Cutting joint after joint isn’t the best way to learn.
At least not in my opinion. After a lovely sunny, Sunday afternoon, all you’ve got to show is twenty-odd, randomly dovetailed corners. Some neat, some shite, some alright.
You’ll sit and think about these twenty-odd dovetailed corners, and you’ll realise, ‘I could have had a few boxes made, ready for use’.
If you’d made the boxes then you’d have also broken up the repetition with other jobs, like ploughing a groove for the bottoms.
Also, with the repeat joints you’d probably notice that your twentieth, randomly dovetailed corner, isn’t any better than the second or third. Probably because you got bored. Your interest dropped, it started to all feel a little pointless, you lost focus, and of course stopped formulating and learning.
Learning In Context
I think one of the best ways to learn is through doing it in context, in other words, build projects. They don’t have to be all that complicated, instead they want to be designed to educate. Designed with a focus.
Want to learn how to cut dovetails?
Make a small pencil box or the like. Don’t do something with a million joints. Remember, you’re learning. A few joints will do, and allow you to focus heavily on them. You’ll be cutting that second joint slightly tighter than the first, because of that slight gap you noticed, etc.
The better you get, the longer your attention span becomes as you’re not focusing so hard.
It also helps to try to avoid jobs that you’re not intending to be your focus. Keep that pencil box small, so you don’t need to prep enough wood to build a galleon.
Learning with small focused projects gives you a purpose to practise. You’ll put a lot more pride in to it, and you’ll want to get those dovetails right, because if not you’ll have to look at them every time you reach for a pencil.
Rather than the twenty-odd corners, simply make one or two sets of test dovetails first. These will ensure that you understand the processes, ready to jump in with your piece.
I’m not saying that you should never have a random repeat session. Sometimes it’s essential, like when you first start woodworking and you’ve never even held a saw.
At this point, it’d be a good idea to draw a load of square, straight lines and saw to them.
Do it for ten minutes a day if possible. But once you can saw to a line, you’re ready to cut dovetails.
I still do this from time to time and I’ve been woodworking all my life.
Only a short while ago I used a Japanese saw for the first time. I had a repeat session, cutting test line after test line, before I got the gist. And you might also remember from the post on frame saws, that it took me quite a while before I got confident with it.
So repeating absolute basics is essential, but as soon as you can cut to a line and take a continuous shaving, get a project on the go.