Antique Sewing Machine Box | My First Dovetail Project

My wife collects antique sewing machines.  We have a few in their matching cabinets, but several are just the machines.  They are also still usable.  Most are motorized machines from the early 20th century.  These old machines are made to go in a cabinet and require clearance underneath for moving parts.  This makes the machines unusable if you don’t have a mount for them.

To solve this problem I’m building a small box to set these machines in that will allow them to sit on a table top and still have enough clearance underneath for the moving parts.  The process is simple: Measure you’re machine (there are two or three standard sizes for antique sewing machines), next construct a box where the inside measurements are 1/16 over the size of the machine (this gives you some play), the final step is to install some cleats so that the machine will sit flush with the top of your base.

These corner cleats are 1" square and are glued into the corners.  I cut them so the machine sits flush with the top of the box
These corner cleats are 1″ square and are glued into the corners. I cut them so the machine sits flush with the top of the box

For my base I decided it would be a great project to learn hand-cut dovetails.  Simple butt joints would work, but I wanted the base to look nice even if it is made of pine.  I milled some pine down to 1/2″ thick this way I just needed to cut my boards 1″ longer than the measurements for the sewing machine.  I laid out my dovetails with a Sliding T-Bevel, and a DIY marking gauge that is nothing more that a piece of scrap with a drywall screw in the center of it.  I cut the pins and tails with a $10 dovetail saw from Sears and a cheap chisel from Harbor Freight (these sharpened up nicely but need a touch up frequently).

My finished results are far from the masters whose blogs I follow.  But I am proud of the fact that I learned a new skill. My joints are sloppy and ill fitting.  Thankfully most were too tight and were easy to clean up with some pairing with a chisel.

Now I just have done this project in about 30 minutes with some screws and butt joints. Instead the dovetail process took a couple of hours.  I’m certain that both my speed and my quality will increase over time.

From a business stand point it’s not worth the time to make these to sell with dovetail joints, but I make make some with splined miters to sell on Etsy.  I will admit this project helped me to finally understand the allure of hand-tool woodworking.  There is something meditative in the rhythmic sawing action of a handsaw, and the blows of a mallet against a chisel.  It’s a wholly different experience than the roar of a table saw and the scream of a router.

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I’ll never be a hand-tool only kind of guy, but I’m glad I determined to do this project with hand tools.  I will be adding more hand tools to my woodworking tool box in the near future and incorporate more handwork into my projects.  Sometimes the process is just as rewarding as the finished product, I think that’s the allure of hand tool woodworking.

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