One-Step Joinery

No matter how much time I have, there never seems to be enough. For that reason, I make many of my decisions based on efficiency. My decision to use a hand tool or a power tool for a given task is dependent on what I feel is more efficient for the task at hand.

In my effort to be more efficient, I also examine the processes that I’ve learned along the way and assess whether or not steps can be eliminated to save time. I encourage you to do the same, and if you think of any shortcuts, please share them here in the comments section.

In this video (duration: 10:41), I talk more about my thought process and explain my one-step joinery procedure which saves a lot of unnecessary time laying out, cutting, and fitting dovetail joints.

Celebrate 5 Years of Flair with an Anniversary Box!

November 1st marks the five-year anniversary of my business and I think that’s an excellent reason to celebrate.

For the first time, I am offering boxes of this design which I developed.

Anniversary Box Closed

As with everything I offer, I make the entire product in my own shop. I really love the design and hope that you do too.

I expect to have the boxes complete by the end of November so they will arrive in plenty of time for Christmas. Whether a gift for someone special, or for yourself, this little box is guaranteed to create wonder and draw attention.

Since I want everybody to be able to experience my work first-hand, I’m going to make the decision to get one really easy. For the entire month of November, you can pre-order an Anniversary Box at a special introductory price of just $50 – including shipping within North America! (Contact me for shipping rates for other continents.)

On a more personal note, my father’s birthday is in November. He passed away from cancer twenty years ago, so I am going to donate $5 from each box sold to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Thank you for reading and for supporting me.  The first five years have been amazing and I can’t wait to see what the next five bring!

Chris Wong

Anniversary Box Open


Fun with Sliding Dovetails

I have put Insanity 2 on hold to work on some small boxes of a design I came up with many years ago.

The double-ended box relies on a pair of sliding dovetails perpendicular to each other to open.  While functional, it is also a lot of fun to handle – similar to twiddling your thumbs, but much more fun.  How much fun?  This much fun.  (Video – 0:48)

Why I Value the Ability to Cut Joints By Hand

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.

Cross Lap Joints

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.

Full Blind Mitre Start

You might try mortise and tenon, monster mortise and tenon, or multi-mortise and tenon joints.

Quadrouple Tenon

You might try the insane-looking, but quick-to-cut saw-kerf finger joint.

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.)


Some Ideas Require Great Patience and an Open Mind

This table is for sale and has just been added to my Gallery.  It is one piece which almost never happened.

Maple T Coffee Table3

An Odd Start, If You Could Even Call it a Start

A few years ago, my wood guy, Dave Kilpatrick, stopped by unexpectedly.  From his trailer, he unloaded a live-edged slab of maple roughly 7 x 4 feet.  It was a miscut and, as a result, was severely bowed, cupped, twisted and tapered in both width and thickness.  “This is for you, Chris!  If anyone can do something with it, it’s you.” Dave announced.  Although I saw no potential in the wood – I did not think that it was worthy of even a photograph – I accepted it anyhow.

I let the piece sit just outside my shop doors for a while, hoping that it would speak to me and give me some indication of how I might use it.  Being as warped as it was, not to mention tapered in both directions, it would have been a formidable task to flatten it – only to end up with a 1/2″ thick board.  Sure, I could have cut it up into smaller boards which would be easier to flatten and produce a greater yield, but that didn’t seem to be the right thing to do.

A Big Step Backwards

Eventually, tired of having it sit around with no use in sight, I decided to move the slab to a corner of the yard.  To make it easier to carry myself, I cut it in half across its length with my circular saw.  Then I moved it into a corner where I didn’t see it for a few years, although I thought of it occasionally.

A Giant Step Forwards

Then, one day while working in the shop, I had a sudden vision of the perfect use for the slab.  I found the two halves of the slab and brought them into the shop to acclimatize to the drier environment.

Making It

To fair the complex surfaces of the wood, I used short-soled planes and sanders (some day, I want to make a plane with a 2-3″ sole specifically for this purpose).  I joined the two pieces with a long sliding dovetail which was rock-solid.

