Dowel joints are more common than you might think. They’re used in all kinds of wood joinery, from cabinet frames to cupboard drawers to tabletops. With a quality dowel jig, even relatively inexperienced woodworkers can produce precise joints quickly and easily.
However, the market is crowded with products, and choosing the best dowel jig for a particular task can pose a challenge. This guide explains the important technical and practical aspects that woodworkers of all skill levels should consider before they buy a dowel jig. A review of some of today’s top options available appears next.
- BEST OVERALL: wolfcraft 3751405 Dowel Pro Doweling Jig Kit
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: AUTOTOOLHOME Woodworking Dowel Jig 1/4″ 5/16″ 3/8″
- BEST UPGRADE: Dowelmax Kit Precision Engineered Joining System
- BEST DIY KIT: Milescraft 1309 DowelJigKit – Complete Doweling Kit
- BEST PRECISION: Jessem Model 08350 Dowelling Jig Master Kit
- BEST SELF-CENTERING: AUTOTOOLHOME Self Centering Doweling Jig Step Drill
- BEST NARROW STOCK: AUTOTOOLHOME Self Centering Doweling Jig Kit
- BEST FOR CYLINDRICAL: Taytools Drill Guide Dowel Kit Jig with 6 Bushings
- BEST LIGHTWEIGHT: Big Horn 19695 1/4″ Dowel Drilling Jig Kit
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Dowel Jig
Dowel jigs are available in many different shapes and sizes and varying degrees of complexity. The plethora of options can make choosing the right one difficult. The following section looks at several important considerations when shopping for the best dowel jig for a range of workshop tasks.
Dowels are used to create a number of different joints: to join boards at 90 degrees of each other (at the corners or a T joint), for edge-to-edge joints (for making seats or tabletops, for example), to make drawers and other carcasses, and to secure simple lapped joints on cabinet frames.
While most dowel jigs offer a degree of versatility, they may not be suitable for all joint types. Learn the full range of functions provided by a particular model before you purchase one. Buying a basic dowel jig can save money initially, but experienced woodworkers may want to invest in a more versatile model.
Dowel jigs are sometimes described as basic, intermediate, and advanced, but this terminology can be misleading. An inexperienced woodworker shouldn’t necessarily opt for a simpler device. While the dowel jig may look easier to use initially, it might actually be more difficult to set up and lack the precision of a more advanced model.
Bushing Size and Material
The purpose of a dowel jig is to drill accurate holes in a piece of wood. Users then fit dowels into these holes and glue the project together. While exceptions exist, the hole for the dowel should be between one-third and one-half the thickness of the workpiece—any larger and the hole can weaken the joint.
To provide the necessary versatility, manufacturers typically offer a number of different bushes (the correct name for the drill guide) with the purchase. Basic dowel jigs usually include one or two bushes; more advanced models may provide up to six. Common bush sizes, 3/16 inch, 1/4 inch, 5/16 inch, 3/8 inch, 7/16 inch, and 1/2 inch, match the widely available dowels that come in economical packs of 100 or more.
On low-cost dowel jigs, the bushes may be made of low-cost, easy-to-produce aluminum; however, the hard steel of a drill bit will wear it out eventually. For those who use a dowel jig only occasionally, this isn’t a problem, but regular users will get more value from a jig with longer-lasting hardened steel bushes.
Clamping Performance and Accuracy
Handheld dowel jigs offer high productivity; however, the possibility of movement always exists when drilling, which can cause inaccuracies and ruin the job. Many dowel jigs are clamped securely in place to prevent movement from occurring. The clamping method, along with capacity, varies among different types of jigs.
Entry-level dowel jigs might require clamping, but the clamps often aren’t included. Some of the better dowel jigs clamp to both sides of the workpiece. Not only are these jigs easy to operate, but their drill bush frequently will center itself, which improves accuracy and also can improve speed.
Ease of Use
In principle, dowel joints function in a straightforward manner. Once the jig is securely clamped or held onto the workpiece, each dowel hole is created by drilling into the wood. Ease of use becomes simply about how quickly the jig can be set up and ready for drilling.
Features like self-centering are a bonus for some woodworkers, as is a choice of six different bushes. However, those who usually work with similar-size lumber may not need to change bushes or accommodate different widths, so they don’t need a high-end model. While precise clamping is vital for some tasks, a low-cost handheld dowel jig is the right tool for others. Shoppers should consider their intended use for the product when making their choice.
Our Top Picks
These top picks represent highly focused choices to make it easy for woodworkers to find the right combination of performance and value.
Leading jig maker Wolfcraft offers a solution that allows a new user to get to grips with dowel joints quickly while also providing the accuracy required by more experienced woodworkers.
The Wolfcraft jig can create all the common types of dowel joints: edge-to-edge, corner, and T joints. Self-clamping, it comes with hardened steel bushes for 1/4-inch, 5/16-inch, and 3/8-inch dowels. The jig can accommodate stock from 1/2 inch to 1-1/4 inches thick.
Since the Wolfcraft dowel jig offers wide-ranging functionality, the included user guide is helpful. It’s competitively priced and includes a starter pack of 60 fluted dowel pins.
At first glance, this handheld dowel jig from AUTOTOOLHOME looks much like other inexpensive versions of this tool; however, it includes a vertical fence to clamp to the workpiece to provide greater precision.
The plastic body may not have the long-term durability of its aluminum rivals, but the three drill bushes are steel. They create 1/4-inch, 5/16-inch, and 3/8-inch dowel holes on lumber from 1/2 inch to 1-1/2 inches thick. Three appropriate-size brad-point drill bits are included.
