For DIYers looking to increase their craftsmanship during woodworking projects, dovetail jigs could be the answer. These jigs allow users to create strong and accurate dovetail joints for boxes, drawers, and furniture without fasteners. In fact, some craftspeople consider a dovetail jig an essential tool for any woodworking shop.
The best dovetail jigs clamp workpieces in place, allowing users to run a router along a template. This creates an interweaving joint that looks like a series of bird’s tails, just as the name implies. A dovetail joint is a very strong, stable joint with plenty of surface for gluing. This guide will help shoppers choose the best dovetail jig for any workshop.
- BEST OVERALL: PORTER-CABLE Dovetail Jig with Mini Template Kit
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: General Tools 861 Portable Aluminum Dovetail Jig
- UPGRADE PICK: PORTER-CABLE 4216 Super Jig – Dovetail jig
- BEST FOR HALF-BLINDS: Leigh Super 12 in Dovetail Jig
- BEST FOR LARGE PROJECTS: Leigh D4R Pro 24″ Dovetail Jig
- BEST FOR SMALL WORKSHOPS: Keller Dovetail System 135-1500 Journeyman
- BEST FOR DUST COLLECTION: Dovetail Jig – Versatile Dovetail Jig Kit from Rockler
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Dovetail Jig
Dovetail jigs aren’t new technology, but they’re a less popular and approachable method for joinery than pocket hole jigs. That said, dovetail joints are strong and old-school, though new DIYers might not be familiar with them or know what to look for when shopping. The following sections contain some of the most important factors to consider when shopping.
When choosing the best dovetail jig, consider the materials used in each product’s construction. The dovetail joints of years past were usually cast iron in construction, and if they received regular maintenance, they lasted almost forever. However, they were very heavy and expensive. Today’s models use cast aluminum or steel in their construction.
Dovetail jigs with aluminum parts and templates are light and usually very accurate, but they can be expensive. Steel jigs and templates are heavier and less expensive, but they’re also less likely to bend and become inaccurate than an aluminum jig. Unlike aluminum, steel jigs also are susceptible to rust, so it’s best to store them in a dry shop.
One-Step vs. Two-Step
Two types of dovetail jigs are available. One-step jigs usually are a bit more expensive than two-step jigs, but for good reason.
A one-step jig allows users to cut the joint in two boards at the same time. By holding the board ends perpendicular to each other, users can run the router over both boards, creating an incredibly accurate joint. Two-step jigs allow users to mill only one board at a time: The board must be unclamped and replaced with the other board, which can introduce room for error.
Fixed vs. Variable Template
Depending on the level of customization needed, users might choose a fixed or variable jig. Each makes robust and reliable joints but with different degrees of customization.
Fixed template jigs use solid templates that create a perfectly uniform and consistent joint. Their guides are spaced evenly and consistently. Users can choose from fixed dovetail jig templates with different spacing or shapes, but the actual templates are not adjustable.
Variable templates allow users to adjust the spacing, the number of guides, and the look of the dovetail joint. This less uniform look creates a more handmade appearance that many craftspeople appreciate.
Before purchasing a dovetail jig, consider the size of the boards each jig can handle. Many jigs can handle boards only of a certain size before they must be removed and repositioned. The more often the boards are repositioned, the more room for error.
For cabinetmaking work, a jig with a 12-inch capacity is usually enough for most drawers. Drawers are rarely deeper than 12 inches, but if they go deeper, some jigs allow the boards to be repositioned to keep milling.
For deeper boxes and crates, many craftspeople prefer a jig with a bit more capacity, such as one within the 24-inch range. They allow the creation of large dovetailed box joints with the router.
When considering the best dovetail jig for projects, accuracy trumps any other factor. If the dovetail jig isn’t accurate, it will create loose, sloppy joints or worse: joints that don’t fit together at all.
While most jigs have consistent, accurate templates, the quality of the jig itself has a lot to do with the accuracy of the joint. If the jig has lower-quality fittings, clamps, or hardware, things may shift while using the jig. Shifting will create less consistent results. Many of the best options are from trusted brands that use quality parts and hardware made from steel or aluminum.
