Cut A Dovetail Every Day

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Frank Klausz Teaches the dovetail joint. Photo Louis Cahill

Frank Klausz Teaches the dovetail joint. Photo Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

Woodworking has taught me a few things about fly fishing.

Before Gink and Gasoline I was, for a time, very involved in the world of woodworking. I was fortunate to photograph and spend time working with some of the most talented folks in the field, many of them are still great friends. I still build my own furniture, in fact I just finished making a new set of cabinets for my kitchen, but it’s a hobby, not a job.

It was the early 2000s when I met Frank Klausz, a Hungarian-born furniture maker working in New Jersey. Frank specialized in high-end custom furnishings and reproductions and wrote books and magazine articles as well as instructional DVDs. An old world craftsman with a sterling work ethic and a great sense of humor, his name will be familiar to anyone who has studied the craft.

_DSF4015Frank is specifically known for his hand cut dovetail joinery. For many, hand cutting dovetail joints is the skill which separates the hobbyist from the artist. It is the kind of skill that’s bedeviling to master, while the master makes it look almost automatic. I had hand cut a few projects before I met Frank, but he was the one who really turned the lights on for me.

Cutting a perfect joint is really a matter of hand skill and muscle memory, much like fly fishing. There is some theory you need to understand but when it comes down to it, your hands must function independently from your head. The only way to achieve that is by repetition.

“I couldn’t really cut dovetails until I cut three-hundred for one project,” Frank told me.

“Cut a dovetail every day for a year and you’ll never have to think about it again.”

That advice ended up being a life lesson. I didn’t make it a whole year, but I cut quite a few joints. Reinforcing that hand skill made a huge difference. Today I can pull out the saw and chisels and cut a decent joint, even if I haven’t done it in a year. The skill stuck.

My buddy Bruce Chard says, “Practice makes permanent.”

That’s absolutely true, and never truer than in fly fishing. Do you want to be a better caster? Cast a fly rod every day. Even if it’s just for a few minutes. Even if it’s just with a practice rod. Want to be a better fly tyer? Tie a fly every day. No matter what the skill is you’d like to perfect, daily repetition will make it permanent.

The greatest obstacle to our own success is our own excuses. Give it a try. It’s easier than it sounds. In the end, you’ll never have to think about it again.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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One thought on “Cut A Dovetail Every Day

  1. Tough cutting dovetails by hand, practice, so many critical steps, squareness, knife walls, precise cuts, angles, layout, ….I love the challenge.

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