closely you can see remnants of the gasket in the photo. So the panes are overlapped which keeps water from coming in the trailer but this helps seal from the bottom to keep upward splashes and blow from entering. Fair enough, now I need to find pieces of this to fit the missing panes in the front windows.

Above, below, on both sides and on each pane. Lots of weatherstripping and all are different shapes and sizes.

Above, below, on both sides and on each pane. Lots of weather-stripping and all are different shapes and sizes.


weather-stripping at the bottom of the window.

So yesterday, was when I looked a bit closer at how the windows functioned and discovered there is a weatherstrip at the top of the window, a different one on the sides and yet another that runs in a grove along the bottom of the frame. Counting the stripping for the panes, this makes four different type-styles for each window. No one ever claimed this was going to “easy”. Of course the hardest part at present is locating appropriate replacements, once I get the part numbers right, I can rinse and repeat for all the other windows.

What Else Besides weather-stripping and Replacement Glass?

So yesterday’s good news, I can remove the screens for re-screening. Now I just need to purchase screen and the proper size spline (and a tool) to get them all repaired.

I purchased a can of aluminum lubricant at Lowes and this appears to work wonders on the jalousie mechanisms which are 50 years dirty and corroded. Also good news.

I have a window gear machine coming and once it arrives, I’ll see if it is going to work in my windows. In this case however, the mechanism I have appears well lubricated and works fine, so it was the broken rivet and frozen window mechanism, not the crank that was at issue. Unfortunately the replacement crank handle I purchased will be the wrong length, live and learn. This will be the first of many mismatched parts I’m sure.

Although I could use a tiny bolt, I’d rather purchase a rivet gun. Having watched some YouTube videos, I am now an “expert”.


The first window will take the longest but once I learn how they work and what parts to buy, it will just be a matter of coming up with a process. Plenty of fun-time ahead.

Hang in there it’s going to be a long ride…





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