Image 2

Rethinking It

My initial vision was to make a table base as seen in the picture above.  However, when finishing the table I needed to turn it over and I realized that it looked good with the long live edge facing up, too.  Ultimately, I decided to display the table in this orientation, although it could still be flipped for a different look.


The Result

I could not be happier with the end result.  The design is very functional and the glass top showcases the uniqueness of the wood.  I brought the table to Gallery Bistro where I took the finished photographs and it got very positive feedback (and some serious interest).  It’s amazing to think that such an amazing table came from such an unpretentious beginning.

You can see more pictures of the completed table, as well as the specifications, on its product page.

Practice and Experimentation with Joinery

During Artwalk, I showed my work in Gallery Bistro (2411 Clarke Street) with three other artists:  Bronwen BelenkieClive Tucker and Mandara Lebovitz.  Our exhibition will continue through April 28th. The gallery is open 10am-3pm Tuesday through Sunday.

Last week, I spent three days at Lee Valley Tools Ltd. demonstrating joinery techniques.  I took the opportunity to hone my skills and try some new ideas.

The first joint I cut was a through dovetail.  I cut both the pins and tails over-length, then rounded their edges.  I was using a Japanese dovetail chisel that had sides ground so that they came to a point on the top of the chisel.  That point left marks as I used the tool bevel-down to sculpt the joint – something that I hadn’t foreseen.

Sculpted Dovetail

Next, I cut a half-lap joint.  These joints were really simple to make – I just placed one piece on the other, marked its position with a knife, then removed the waste between the lines to a depth equal to half the stock’s thickness.  Then I repeated the process for the other part.  I made the angled joint to demonstrate that when using hand tools, it was just as simple to work with angles – the process is the same.

Cross Lap Joints

After having warmed up with the easy joints, I tried some more advanced joinery.  For my next performance, I started by cutting a blind mortise, leaving 1/4″ of material at the bottom of the mortise.  Then I laid out and cut a design at the bottom of the mortise using a fret saw.

Wish Mortise

I cut and fit the tenon, then inserted it into the mortise as far as it could go.  I then used a pencil to trace the shape of the letters onto the end of the tenon, then used a saw and chisels to carve out the letters.

Wish TenonThen I drove the tenon home and the letters slid through the end of the mortise.

Wish Assembled

WISH! was fun, challenging and different, but it still seemed too ordinary and not mind-boggling enough to satisfy me.  So my next joint was a twisted mortise and tenon.  I’ve had lots of practice making twisted legs so I decided to start by making the tenon, rather than the mortise as is more conventional.

Twisted Tenon

I then laid out the twisted mortise and cut it out with a fret saw.

Twisted Mortise

I adjusted the mortise with a narrow chisel, then scraped the tenon until it began to fit.

Twisted M&T Start

Once I got it started, it wasn’t long before I got the joint fully seated.  It’s a neat joint to handle.

Twisted M&T Assembled Out of ideas for crazy joinery, I turned to the books for a challenge and chose the intimidating full-blind dovetail.  This was my first attempt cutting it and it did not seem very difficult.  Layout, however, is fairly complicated and I mis-marked and made one mis-cut on the right piece – I removed material from the face of the pins, rather than the end of the pins.

Fill Blind Mitre Apart

One of the blessings, I realized, is that because it’s completely blind, you don’t see my miscut.  There is still lots of surface area in the joint so the strength is not compromised.

Full Blind Mitre Start

The fit is good and the joint closes with moderate pressure.

Full Blind Mitre

Lastly, I cut a finger joint using a Veritas dovetail saw.  Since the spacing is done by eye and each finger is equal to the kerf of the saw, no chisel work is required so it is a quick joint to cut, despite the fineness.

Saw Kerf Finger Joint

It was a fun way to spend a few days and a good opportunity to practice my skills with hand tools and try some new joinery.  I haven’t yet figured out where I can use the twisted tenon, but I’ll keep thinking.

