The 5-minute Dovetail: A hand-tool woodworking exercise for building skills

There’s a woodworking school in Portland, Oregon, owned an operated by a guy named Gary Rogowski. If you read the woodworking magazines, or buy woodworking how-to books, you’ve likely heard of him. That’s how we met: I was an editor at Fine Woodworking magazine when I was assigned a feature story working with Gary to build an Arts and Crafts Style table.

Over the years I learned a lot watching Gary work up close, and reading his articles and videos. My favorite of them all is a simple exercise he taught his students called “The Five-Minute Dovetail.”

The challenge: Cut a “pin” and matching “tail” in a pair of scrap pieces of wood and make them fit in 5 minutes or less. The required tool: A bench vice to hold your wood, a handsaw (western or Japanese-style), a chisel, and a coping saw.

For the month of October, I didn’t have any major woodworking projects planned so decided to practice the Five-Minute Dovetail exercise once a day and see how good I could get. It took about five days for my skills to improve, and soon I was ripping through the joint in as fast as 3-1/2 minutes.

All this practice gave me time to think up a fun topic for a 5-minute flash talk that I had to deliver to colleagues at a work event last month. I drew up a slideshow of steps that illustrate how to practice the Five-Minute Dovetail routine at home (Notice the suggested time check in the lower left hand corner of each slide).

I also used the exercise to compare woodworking to open source computing: both involve a set of skills practiced by a community of individuals using a set of common tools to create and fit parts into a finished object that provides practical or artistic value.

One thought on “The 5-minute Dovetail: A hand-tool woodworking exercise for building skills

  1. Pingback: The Return of Home Economics: Sewing, Sutchering, Woodworking, Oh My! | Weekndr by Matt Berger

Leave a Reply