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In my book, dovetail joints are one of the marks that separate serious furniture makers from beginners. I’ve always viewed dovetails as something only for woodworking ninjas, but in the last few years I’ve seen dovetail jigs that claim to produce pro results in no time — without having to slay a unicorn to possess its sacred power.

Though often complex, the units I’ve seen — like this Rockler model — appear to offer a good template set and be accurate enough to make good quality joints without endless stopping and measuring.

But even though these jigs sound like a great idea, I’ve have yet to try one. How ’bout clueing a fellow (novice) woodworker in? Are dovetail jigs a direct spark of the divine or just a hassle? Let me know in comments.

Complete Dovetail Jig [Rockler]
Street Pricing [Google Product Search]


11 Responses to Hot or Not? Dovetail Jigs

  1. Gary says:

    Spark of the divine? Don’t know about that. I’ve done dovetails by hand and using a jig. I like the process of doing them by hand but, I’m lucky if I get 4-5 hours of shop time per week. I found that I got pretty rusty from project to project. When I retire or have more time, I’ll probably go back to hand cut.

    I’ve got the Leigh D4. I can space the DTs how I want – to mimic hand cut. It is a little complicated to set up and get it dialed in for perfect DTs, but the manual is great.

    A lot of people consider dovetails a hallmark of craftsmanship. They’re also an incredibly strong joint. So I guess there’s a spark in there somewhere.

  2. l_bilyk says:

    I disagree. Hand-cut dovetails is something for woodworking ninjas

  3. BT says:

    The rockler jig is a good one to start off with. Taught myself to use it from the instructions in one evening. Learning to adjust the fit is a little tricky but once you get the hang of it you can usually get setup with just one or two test cuts. You will ALWAYS need to make test cuts as the fit is dependent on the thickness of the material so always make sure you have enough scrap of the same thickness as your project. Just recognize that it is limited to one size/spacing and does not offer unlimited options like the much more expensive units. Also need to be very careful of where to router bit is when removing the router from the jig as it is very easy to cut the jig template.

  4. Gary says:

    It’s like anything else – practice.

  5. Marc says:

    Dovetail jigs can be great. Units like the Akeda are pricey but simple to use. Units like the Leigh are versatile and accurate, but a bit more complex (and also very pricey). And still other units, like the older blue Rockler model (not their latest), make me want to put it out in my driveway and run it over with my car. So although they may seem like a gift from the heavens, a poorly engineered dovetail jig will do one of two things: learn to cut them by hand or make you go back to rabbets and brad nails. 😉

  6. Al Navas says:

    All I have *ever* tried is the Leigh D4, Sean. It fits my needs well. But it took a while to reach my decision… (read on)

    Marc is right! These jigs *can* be great. However, a basic requirement for one looking to buy a new one is to properly *define* up front what his or her need(s) are or are likely to be. We should be doing this with all tool purchases.

    Only after properly defining the need should the prospective buyer make a decision. Why buy a very expensive jig, if it will be used only once a year or so? Or why buy the cheapest, if it will be used quite often, like almost daily?

    I am not sure that the dovetail jigs are “a direct spark of the divine”, but an essential tool that I use quite often. They WILL help you convey a message about a project, one of subtle emphasis on workmanship.

    Take your time to make a decision, and define your needs. THEN buy one!

  7. Kurt says:

    I could have sworn that I’ve seen Norm Abrams use this exact jig in the New Yankee workshop. If it’s good enough for Norm . . .

  8. Dan Lyke says:

    I’ve got a super cheap one (cheaper even than the Rockler…), it’s got a slightly twisted frame, it only lets me do one spacing, and I still end up using it.

    I think it’s worth the extra to go for something that’ll let you do full through dovetails with variable spacing, even though the extra may be 4x the cheap one, but I think nothing beats a dovetail for looks.

    (Well, okay, except for some of those really fancy japanese interlocking joints that can only be hand cut…)

  9. Michael W. says:

    I think it’s really a choice of what you like to do. I use my router a lot, but prefer to use my handtools for some things (dovetails included).

    For someone who doesn’t want to take the time to learn how to do them by hand I think they’re fine (someone like Gary who has limited time in the shop is a good example).

  10. John Daugh says:

    Save your money and buy a Leigh jig. This style, with a fixed finger template, is too constraining – you sometimes need to size your parts to fit the jig.

  11. Mike says:

    Being a newbie too, I have gnawed over things like this many times as well. I used to rationale cheaper tools and toys by saying I’ll only use them a couple of times a year and can’t justify the cost. But a mediocre tool is a mediocre tool even if only used occasionally, so I would say read your reviews and look to spending a little more. The Porter Cable DT jig has gotten good reviews from FWW – although not as versitle as the Leigh or efficient as the Akeda, it is quality and a bit cheaper. Just something to consider.

    In my opinion, dovetails are a strong and appropriate joint for certain case construction needs and a dovetail jig will get you there easier and faster. However, the true “sparks of the devine” are those masters who can bang them out by hand just as quickly as using a jig. Ya gotta admire that.

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