Making the Joint
First prepare the wood as with regular dovetails. Plane both surfaces flat and parallel and the edges square. I dimensioned the wood to 5” wide and ¾” thick and made the two pieces 14” long to allow for cutting off “mistakes”. I marked the baseline at ¾” using a marking gauge on both boards, as usual. The 5” width of the board comes from the combination of the width of the letters and spacing.
The next step is to mark out the lines to define the letters. Through trial and error with cutting out the E on some scrap, I decided to make the top and bottom of the letters 3/16” wide. This allowed a 3/8” space for the midline of the E, which was then broken down into 1/8” spaces to form the E.
To finish off the letters, the 3/4" sections need to be marked at 1/4".
You can now draw in the letters.
This may look complicated, but if you minimize the lines drawn it should look like this (below). You will notice the N is slightly different in this picture; I changed it after defining the lines with the saw to make chopping it out a bit easier and to make it look a little better. The centerline of the E was left off at this point, as it was distracting when making the saw cuts.
To complete the marking out, I extended the lines across the end. I was now ready to start cutting!
Take your time and watch the depth of the cuts. The E and L have one cut each that is only 3/16” deep. The temptation is to go full depth on the cut for the E, but you need the bit in the middle left in place for the centerline.
Make sure your chisels are freshly sharpened and carefully start removing the waste. You will notice that this is where I made an on-the-fly design change for the N and chopped further down than the marked line. I was chopping away and liked the N as it looked here and decided to stop. The other points to notice are the O gets completely removed and only the horizontal portion and the bottom of the E are cut away. You should end up with what looks like two Ls.
At this point, it is a good idea to mark the waste on the back before starting to remove it as it does get a little confusing. You will see the two Ls at this point.
I used a coping saw to remove the waste for the bottom of the E and L and pared square.
I used my alignment jig to help transfer the marks to the second board. Again, it is important to take your time and carefully mark out the waste. Notice the center of the E is being removed and a small section of the N.
Saw to your lines as you would for regular dovetails. Turn the board around in the vise to saw the short lines for the L and N from the other side. The saw should be angled as steeply as you would for a blind dovetail in order to define the sides of the cut and help with waste removal using a chisel. I used a drill to remove the bulk of the waste in the E to make it easier to pare square.
The joint is now ready to be glued together.
After the glue dries, the joint can be finished. There are a few cheats at this point. If you look carefully, you will see the centerline of the E was chiseled out to a depth of around 3/16” with a 1/8” chisel and a piece of matching end grain inserted. The center of the O was also cut out, and a matching piece of face grain was inserted. The last piece to shape and glue in place is the bottom of the N. This is also a matching piece of face grain, but care must be taken to match up the end grain, too. The umlaut (the two dots over the letter) are simply drilled and filled with dowels.
I planed and cleaned up the two faces and applied a coat of finish.
This was done as a bit of seasonal fun, but it really is an excellent way to practise your sawing and chiseling techniques. I will maybe try XMAS next year!!!
Text and photos by George Hammond, Lee Valley staff.