A Fitting Subject

Continuing the skill-building theme, it was now time to work on another new technique: making a tapered dovetail joint. This is a very traditional method for joining the guitar body and neck that is still used by many today (although the bolted mortise and tenon joint has become very popular for many, too.) Its one drawback is that its a very finicky joint, requiring a lot of fine tuning to get it perfect; and if its not perfect, it won’t hold up. As an added degree of difficulty, I’ll be doing it all be hand, rather than using a router and jigs. Why? Well: 1. All of the pre made jigs are for a guitar, not for the smaller uke; 2. The router and I have issues, and can ruin the whole thing with just one slip; 3. I’m an idiot! No, not really; in fact doing it with saw and chisels takes no more time than making up jigs and routing, without the chance for any catastrophic slips. Also, jigs and routers work better with a flat shoulder, and  my uke has a sloped shoulder at the joint, to further complicate matters. First step is to layout the dovetail in the body. P1030500 Next, I drilled a hole at the bottom of the V to provide an end pony for the saw to fit into. I hadn’t seen this technique in any method that I’d, so maybe this is an innovation, maybe not. Its something I’ve done when cutting sliding dovetails in a pedestal base, so its not totally unknown. P1030501 Then, keeping both angled lines in sight, I made the first cut with one of my Japanese saws. P1030502 After making the second cut on the other side, I drilled out a good amount of the waste. P1030503 The, after chiseling out the bulk of the leftover waste, I used my miniature router plane to bring the bottom down to a clean, level, depth, cleaning up the sides and bottom, as needed, with chisels. Ta da! P1030504   That was the hard part. (Or so I thought.) After transferring the angles from the mortise to the neck blank, the mating tenon took five saw cuts and one chisel bow (at the bottom.) I made sure to leave the tenon a little on the large side so I would have enough material to fine tune the fit. Ah, the fine tuning. Therein lies the heart of the matter. As I said, the fit needs to be perfect, so that the center lines of the body and neck match, the neck angle lines up with the body angle, the body sides fit snug to the neck, and the tenon holds every part tight, with no wiggle when it is seated. This takes time. A lot of time. And finesse. A lot of finesse. And experience. A lot of … WHOOPS! P1030517 I purposefully left extra room in the neck blank in case I needed to start over again with the tenon. I did. Twice. That’s where experience shows, and why only the most senior craftsman deal with fitting the dovetail joints in the Martin factory. But, the third try seems to be the good one. I still have some final adjusting to do when the neck is carved and ready to be joined permanently, but for all intents and purposes, it works. P1030518   I guess I can begin fretting, now.

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