Types of Joints
As a user’s woodworking journey unfolds and they start to become a better craftsperson, they often appreciate the ability to create a different look or style of joint with a dovetail jig.
Dovetail jigs are useful and fun because they can create so many different types of joints. By swapping out a template, the user can change from making a standard dovetail to a box joint to a half-blind or even a full-blind mitered joint.
Ease of Use
A DIYer probably doesn’t have years of old-school cabinetmaking experience to rely on when setting up a dovetail jig. As a result, most people look for a jig that’s easy to set up and use. Quick-change jigs and quick-grabbing clamps help with setup. Jigs with guides also are available for setting the depth accurately, which is an essential measurement for blind and half-blind joints.
Also, consider the ease of cutting joints with the jig. Models that come with swappable router collars allow users to run the router along the guides smoothly, creating accurate joints. Quick lever-activated clamps also help make setup quicker and easier.
Lastly, consider the size and weight of the jig. If the jig is in a dedicated woodworking or cabinetmaking shop, removal and storage aren’t an issue, but most home craftspeople don’t have space to keep the jig up all the time. Older cast-iron jigs were fairly heavy, but today’s models are much more manageable. Remember: The longer the jig, the longer the board it can handle, but it’ll be more difficult to store.
Our Top Picks
With that lecture on what to look for when choosing the best dovetail jig for a workshop out of the way, it’s time to start shopping. Read on to find a list of some of the top jigs for woodworking projects. Some products have plenty of templates and guides, but others take a more minimal approach to joinery. Check into these products to help find the best dovetail jig for a variety of needs.
For a kit that can check most of the boxes for router joinery, the PORTER-CABLE Dovetail Jig with Mini Template Kit might be the way to go. This set comes with almost everything necessary to start cutting a variety of dovetails, save for the router and bits.
This Porter-Cable model features a one-piece steel base and fixed aluminum templates including half-blind, rabbeted half-blind, through, and sliding dovetails. It has a 12-inch capacity and sandpaper-backed cam-type clamps for quickly securing boards in place. Also, users will find the onboard instructions helpful when setting the Porter-Cable dovetail jig up. Note that it can handle two boards at once, making cutting dovetails a one-step process. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with a bit or router collars—those require an upgrade to the next kit in the Porter-Cable lineup.
- Capacity: 12 inches
- Fixed/Variable: Fixed
- Types of Joints: Half-blind, rabbeted half-blind, sliding, and through dovetails
- One-piece construction with solid clamping
- Includes jigs for several dovetail types
- Accepts two boards at once for one-step milling
- No bits or router collars included
Get the Porter-Cable Dovetail Kit on Amazon.
For an affordable approach to dovetails, check out the General Tools 861 Portable Aluminum Dovetail Jig. This jig’s design allows users to attach it to the board and use it with a router table or handheld router. The design also provides the ability to mill boards of any width, and the open-ended design and alignment tool help in repositioning. The maximum width it can handle without repositioning is six inches.
This kit comes with the jig and router bit—a nice touch for such an affordable model. It also contains several screw-down clamps for clamping the jig securely onto the board. While it doesn’t have additional templates, it does offer an effective way to create box and dovetail joints on boards of any width.
- Capacity: Repositionable
- Fixed/Variable: Fixed
- Types of Joints: Through, box joints, and half-blind dovetails
- Easy repositioning thanks to the alignment tool
- Comes with jig and router bit
- Screw-down clamps attach firmly
Get the General Tools dovetail jig on Amazon and at The Home Depot.
The PORTER-CABLE Super Jig kit might be worth considering for those looking for everything necessary to create a wide range of joints. This kit comes with a solid one-piece base that clamps to the workbench, allowing the creation of accurate joints in a one-step process, milling two 12-inch boards at once.
The kit comes complete with several aluminum templates for different styles of joints, including half-blind, rabbeted half-blind, sliding dovetail, through dovetails, and more. It also comes with several router collars to serve as guides to create joints, allowing for more accurate passes than other jigs. The lever-controlled clamps hold boards in place securely via cam-type clamps with sandpaper backing, and they release quickly. The main downside to this jig is that it is more expensive than some other kits, but the included accessories may make it worth the expense.