Unconventional Techniques at the Convention Centre

I’m a pretty creative thinker and am not afraid to try unconventional techniques, even at the Hand Tool Olympics (at Woodworking in America in the Pasadena Convention Center) with a crowd of people, including Chuck Bender, hovering around the bench.

Bud Decker filmed my performance which he described as being “by far the most fun to watch”.  First, I sawed well beyond the shoulder scribe lines, then removed most of the waste with the dovetail saw before beating the dovetails in an attempt to peen them and close the gaps.  All in good fun!  (Duration – 9:01)

Maple Slab Table

For a beautiful, smooth finish that requires little maintenance I first brushed on two coats of polyurethane to build the finish.  Then I smoothed the surface with extra-fine steel wool before spraying on three coats of satin polyurethane.  I sprayed the base with five coats of gloss black enamel.

Read the details of the Tweet-Along build in Session 1, Session 2, and Session 3.

Here are some photos of the completed table.  It is approximately 38″ x 15″ and 21″ tall.  Click on any photo to view it full-size.

Dovetails and Plywood

My cousin, Michael, asked me to make a wooden box to store his torque wrench.  When he gave me the wrench so I could make the box to fit, he told me, “It doesn’t need to be anything fancy – just something to protect it.”  My job was just to make the box and he intended to line it with foam.

I didn’t have much in the way of non-fancy materials in my shop.  I was tempted to use some red oak but ultimately decided to use up some narrow strips of 1/2″ poplar plywood.  (Unlike most hardwood plywoods which have stupidly-thin veneers that splinter when you sneeze at them, this plywood is made of nice thick veneers.  This plywood is 1/2″ thick and has three layers.  You do the math.  This is my favourite plywood.)

At the tablesaw, I cut the six parts to size and milled grooves in the long sides for the bottom and sliding top.

I could have simply glued and nailed the corners, but I felt inspired.  So I dovetailed the corners.  No, they weren’t the best joints I’ve cut, but this application did not demand fine joinery.  These dovetails provided some visual interest and mechanical strength.  And that’s what mattered.  Yes, I used wood putty.  And yes, I missed a spot.  And no, I wasn’t concerned.

I decided to try the time-lapse function on my new video camera so I set it up when I cut the dovetails.  When I shot the video it was dark outside so I was in full control of the lighting.  A single fluorescent magnifying lamp directly over the bench illuminated the workspace.  I set the camera to take a picture every 10 seconds while I cut dovetails for a box.

This is definitely an experimental video.  Please let me know what you think of it.  (I’ll cover my strange dovetailing techniques in a future post.)

A Box Called “Necessessity?”

This is a long post. If you only have a few minutes, look at the pictures and read “The Point” which is almost half way through. I would also like to hear your reaction whatever it may be.

The purpose of this piece is to encourage us to examine the use of precision instruments in woodworking, a field where they have historically been absent.

The Background

“Tolerances have been at the forefront of my mind for months. Nowadays in fine woodworking, it seems as if everyone strives for perfection. Boards must be four-squared (faces parallel to each other and edges square to the faces), joints have to be seamless, and everything has to be perfectly smooth. That is the result of tight tolerances”. – June 6, 2009, from my write-up on the first piece in this series, A Box Called “Tolerences” as seen below:

Building A Box Called “Tolerences helped me address my thoughts on the tolerances used in woodwork, but I felt the need to go further. Looking through old woodworking hand tool catalogs from the past century, you will see a huge selection of hand planes, chisels, saws, squares, dividers, marking gauges, levels, and so on. You will still find all those in modern-day catalogs (though some to a lesser degree), but you will also find tools that used to belong only in a machinist’s tool chest: engineer’s squares, precision straight edges, calipers and indicators accurate to 0.001″; micrometers, granite surface plates, angle blocks and set-up blocks accurate to 0.0001″. If you aren’t sure what these numbers really mean, perhaps this will help put them in perspective:

1/16″=0.0625″ – I like sixteenths. I find that finer graduations only make a rule harder to read.
1/1024″=0.0009765625″ – This is 1/64 of 1/16” and close to 0.001″ which is 1/1000”

Skip down a few fractions to: 1/9216″=0.000108506944444″ – This is 1/576 of 1/16” and close to 0.0001″ which is 1/10,000”

I can say one eighth, one sixteenth and one thirty-second. One one-twenty-eighth and one two-fifty-sixth are a bit long, but not too bad to say. One five-twelveths, one ten-twenty-fourths, and one ninety-two-sixteenths? No wonder we say “thou” instead. But come on, is this really necessary?

