A Fun Project For The Aspiring Weekend Woodworker

I won’t lie to you, if you want to master something, even something as simple as the making of a single butterfly joint, it’s going to take a lot of time, and a lot of patience.  Mastery is achieved through a lifetime of dedication.  

The fortunate flip-side is that not everything needs to be masterfully crafted.  Indeed, a true master’s work wouldn’t be much of a standout in a world where nobody bothered to build anything without it being perfect.  The point is that you shouldn’t balk at trying your hand at new tricks (old dog though you may be).


As a bit of encouragement, and hopefully not a source of frustration, here’s a crash course in butterfly joints:

    1. Pick your pieces from which to cut joints carefully.  You want grains that look nice set into whatever cracks or
      seams you’re trying to stop spreading.  You also want to avoid cutting joints that will split themselves! 
    2. Make models out of plywood, to use as visual references.  This will keep you from saying, ‘awe, man!’ after you’ve just cut a beautiful slab up into joints that are too large, small, or of the wrong angles for their application.
    3. Cut with care.  Once you’re sure your lines are drawn with accuracy, cut carefully along their outsides with a bandsaw.  The trickiest joints to cut are often those with sharper, more acute angles, but with smaller joints, beware of surprises.
    4. Sand.  At this point, I recommend you abandon the power tools, and work by hand.  It may try your patience, but it keeps things precise and keeps you from moving too fast, too.  Try tacking fine grit paper to the edge of a table or sharp wood block, and then run the sides of the joint over the flat abrasive surface.
    5. Dig the hole.  Boring out the space with which to plug in your new joint should not be rushed.  One false move and you’ve got big, ugly gaps all around, muddying up the crisp wings of your butterfly.  Drill holes in the wider ends, then run a precision router around the inside of the hole, keeping a few fingernails’ distance from the line.  To complete the procedure, take a hand chisel and open up the aperture exactly to the pencil line, holding your finished joint over top at intervals to keep track of your progress.
    6. Tap, stick, lop, and smooth.  Tap the joint into the hole, with glue or epoxy to hold it in, lop (this is a careless word for what you’re doing, but a fun word nonetheless) off the excess with a flexible Japanese saw, and sand the new composite surface so that it’s clean and flawless.

Voila!  At this point, hopefully, you’re happy with the result of your labors, and the check in your table is being held…well, held in check!  Again, do not expect your first go at joinery to produce elegant perfection.  It just won’t happen. But you can make something you’re proud of, and the best thing about your first venture?  You only get better from there on out.  

Good luck!


Your Woodworking Expert,

Paul Dumond

Phone: 406.777.3772
E-mail: sales@dumonds.com


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