The 7 Best Dovetail Jigs
This wiki has been updated 21 times since it was first published in February of 2017. Perfect for both DIY woodworkers and professional carpenters, these dovetail jigs will take the hassle out of your next project and help you form accurate, elegant joints quickly and efficiently. They feature templates that allow you to cut a wide variety of tail and pin styles, any of which would look great in a coffee table, dining room chair, dresser, or bed frame. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
March 10, 2021:
We removed the MLCS 6406 due to availability issues. We also removed two models from Leigh for similar reasons – namely the D4R Pro and Super 12” – but were able to replace them with two new options from the company.
The Leigh Super 24" is an offering that’s virtually identical to the Super 12”, only (you guessed it) twice as long. That extra 12 inches may come in handy down the road, offering carpenters much more flexibility than the shorter model, but it costs significantly more and will take up valuable extra space in your workshop, so some users may favor the shorter version. If you’re stuck between the two, the company also offers an 18-inch model that might just be the answer for you.
The Leigh RTJ400 costs much less than the Super 24” (although it’s still a bit more expensive than the Super 12”), and it is quite a versatile option, but it must be noted that this choice is intended strictly for use in conjunction with a router table, which will amount to a substantial second investment, if you don’t already own one.
October 02, 2019:
The dovetail joint is one of the most recognized joints in woodworking. This simple, yet effective, form of joinery has been around for centuries and relies on the holding power of an interlocking joint. Whether you’re a professional carpenter or a weekend woodworker, you’ll appreciate the precision a dovetail jig delivers when you’re connecting workpieces – and the hours of time it saves you. Some are conveniently equipped with one or more router bits and other handy accessories.
The Porter-Cable 4216 Super retains its top spot on our list, as it’s one of the most comprehensive models on the market, equipped with templates for half-blind, rabbeted half-blind and sliding dovetails, as well as box joints and miniature box joints. It also offers a number of template guides to support various routing applications, including general ones and hinge-butt routing. You’ll also get a handy router depth gauge that makes setup quick and easy, without the need for measurements.
The Rockler Complete moves into the second spot, as it comes from an established maker of woodworking tools. It too is equipped with multiple templates, plus three carbide-tipped bits that will cover you for a range of project sizes. It includes a handy quick reference guide for standard joints, as well as a detailed, eight-page instruction booklet.
On a safety-related note, always wear eye protection, and follow all instructions – and obey all of the warnings – that come with both the dovetail jig and your router. These include disconnecting the tool from the power supply before making adjustments or changing accessories.
Lee Valley If you've got a decent skillset in carpentry, and more time to spare than money, you might want to forego the jig altogether and set yourself up with a simple dovetail marker. Lee Valley has an affordable option to offer, and also carries a host of hand saws that are suitable for this type of work. leevalley.com
Bosch Wood Routers None of these jigs will do you much good if you don't have a solid wood router to go to work on them with. Bosch is known for building some of the best tools in the industry, and offers both cordless and corded palm routers. boschtools.com
Wood Of Time Gone By
The discipline was held in a different regard halfway around the world.
Some excellent examples of ancient carpentry come from Chinese tombs multiple thousands of years old. While there's little written history from the era and physical examples aren't entirely common, what has emerged teaches us about the cultural significance of the craft in the Celestial Empire. Nearby, the Japanese had an advantage over the rest of the world in terms of tool quality; their metallurgy of the time is so renowned, in fact, that modern science has yet to replicate or even understand the legendary abilities of their most talented metal smiths. Both of these cultures placed societal, emotional, and spiritual importance on their craft, and their talent and dedication is manifest in the unparalleled architecture they produced, much of which still stands today.
Obviously among the most advanced builders of ancient times, the Egyptians' skill is evident in a decent number of specimens recovered from tombs. Like so many other amazing artifacts, the conditions in these underground burial chambers mean that important relics remain in surprisingly good condition. The Khufu Ship, likely a ceremonial burial ship for the popular pharaoh of the same name, is one such example. This full-sized boat was found, disassembled, in what could be described as incredible condition, given its age of over 4,000 years. Egypt was an apparent origin of some very significant developments, like the bow saw as well as the first nails, hand-crafted of bronze.