We woodworkers have, for the most part, embraced this new level of accuracy. We use calipers to verify the thickness of the stock coming out of our thickness planers, digital angle gauges to set up our table saws, and granite surface plates and feeler gauges to measure the flatness of our hand planes. I’ve even talked to woodworkers who use a dial indicator to measure the projection of the blade from their hand plane. Is this really necessary?

For the record, in my shop you will find a 3″ engineer’s square, a pair of digital fractional calipers, one each aluminum and steel straight edge, a digital angle gauge (Beall Tilt-Box, similar to the popular Wixey model), a dial indicator and a digital protractor.

For the most part, I’m not sure they were good buys for me.

My 3″ engineer’s square was probably my best buy in this category. The engineer’s version cost me $12 while the same-sized “woodworking” square made of rosewood, brass, and blued steel would have cost me $20. I use it to set the blades of my power tools square to their tables.

The digital calipers weren’t a bad decision. I use them to check the size of the assorted drill bits around my shop, whose etched shanks I cannot read. They really have limited other uses because everything I measure seems to be in 128ths – how big is 23/128?

The straight edges get a fair bit of use… to draw straight lines and guide my glass cutter and utility knives. I certainly don’t need the degree of precision they provide. Their weight is sometimes a help, other times a hindrance.

I tried out the digital angle gauge the day I bought it but I don’t think I’ve used it since. The batteries were still good when I checked last, in January. The digital protractor runs on cell batteries which died and I never bothered to replace; I don’t think I’ve ever had an occasion to use it anyways – it was an impulse buy.

The dial indicator I have used, but I don’t remember for what.

Was any of this necessary?

The Point

Does all this extremely accurate technology make us better woodworkers? Does all this technology make our work better quality? I don’t think so. I think that these high-precision instruments have become common in the contemporary woodworker’s workshop mostly due to their gained acceptability, accessibility, and affordability.

To me, precision measuring tools have limited value. In my opinion, they are overused and their extreme accuracy is enough to make one obsessive about the most minute and inconsequential details.

To poke fun at this phenomenon (and put my dial indicator to “good” use) I came up with this conceptual piece. Without the measuring instrument, it is a simple drawer – a place to store things conveniently, yet out of sight at the same time. But I incorporated a measuring instrument, in this case, a dial indicator into the design. It translates the lateral movement, or play, in the drawer into numeric values on the indicator’s dial which has markings representing every 0.001″ of travel witnessed by the gauge head. In short, it answers the question: “how well is the drawer fitted to its opening?” I know that I don’t need numbers to tell if a drawer fits well or not. I suspect you don’t either. I invite you to join me in taking a step away from our precision measuring instruments and ask&, “Is this really necessary?”

The Process of Creating

The realization of this piece was not unlike most of my other works. It started with an idea, a concept which I wanted to explore. To demonstrate that concept, over the course of many months, I mentally worked to develop an effective design. In this case, I developed the concept of using a dial indicator to measure the movement of a drawer.

Initially, I thought about using the indicator to measure how far the drawer was pulled out, but the 1″ stroke of the indicator meant only 1″ of drawer movement. A lever-system of some sort would allow the drawer more motion, but the system would have been more complicated than I wanted.

I finally came up with the idea of positioning the indicator at 90-degrees. Not only does this design not limit the movement of the drawer, but it also means that the reading the indicator shows has some significance. With the mechanics of the design worked out, the aesthetic decisions remained and were relatively easy.