When used as a handheld jig, the workpiece must be secure, and the user must be patient.
Few dowel jigs are made with the precision of the Dowelmax jig. Each component is CNC machined to within 1/1,000 inch. In addition to the usual edge, corner, and T joints, the Dowelmax jig also can produce custom offsets and miter joints.
The tool is designed for fast, repetitive production, so the five hardened steel bushes are all 3/8 inch in diameter. Bushes for 1/4-inch, 1/2-inch, and 5/8-inch holes are available for an extra cost. Use it on 3/4-by-3/4-inch up to 4-by-4 inch material.
The Dowelmax jig is not designed for DIY users, and a slight learning curve is required to use it successfully. However, it may be worth the investment for demanding professionals because it’s likely to last a lifetime.
Milescraft’s dowel jig kit is made to work with its handheld Joint Mate jig. The tough, heavy-duty plastic body, which has hardened steel inserts for 1/4-inch, 5/16-inch, and 3/8-inch drilling, can create common dowel joints in material from 1/2 inch to 1-1/2 inches thick.
The kit offers all the required accessories, including three matching brad-point drill bits with depth-stop collars, plus dowels in all three sizes. Additionally, it contains steel centers to quickly transfer hole positions from one piece of lumber to another and a tube of wood glue. A sturdy case keeps all the components organized.
The Jessem dowel jig is another tool aimed at the professional, not because the jig is particularly complex—inexperienced woodworkers can handle it—but because of the variety and accuracy of dowel joints the jig can create.
Joining end grain is always difficult, and most dowel jigs are not well suited for the task. However, with the ability to place dowels a mere 1/8 inch apart, the Jessem jig tackles the job relatively easily with a level of precision that few other jigs can match.
Rather than changing individual bushes, the Jessem jig provides quick-change bush carriers in 1/4-inch, 3/8-inch, and 1/2-inch sizes. Using the spacer bar, the user can set them anywhere from 1/4 inch to 3-1/2 inches from the board edge. Additionally, multiple configuration options allow the user to add dowels in almost any position.
Dowel jigs are often used on edge-jointing boards when making tabletops, benches, chair seats, and more. A self-centering dowel jig offers rapid alignment without lots of measurement or setup. The user simply closes the jaws on the lumber, and the bushes are in the correct position.
The AUTOTOOLHOME self-centering jig offers five hardened steel bush sizes: 1/4 inch, 5/16 inch, 3/8 inch, 7/16 inch, and 1/2 inch. It can accommodate lumber from 7/16 inch to 2-1/2 inches thick. Users also can employ the jig for round stock within those size ranges.
This AUTOTOOLHOME dowel jig uses a parallelogram design to ensure that, regardless of the width of the material being clamped, the drill bushes are always in the center.
The main body is aluminum with hardened steel bushes in the common 1/4-inch, 3/8-inch, and 5/16-inch sizes. AUTOTOOLHOME provides a guide rail and pin system for accurate hole spacing along an edge, but it’s calibrated in millimeters.
Its two small holes between bushings allow the user to insert a pencil to accurately mark the centerline of any piece of lumber within its size range. However, it has limits: It always finds the center and doesn’t offer an easy way to drill off-center if required.
At first glance, the Taytools dowel jig’s clear plastic body is unimpressive, but looks can be deceiving. This simple device can create a wide variety of joints, including a dowel hole in cylindrical lumber of any diameter.
The jig includes six hardened steel bushes: 3/16 inch, 1/4 inch, 5/16 inch, 3/8 inch, 7/16 inch, and 1/2 inch. The locating pins allow users to position the jig on the center of boards up to 3 inches in width. Drilling an accurate series of holes requires carefully marking them out.
The compact, lightweight Big Horn dowel jig takes a basic approach to joining board edges and end grain. It offers a quick way to make not only tabletops and other items but also simple butt-jointed frames for furniture.
The top face is clear acrylic, and the drill bushes are hardened steel, although 1/4 inch is the only size the manufacturer offers. However, centering the dowels in the thickness of the board to join two edges isn’t always necessary. If they’re the same distance from the face, the joint still works. The same principle applies to corner joints.
FAQs About Dowel Jigs
This guide provides an overview of many of the factors to consider when choosing the best dowel jig for your workshop tasks. However, you may still have some questions about using dowels. The answers to some of the most frequently asked queries follow.
Q. How do I choose a dowel size?
When creating edge and corner joints, ideally, the dowel should be one-third the thickness of the board you’re joining. While up to half the thickness of the board is permissible, don’t go any further. For large overlapping joints, size is rarely important.
Q. How far apart should dowels be placed?
It depends on the job. On end-grain material, dowels can be as close as practical to provide maximum support. On 1- to 2-foot boards, place a dowel approximately 1 inch from each end and 4 to 6 inches apart in between. On long boards, position dowels up to 10 inches apart.
Q. Do dowels need glue?
Yes. Dowel joints are intended to be permanent, so apply a small amount of glue. If you think you will want to disassemble your project at some point, consider using a pocket hole jig, which uses removable screws rather than dowels.
Q. How much weight can a dowel hold?
While many variables impact the amount, some experts in the field note that a 1-inch dowel can hold 3,000 to 4,000 pounds.
Q. Why are dowels often used in making an edge joint?
Dowels make it easy to align surfaces and prevent them from slipping while the glue dries, which can dramatically reduce the need for corrective work later.