When looking to increase the craftsmanship of your woodworking projects, a dovetail jig could be the answer. These jigs allow you to create strong and accurate dovetail joints for boxes, drawers, and furniture without fasteners. In fact, you could consider a dovetail jig an essential tool for any woodworking shop.
The best dovetail jigs clamp your workpiece in place, allowing you 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 you choose the best dovetail jig for your workshop.
- BEST OVERALL: PORTER-CABLE 12-Inch Dovetail Jig
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: General Tools 861 Portable Aluminum Dovetail Jig
- UPGRADE PICK: PORTER-CABLE 4216 Super Jig – Dovetail jig
- BEST CAPACITY: Trend CDJ600 24-Inch Half-blind Dovetail Jig
- BEST MINI KIT: PORTER-CABLE Dovetail Jig with Mini Template Kit
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Dovetail Jig
Dovetail jigs aren’t new technology, but they have become a more popular, easier, and more approachable method for joinery than pocket hole jigs. That said, dovetail joints are strong and old-school. Even so, new DIYers might not be familiar with them or know what to look for when shopping. Keep reading to find a list of some of the most important considerations to keep in mind. They’ll help you choose the best dovetail jig for woodworking projects.
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 introduces 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 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. 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
Now that we’ve discussed what to look for when choosing the best dovetail jig for your workshop, 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 your needs.
For a kit that can check most of the boxes for router joinery, the PORTER-CABLE 12-inch Dovetail Jig kit might be the way to go. This set comes with everything necessary to get started except for the router.
This kit includes both half-blind and sliding dovetail aluminum templates as well as the proper router bit to cut the joinery. It has a sturdy, durable single-piece steel base that clamps to the workbench for stability and accuracy. It also has template alignment lines for tight joints. It has a one-step design, allowing users to simultaneously mill two boards up to 1⅛ inches thick.
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.
This kit comes with the jig and router bit. 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.
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.
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. The lever-controlled clamps hold boards in place securely and release quickly.
Those looking for a one-step dovetail jig that allows the creation of long, accurate joints may want to check out the Trend CDJ600 jig. This steel jig enables users to cut a joint on two boards simultaneously or joints across several boards with one setup.
This kit comes with the steel base, a ½-inch blind dovetail template, the guide bushing for the router, and the required router bit. It has three screw-down clamps on both the top and side of the jig, allowing users to set up several boards at a time. Buy additional templates directly from the company.
Dovetail joinery kits don’t have to be over-the-top to allow for the creation of accurate, tight joints. The 4216 kit from PORTER-CABLE comes with enough jigs and router bits to be effective without overwhelming.
The 4216 kit comes with templates for half-blind, rabbeted half-blind, and several other styles of dovetail joints. It also comes with four router bits and matching collars to act as guides with the aluminum templates. The one-piece base clamps to the table, allowing the clamps to affix securely in the jig for a one-step milling process. It also has a router bit depth gauge to help provide consistent results.
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.
FAQs About Your New Dovetail Jig
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.