I knew that I wanted the piece to reflect the sharp, clean, industrial look of the dial indicator. I chose teak (or at least, I think it’s teak) and holly. The vivid colours and grain of teak contrast well with the off-white, understated grain of holly. I used through dovetails and tenons to construct the case; I used half-blind dovetails and through tenons for the drawer with a groove for the bottom.

I turned a tenon on the end of the knob and glued it into a hole bored in the face of the drawer. Because it’s what I enjoy, and happened to be the quickest way, all the details including the joinery and angled block were executed using hand tools. To ensure that the long hand of the dial indicator would rest in the 12 o’clock position, I secured the angled block with a pair of screws through a slotted hole in the base.

Cast Aside Craftsmanship – The Bigger Picture

Don’t get the wrong idea – craftsmanship was certainly very important in determining the end result of this piece, as it is in any piece. But the point I want to make is that the highest quality craftsmanship is not always what you think it is. Forget for a moment the complications of wood movement – pretend that wood does not move.

On that premise, the very best craftsmanship would manifest the finest tolerances, the most precise fit, right? Not necessarily. Maybe you’re thinking: “Okay, he’s talking about the parts that are not easily seen – the back of a bookcase, the underside of a table, and the inside of a carcass, for example, right?” Wrong.

In creating a piece, the idea behind the piece, the effect you want it to have must be taken into account. I almost forgot this as I built this box. My ego was in the way – I knew that I was going to put a dial indicator on the drawer, so I thought: “I should make the most precisely fitting drawer possible”. I even figured out the best way to do it.

hen I thought about it. While it would make me proud to have made a drawer that, as it was pulled out, caused the dial indicator to move not one bit, in doing so, I would not be helping the intended overall effect of the piece. To me, the whole purpose of the piece is to use a super-accurate tool to measure something which I feel it has no business in doing so.

That the long hand actually moves is very important in the effect of this piece. For one, it shows that the dial indicator is actually taking a reading of the drawer’s movement and adds a degree of novelty. But more importantly, it shows my defiance – that I don’t care what it says. I know when my work is fine and I don’t need a measuring device to tell me that it is or isn’t.

It is not necessary.


Nobody has seen this piece until now, aside from the few visitors I’ve had in my shop while it was being built and I don’t think that they knew what they were looking at (when asked what I’m working on, my usual response is, “I’ll let you know when I’m finished”).

I look forward to hearing your reaction to this piece. Please don’t be shy – tell me what you honestly think of it. Comment on the name, ideas, materials, joinery, my grammar or anything else. Art is subjective and the topic I have chosen is controversial. I expect to hear comments on both sides, as well as some fence sitters and will post them here. Just let me know if you’d rather your response not be posted)..