- Capacity: 12 inches
- Fixed/Variable: Fixed
- Types of Joints: Half-blind, rabbeted half-blind, sliding, through dovetails
- 12-inch capacity mills two boards at once
- Comes with templates and collars
- Secure clamping pressure with sandpaper for additional grip
- It’s a bit more expensive than most DIYers might want to spend
Get the Porter-Cable Super Jig on Amazon.
DIYers looking for an adjustable dovetail jig that can handle half-blind joints (as well as others) should give Leigh’s Super 12-inch Dovetail Jig some thought. This jig can handle milling two boards at once, each up to 12 inches. The one piece fingers are also infinitely adjustable, allowing the user to create joints of any pattern or spacing. These fingers are also easily positioned, guaranteeing half of a dovetail pin at each edge of the joint.
This jig can cut through and sliding dovetails, but it specializes in half-blind dovetails. It comes with a special half-blind bridge for guiding the router to improve accuracy, as well as a half-blind bit. The entire kit includes three bits, a router collar, and a sliding dovetail fence. Admittedly, it’s expensive, but the accuracy and adjustability it offers may be worth the expense.
- Capacity: 12 inches
- Fixed/Variable: Variable
- Types of Joints: Sliding, through, half-blind, and half-blind rabbet
- Comes with three router bits
- Adjustable one-piece fingers guarantee a half pin at the edge of each joint
- Specializes in half-blind dovetails thanks to the blind bridge and bit
Get the Leigh Super 12 on Amazon and at Woodcraft.
For pros and production-minded DIYers looking for a bit more capacity from their dovetail jig, the Leigh D4R Pro might be the answer. This dovetail jig offers the ability to mill 24-inch wide boards, or, several boards at once. It even offers one-step milling, allowing users to breeze through the joinery process.
This complete dovetail jig features durable aluminum construction, ensuring it lasts for years to come without corrosion—a good thing considering the price. It comes with three carbide router bits, a collar, and a guide bushing for accurate routing. The fingers are infinitely adjustable for custom joinery, and flipping them over allows the user to transition from through dovetails to half-blind, increasing this kit’s flexibility.
- Capacity: 24 inches
- Fixed/Variable: Variable
- Types of Joints: Through, box, half-blind, and rabbeted half-blind
- 24-inch wide capacity
- Aluminum construction for years of use
- Comes with router bits, a collar, and a guide bushing
- Dovetails are infinitely adjustable and flipping them over allows for half-blind joinery
Get the Leigh 4DR Pro on Amazon and at Rockler.
Small workshops require compact, flexible tools like this model from Keller Dovetail System. The Journeyman is a one-piece kit that DIYers can use to cut dovetails or box joints. The kit mounts to a strip of wood and measures 15 inches wide, though it’s repositionable for unlimited capacity.
This model comes with two router bits for cutting dovetails or box joints, complete with ball-bearing guides that ride along the template plate. While the capacity is limitless, repositioning this jig will require a careful eye to ensure accuracy. However, the benefit of this simple design is that it can sit on a shelf or rack until needed.
- Capacity: Repositionable
- Fixed/Variable: Fixed
- Types of Joints: Box or dovetail
- Small and compact
- Comes with router bits for dovetails or box joints
- Unlimited capacity
- Repositioning requires a careful eye to ensure accuracy
Get the Keller Dovetail System Journeyman on Amazon.
Folks tired of sweeping or vacuuming their floors, work tables, and other surfaces between milling every joint should give this jig from Rockler a look. This jig is compatible with the brand’s dust collection system, allowing users to mill boards at will while drastically reducing the mess involved.
This Rockler complete dovetail jig features one-step milling, clamping two boards in place at once. It can handle through and half-blind dovetails, and the compact and lightweight design makes it easy to store away. It comes with the jig, two fixed templates, three router bits, a collar, and a guide bushing for accurate routing. The half-blind bridge will help with accuracy, as well. The main complaint is that the dust collection system is sold separately (available on Amazon).
- Capacity: 11 inches
- Fixed/Variable: Fixed
- Types of Joints: Through and half-blind dovetails
- Compatible with dust collection system
- Light and compact enough to store away
- Comes with three bits, a collar, a bushing, and two templates
- While it’s compatible with the dust collection system, it doesn’t come with it
Get the Rocker Dovetail Jig on Amazon and at Rockler.
