Being able to cut a dovetail joint using only hand tools has become recognized as a level of achievement. But there are other reasons to learn how to cut joinery by hand besides proving yourself and, for me, the biggest reason is being able to deal with unique situations.
The joint below on the left is a cross lap joint. Where they intersect, both pieces have half of their thickness removed. This is a very strong and easy joint to cut with either hand or power tools.
However, when dealing with angled components, as seen at the right, or even tapered parts, setting up to cut the joint with power tools gets increasingly complicated and time-consuming.
With hand tools, the procedure is the same and the process is practically the same. No additional tools or jigs are required and the joint takes the same amount of time to cut. What’s more, the hand tools required to cut this joint (and most joints, for that matter) cost less than the price of a good table saw blade.
Learn to Cut Joinery Under My Guidance
This Saturday, I am teaching a seminar at Lee Valley Tools Coquitlam on Fundamentals of Hand Tool Joinery. We start with stock preparation, which cannot be overlooked when cutting fine joinery, then cut an air-tight cross lap joint using a simple, reliable method. I want everybody to leave with the knowledge required to confidently execute crisp joinery and a small project proving that they can.
If You Master the Basics, the Hardest Part of Joinery is Layout
Once the basics are mastered, the possibilities are endless. You might try dovetails, then half-blind and full-blind dovetails.
You might try mortise and tenon, monster mortise and tenon, or multi-mortise and tenon joints.
You might try the insane-looking, but quick-to-cut saw-kerf finger joint.
You might design a table base with lots of intertwined components that requires serious head-scratching to even engineer the joinery that makes it possible.
You may also attempt to cut joints on curved or round components. Learn and master the basics of cutting joinery by hand. Then, no matter what you attempt, remember that the hardest part is accurately laying out the joint. I think that joinery is one thing that is best learned by doing, not by reading and watching.
(If you want to see some really artistic joinery, have a look at the original joinery by Kintaro Yazawa.)