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.

Weekndr Project: How to Make a Balsa Wood Airplane

The Weekndr workshop turned into an aeronautical studio today for an inspired project building a balsa wood glider from scratch. Ours turned out a lot like the ones you buy at the toy store, only since we started with raw materials and used our own tools we came up with a fun wing design.

The inspiration for this family woodworking project was the new scroll saw we acquired a few weeks ago from cheapo tool maker Harbor Freight. For $69 we can now cut precise curves and delicate wood parts. That’s incredibly inexpensive for a scroll saw, but you get what you pay for. It’s actually a pretty wonky tool – the table is made from thin flimsy steel and the blade guard wobbles loose after a minute of use from the vibration of saw. I knew what I was getting though, and I managed to trick out the tool with a new table and blade guard, and now it cuts pretty well.

Without it, we couldn’t have made this:

The glider is made from a single thin sheet of balsa wood. Using a ruler and pencil each part is drawn on the balsa wood and cut to shape with the scroll saw. The edges are shaped and smoothed with sandpaper.

To attach the wings to the body of the glider the parts are assembled with joining notches. We devised a unique design for the tail wing assembly that features two rudder fins to accommodate this joinery technique.

To prevent the glider from tumbling through the air with each throw, we weighted the nose of the glider with three screws – not too many and not too few. It gave the glider just the right balance and they came with an added benefit: the screws protected the nose of the plane from crushing on impact.

And impact it made. Over and over all morning the kids tossed the glider off the front stoop and into the driveway. Parts broke off regularly as it crash landed again and again. But with the hanger nearby and a stock of balsa wood scraps at the ready, we were able to repair or replace each broken piece and get the glider back in flight in minutes.

Things That are Round and Made of Wood

A collection of weekndr woodturning projects from the past decade:

A round mirror made of African mahogany with a carved diamond bead around the rim. A redwood burl platter with bark inclusion. A spalted sugar maple bowl with an abandoned maple syrup tap hole. A collection of small forms, and two small boxes, one in the shape of a miniature barrel. See more round wood things on

It’s ‘Wainscot’ not ‘Wainscoat’… and How To Install It


Our bathroom got a makeover over the past few weeks thanks to the heroic painting efforts of misses weekndr and my own do-it-yourself inspiration.

We installed wainscoting in our bathroom and used the opportunity to choose a new paint color, one that “complements our skin tones” as the wife notes, and lightens up the place. Before I get into it, let me ask: is wainscoting the most mispronounced word in the home improvement dictionary? While it does technically coat the walls, it’s not pronounced that way! Take a listen if you don’t believe me.

wainscot-4Why Use Wainscot?
The wainscoting solved a few problems for us. First, there was a rotted area around the trim where the wall meets the bathtub shower insert, which needed to be ripped out and replaced. Second, I’m not so good with drywall seams, especially when patching a small section of a painted wall, so instead of sweating over the details, I covered up my drywall patch with 1/8-in. thick masonite beadboard, purchased at Lowes as a 4×8 sheet.

wainscot-5How to install it
The first step after the drywall is complete is to attach square baseboard trim to the wall. I used 4-in.-wide maple trim. Next,  cut the beadboard panels into strips (I cut the panels in thirds making each 32-in. tall) and adhere the panels to the wall with liquid nails. A few shots from the pneumatic nailer will hold them in place as the liquid nails dries.

To conceal any gaps that might appear between the baseboard trim and beadboard due to inconsistencies in the plumb and level of the floor or wall, attach a decorative quarter-round trim over that corner joint. This also adds some additional flair to the baseboard trim.

Finally, I nailed a molded chair rail along the top edge. I butted the trim right up against the beadboard and sealed the joint with silicon puddy. You can also overlap the trim if you need to conceal major gaps along the joint top (as seen in photo) or go one step further and cut a rabbet along the edge of the chair rail that hangs over the beadboard.

crown complete

wainscot-2You don’t have to be extremely precise with the miter joints and transitions. As the old saying goes, ‘without puddy, paint, and glue, what would a poor carpenter do?” With that advice in mind, fill all the nail holes, seams, and edges with a latex or silicon caulking and sand smooth. Then apply a coat of primer and a few coats of top coat paint, and Voila!


Build a Bed… at 1/8th Scale

bed model

Good bye futon frame, we’re getting our first-ever grown-up bed. This week I’m going to start building a mission-style bed for the homestead and I decided to build a model in 1/8th scale to make sure the proportions are right. It’s made from scaps of white oak and assembled with a hot-glue gun. The mattress is cardboard.

The girls have already commandeered the cute little model for a Barbie bed. At least she’ll get to rest in style.

The design is pretty much classic arts and crafts. I based it on a Morris chair that we keep in our room. Quarter-sawn white oak, through mortise and tenon joinery (although I have a few tricks up my sleeve with that), corbels Head Board Inlayand slats for the headboard and footboard.

Since the bed is all right angles and square parts it should be relatively easy to build so I’m going to throw in some inlay for the headboard. I found some nice clipart on Google to put together the two options at right. I’ll let the misses have the final word (as usually). I’m leaning toward “SLEEP” over “PEACE” (as usual).

On Newsstands This Month


Remember this? It’s back from the printer and on the truck to your local big box retailer.

I saw my mug at the grocery store on the cover of Start Woodworking, a special newsstand-only magazine I helped produce that comes with an 80-minute DVD workshop featuring yours truly. It’s pretty exciting to know that 175,000 copies of me have reached bookstores, home centers, and markets around the country.

However, I wasn’t so excited to learn that my publisher will be happy if they sell 35 percent of that. Apparently, that’s better than the industry standard. Even more saddening is the fact that the 110,000 copies that don’t get sold are headed for the scrap yard. That’s right folks, it’s an industry fact that 70 percent of all newsstand magazines end up in the trash. If a copy isn’t sold, the retailer rips the cover off and sends it back for a refund. 

So support me and preserve your landfills. Go out an buy a copy of Start Woodworking.

Start Woodworking Promo
video produced by Weekndr on Vimeo.

On the Cover of Fine Woodworking


My first cover shoot for Fine Woodworking magazine.

I’ve been wrapping up a project at work to create a bundled DVD and magazine based on my Web series, Getting Started in Woodworking. The series is an attempt to reach out to young people to get them interested in learning the old-man skills of woodworking. It turns out I’m somewhat of an anomoly being under the age of 60 with no plaid shirts and a love of the centuries old craft.

While the photos above are just a spoof, a real cover with my mug is due out in mid December. I’ll be sure to let you know so you can head down to your local home center to pick up a copy.