Those looking for a high-quality dovetail kit should consider the PORTER-CABLE Dovetail Jig with Mini Template Kit for its solid construction, multiple templates, and one-step milling. However, for folks looking to save a bit of money, the General Tools 861 Portable Aluminum Dovetail Jig’s easy repositioning and the affordable price tag may make it the jig to own.
How We Chose the Best Dovetail Jigs
Dovetail jigs are something of a staple in old-school woodworking shops, so putting a list together of the top models was no small feat. We had to draw upon our experiences in woodworking and DIY projects to consider the features and capacities we find most helpful just to get started.
With a list of the most important features down, we performed extensive product research to find models that we felt might meet our needs. We then compared those products’ quality features, additional items, capacities, and prices to ensure they offered enough value. We tossed out the dovetail jigs that couldn’t cut it, and then gave the models that made it awards based on their strengths.
While there are lots of great dovetail jigs on the market to choose from, it might be worth shopping for a used model. Dovetail jigs have been around a long time, and the older models were extremely durable, meaning there are probably quite a few around, and the deals can be worth the effort.
Many older dovetail kits featured cast iron construction, making them extremely durable (though a bit heavy). While they may not be adjustable, these jigs are almost sure to be accurate as long as they’re whole (no missing or bent teeth). And older DIYers or retiring woodworkers looking to pass them onto new craftspeople may entertain steep discounts to move these heavy tools.
The downside is that these tools aren’t always readily available on sites like Amazon Renew, Ebay Refurbished, or Walmart Refurbished. Due to their weight, they can be cost-prohibitive to ship, though it may be worth checking those sites first, anyway. Local yard sales and swap meets may be a better bet.
Tips for Using a Dovetail Jig
If any play or wobble occurs in the jig or workpieces, the results won’t be as accurate. Clamp the jig base securely to the table or the workpiece to ensure the best possible joints.
If the boards come from a home improvement store, be sure to square up their ends before placing them in the router jig. Factory ends are rarely square, and routing them in a dovetail jig will create a box that wobbles or doesn’t assemble properly. Consider running them over a jointer to ensure that all of the surfaces are perfectly square. If not, a hand plane will do the trick.
Alignment is everything. When clamping the workpiece into the jig, ensure that everything is square and aligned properly. Take your time and make sure that this part of the process is correct. A mistake here can end with a poorly cut joint and two boards that don’t align properly. This step is even more critical when repositioning a jig for a wider board: A small mistake here could keep the joint from coming together at all.
- For consistent results, be sure the jig or workpiece is clamped securely to the table.
- Square the ends of the boards before milling them on the jig.
- Ensure accurate alignment, especially when repositioning the jig on a wider board.
Now that you know a bit more about the products that are available for helping cut dovetails, other questions may arise. Here, find a collection of some of the most frequently asked questions about dovetail jigs and their answers. If you still have questions, a manufacturer’s customer representative customer service department may help.
Q: Do you need much experience to use a dovetail jig?
No, experience isn’t necessary, but it’s important to realize that small mistakes can end up in ruined joints. Taking time, aligning the workpieces, and ensuring that everything is stable on the workbench — all help achieve excellent results.
Q: What is a lapped dovetail joint?
Lapped dovetail joints are popular in cabinetmaking. These joints look like standard dovetails; however, the dovetails don’t extend all the way through one of the pieces. This makes the dovetails hidden from one side of the joint.
Q: What is a full-blind dovetail?
The dovetails in a full-blind joint are just like standard dovetails, but they don’t pass all the way through. They aren’t visible from any side of the joint. The dovetails hide inside the joint and provide a strong joint with lots of glue surface.
Q: Are any dovetail joints weaker than the rest?
Comparing strength in dovetail joints comes down to several different variables, including the size of the dovetails and even the strength of the wood. However, comparing dovetails to box joints and other lap-style joinery almost always shows that dovetails are the strongest when compared to fingerjoints and box joints.
Q: What kind of joints can you make with a dovetail jig?
The possibilities are endless, but a dovetail jig can create dovetail, hidden dovetail, through dovetail, sliding dovetail, mitered dovetail, and box joints, just to name a few.