Cabinet-maker Arnulf Wibler likes to take on assignments that require experience and substantial precision. He is particularly proud of his dovetail joints, an age-old technique that produces durable furniture with that little extra.
Arnulf Wibler has his workshop in the basement of a house from the 1960s in Hässelby Villastad. When Snickers Workwear comes to visit, he is busy routing dovetail joints in solid oak timber for a piece that will be mounted at the side of a wine cooler. And this is something he has done before. Arnulf became familiar with dovetail joints 17 years ago, during his apprenticeship in Germany. Back then, the job was done with a handsaw, scratch gauge and chisel.
"Dovetail jointing is an age-old method that involves joining pieces of wood with extremely durable and strong joints employing pins and tails. But creating the joints manually is a complex process. Each little pin and tail must be carefully calculated and marked with a square and bevel. Each component must be carefully sawn and chiselled with extreme precision. A deviation of even a fraction of a millimetre is unacceptable.”'
This is truly a case of proud craftsmanship! Is the feeling the same when the job is done with machinery?
"With a router and a dovetail jig, I can create just as fine joints in a couple of minutes. But, it's not as easy as it looks. And it still requires substantial precision. So the answer is yes!”
What are the challenges?
“First of all, it takes time to learn how to use a dovetail jig. And every job requires attention and planning. Each piece must be carefully labelled in advance; otherwise things can quickly go wrong. It’s easy to turn a plank with the wrong side up when it is to be routed at both ends.”
What is the procedure?
“You begin by fitting a steel template in the dovetail jig. It determines the form of the tail or pin. Then you secure your workpiece with another board to protect it against cracking and chipping. Next, fit a suitable bit to the router and slowly and carefully work along the template.”
What do you have to keep in mind?
“That the workpiece is properly secured. The router is extremely powerful. Given the high cutting speed, it’s also important to equip the router with high quality bits.”
What are the various kinds of joints?
"The variants are many, but a common one is the dovetail joint. These can be through, mitred, half-blind and sliding, to mention a few examples.”
You have discarded a few pieces of oak, why?
“Because they were off by a millimetre or so. They have to be perfect.”
Have you always been so particular?
“Always. My approach to quality comes from my dad. He has three mastership diplomas, so you can imagine how often quality and professional pride came up in talk around the dinner table.”
But does the customer see the difference?
“Probably quite seldom. But for me it is important that I can be proud of my work. Even if this means more work for me.”