The discipline was held in a different regard halfway around the world. Generations after carpenters had begun carefully building artistic structures throughout Asia, the industrious Romans began chipping away at the relatively huge amount of forested land throughout the empire. In contrast to the almost esoteric nature of traditional Japanese methods, carpenters in the West set about documenting and sharing their experiences and techniques through literature. They went so far as to consider the botanical side of woodworking, that is, the wood; notable figures wrote more than one entire book on which varieties of tree worked best for various projects, and how best those trees should be grown. This dedication to the craft was carried over to the Americas by groups like the Amish and Mennonites.
The Finer Points Of Joinery
Despite the automation of everything from ceiling fans to toasters, the introduction of space-age materials to the everyday consumer, and the supercomputer-like gadgets in everyone's pockets, sometimes old-fashioned things work the best. That's particularly true when it comes to building stuff with wood, where handmade still very often means high-quality. After all, the laws of physics haven't changed in quite some time (if ever), and we have basically the same kinds of trees to work with as humans always have.
Because the discipline co-evolved on separate landmasses over thousands of years, there are bound to be major differences between cultures, as well as some similarities.
Because the discipline co-evolved on separate landmasses over thousands of years, there are bound to be major differences between cultures, as well as some similarities. Furniture-making, for example, provides a great outlet for a builder to express not only their own personal style, but the idiosyncrasies of their region and era, as well. Joinery, in fact, is so distinct to certain time periods and regions, that it's often used to date antique furniture.
If there's one type of joint that has stood the test of time, it's the dovetail. Nails, glue, welding, and 3D printing are all relatively recent developments compared to the fastener-free construction of thousands of years ago. The famed Khufu Ship, for example, utilized a basic but unmistakable form of mortise-and-tenon decking that almost certainly represented the general ship-building techniques of the day. Chinese and Japanese construction and crafting techniques were closely related in style, and these featured joints that were aesthetically fine, as well as generally free of glue and nails. Alternately, craftsmen in the Western hemisphere were more concerned with function than aesthetic perfection, and preferred to finalize joints with resin. Especially strong were log cabins crafted with dovetails; due to their pieces' trapezoidal profile, the joints could only assemble via vertical stacking, and were therefore permanently locked in place by the force of gravity. Telltale signs such as aggressive angles, intermittent curved lines, jagged saw marks, and varying degrees of decoration and finishing all indicate different regions and time periods in individual pieces.
The bold, recognizable pattern created by a well-made joint was not lost on European builders; advances in tool quality led to better cuts, measurements, and materials, resulting in better joints; today the dovetail remains one of the most popular ways to put a classic, beautiful, incredibly strong corner on a cabinet, desk, or chest of drawers.
Pin The Tail On The Dove
Dovetail joints consist of male and female components known as pins and tails. The triangular or trapezoid shape of the pieces is where the joint gets its name. The dedicated craftsman is always welcome, of course, to attack this type of construction using a protractor, straight-edge, and hand saw, in much the same way the ancient Egyptians did. That's admirable work, but it's also tedious and rather exhausting. Once again, it's power tools to the rescue.
Not only do well-crafted dovetails look great and indicate a skilled craftsman, they're also liable to last for hundreds of years.
The quickest way to knock out an entire remodeled kitchen's worth of dovetails is with a handheld router. Using a combination of a specialized jig and flared bit, a few straight cuts is all it takes to prepare wooden panels for joining. A jig consists primarily of a template that guides the router's bit. Some are standalone workspaces with slots of varying widths and frames for clamping down boards for cutting. Others are free-floating frames that affix to the board, allowing the carpenter to easily and simply make the right cuts over a table router.
Depending on the volume of joints you work with, your general skill level, and how fine of cuts you're looking for, there's a wide variety of choices available. Hobbyists will find plenty of models that aren't terribly expensive and work just fine, and professional contractors as well as devoted furniture makers won't be left wanting for a versatile, high-end option. Not only do well-crafted dovetails look great and indicate a skilled craftsman, they're also liable to last for hundreds of years.