Feedback: Fast and Furious

far too many words… Let the buyer supply the “why” he likes it.  If you narrow down WHY he should like it, it reduces the number of available buyers… Don’t tell the prospective buyer what to think.  When he says what he thinks,  say “Right on.  You got it.”… Let the piece speak for itself. If you have to supply the words, then the design didn’t do it for the customer, and you are reduced to telling them why they should find it interesting.   That is a lot like telling a guy that he should like this particular girl… the thickness of the box is too large for its small size.  It should be thinner… the box is too stark. It needs some sort of decoration… DON”T PAY ATTENTION TO FREE ADVICE… As usual, your work intrigues. Even the non-woodworker would have to stop, look, examine and ponder… it reminded me of a hammer that I once gave my Father for a joke gift.  It had an electric cord and plug extending out of the bottom of the handle… Because I know you, I know the work you’ve put into the piece is precision itself. To me then, both the guage and the base/drawer represent the same thing – PRECISION!  One is constructed out of steel by Man and the other is constructed out of wood by Man.  The entire piece represents Precision, in my mind… I’m also intrigued by why you used so many “s’s” in the title of your piece… Oh no. You misspelled “necessity.” Cool box, though… I think there is at least one very good reason for making items with a high degree of precision. Although this may not apply in your world, (of one-off unique creations), the rest of the world benefits from precise manufacturing where interchange ability and uniformity allows easy assembly of mass produced items as well as replacement of parts when items broken… Your latest work is a refreshing piece. Wood and metal, if mixed well as in your case, can provide a very pleasing contrast and appeal… Unless the dimensions are critical for structural integrity (e.g., joinery strength) or functionality (say, a drawer to fit into the case), I don’t worry about deviations (read: accuracy) of the actual stock from the original plan or design… If the stock I have is 1/8″ shorter than what my original measured drawing calls for, I’d rather make the final piece/project 1/8″ shorter than run down to the nearest lumber place to get a new piece… I trust my sight and hands as much as, if not more than, a straight edge to assess how flat the tabletop of the night table I recently made for my daughter… Questions like “How flat is flat?” are best answered not by engineers but by the owners/end-users, in my opinion… In fact, if precision were the overriding factor in people’s decisions to make or buy things, industry related to making things by hand would have died… I read somewhere that whimsy is good for the soul. This piece may fall into that category. For the precision-obsessed, however, the volume of data may fall short. You might, for example, add a gear track and a dial to show how far the drawer has been extracted, including a red zone on the dial to indicate that the drawer is about to fall out. One never knows what might be damaged, or who might be injured by a falling drawer of that size, for example… almost any one can be trained how to use a tool or machine but it takes a true craftsman and artist to create woodwork without these things… it is like comparing a painting to a blue print… great idea Chris and beautiful box… Whilst looking at the pics I had a mental vision of R2D2 refueling, or something… Of course you need dial indicators to set up tools that work best with tight tolerances. For wood… it is a wonderful joke… Great art and a some good fun… Interesting and well thought out idea Chris, a good visual commentary on an approach to woodworking and measurement. Given the inherent movement in wood, the accuracy and workmanship required for good & tight fitting hand joinery , it makes for a good discussion piece. Conatrasting woods compliment each other nicely as well. May be lost on some though… It’s an artful commentary on some of the lengths we woodworkers go to achieve “accuracy”. There are certainly times and places to use such instruments. I believe they do have their place in woodworking… But of course, only a woodworker would understand your piece in the slightest… Good to see someone poke a bit of fun at some people who can be a little anal about accuracy with a medium like wood… Great idea for the dial indicator and excellent execution… Bravo!!!  You have out done yourself on this box… I like it. Looks like the drawer is out a few thou according to the indicator though… indeed there is now too much belief in absolute accuracy. Our instructor in pre-app, made the point that accuracy of 1/64th of an inch was the basic standard of accuracy needed… you have done a very nice job. Using the dial gauge to show sizing changes as the drawer moves in and out would be interesting to watch, but as you say – what does that have to do with the construction of the drawer.  Drawers fit and work nicely or they don’t and if they don’t you need to work them some more and to that end there is no need for accurate measurement… young man – keep up the good work.  We need keeners to carry on with quality woodwork… I love it. That piece is exactly what I enjoy about woodworking. We can only ever achieve the illusion of perfection, and your piece illustrates that beautifully… I’m not sure what I like better – your prose or the box… what does it do? Chris, you’ve outdone yourself… So was this project the mothother of inventention? I can see a buyer for this in Academia. I bet it will go to someone in Missississipipi Univerversityty. It would look nice in the Dept of Redundancy Dept… The thickness of wood and dovetail structure is too thick and overbearing for the scale of the piece. The choice of wood is a little odd. Teak is associated with outdoor furniture… I think 1/4 sawn oak common in machinist chests or mahogany could have pulled it off much better… I agree with your thoughts and like your box. My reasons for agreeing are twofold: 1. Raising the level to ridiculous tolerances is a marketing ploy, in my opinion.  2. wood moves anyway…  Love it!  Great concept for the box.  I’m a recovering “over-accurate” addict.  Hand tools have actually helped get me over it.  I’m still learning to not measure the thickness of my plane shavings tho…  Interesting points.  The work I’m doing at the moment is fit where it touches!