SWMBO asked me to use all those tools in the shop to make her something.
She has a inkling for a chest for the foot of the bed. I told her I
would need a dovetail jig for that, and she said go find one...
So, can anyone provide their wealth of experience in selecting and
buying a dovetail jig? How much for a decent one? How big should one
buy for an average need? What should I look for in one?
I may not be current, but...
When I got mine, a company called Leigh had the quality
market almost to itself.
Check http://www.leighjigs.com/home.php to learn more about
High quality, high prices (Hey, why do those seem to go
In terms of "what to look for":
As you may well know, there are a variety of dovetail joints
that can be machine cut. The more sophisticated jugs can
make many of these, while the simpler jigs can do fewer.
That may, or may not, matter to you.
Similarly with issues of setup:
Some (like the Leigh stuff) are very easy to set up and can
allow great variety of pin and tail sizes. In essence, you
can design anything you might want.
With other (simpler) jigs, you may be restricted to a single
pattern of pins and tails.
And finally, with regard to size, it simply depends on what
you are likely to build. For a big chest, you would be
happier with a big jig. If, on the other hand, you were
making small boxes, for jewelry or such, a small jig would
do the deed, and would be somewhat less costly.
Have fun with it!
It sounds like you ought to design the chest first, THEN you'll have
the requirements for the jig...
A smallish, fixed-width, half-blind jig runs about 120.00 USD. If you
really want, I'm pretty sure you can spend over a thousand. I'd design
the piece, then look for something to fit the requirements.
If you have access to FineWoodworking online they reviewed several DT jigs
They gave the Leigh D4R (the one I own) their "Best Overall" award.
It is among the more expensive jigs, but the jig is extremely versatile.
Unlimited finger spacing. Give it serious consideration.
I've had an Incra Jig Ultra for 10+ years, and have been pretty happy with it. Some features:
-Well made in the USA
-fairly complicated to set up
-makes a lot of different dovetail and box joints, including fancy "double dovetails"
-excellent customer service - replacement parts have been fast & NC
You will get a lot of suggestions. Keep in mind that a jig with adjustable
fingers will allow you to adjust spacing to suite the project. A jig with
fixed fingers will require you to design the project around the jigs
How often do plan on making dovetail joints? There are cheap jigs (MLCS
about $50.00) and the others that can hit $500.00 or more. That's quite a
price range. Cheap ones are fixed spacing and the more expensive ones will
allow variable spacing etc. I use the cheap ones (MLCS for through
dovetails and a PC knockoff for half-blinds) if I need variable spacing I
usually chop them, but have used the MLCS jig at times if they were through
dovetails. Any jig you use or buy will require a bit of practice.
There are two basic methods of machining dovetails with a router.
A router table based system like the Incra and JoinTech which
have precision positioning fences and paper templates for different
dovetail sizes and spacing, along with templates for finger joints.
A router table with a good fence opens up a lot of other possibliities
beyound dovetails and finger joints, but have a learning curve.
Theu also require that the parts with the tails be cut with the
stock standing on end. Not a problem with jewelry box making
or drawer making - tricky with longer boards
The other method uses jigs with "fingers" to guide the router bit,
the "fingers" being fixed in the less expensive jigs and user
positionable on the more expensive jigs. The user positionable
jigs let you adapt the jig to your stock width, the others have
you adapt your stock to the jig.
With jigs, it's really, really, really important that the bit remain
VERTICAL. ANY tilt while cutting the sockets of the dovetail
joint WILL cause you grief. That can be a problem with the
old (as opposed to the recently released "new" Leigh DT jigs
since the weight of the router, and any downward pressure
you apply, is supported only by the "fingers". There is a
"dust collector" accessory that adds support to the font
of the jig - but it's an additional cost.
And there's "the rub" with dovetail jigs - it's not the initial
"standard unit" cost, but the total cost when you add the
"accessories" - additional special router bits, additional
sets of fingers, dust collector etc. That can increase
the actual cost by 50% - or more. Then there's the
"Where the hell do I put it - AND - all it's "accessories"
when I'm not using it?".
I've got, and use, both the JoinTech Cabinet Maker "system"
as well as the AKEDA dovetail jig (the 16" not the new
24") The AKEDA uses a unique finger positioning method
that uses "click in and they lock in" finger positioning
in 1/8" increments - no screws to work lose, no misalignment. AKEDA has
an "upgrade package" that allows 16" owners to
make their jigs into the new 24".
Consider the Akeda
I got one of these last year and it works well. I was able to make a
dovetailed box with tight joints on the first try.
I saw a video once that showed how to use the finger plate screwed to
a piece of wood to do wide pieces but I can't find the video or
If I were to buy a jig for a blanket chest I would not buy a 12" jig
as mentioned above.I own a jig and a joint tech system on router table
but decided to make a blanket chest with hand cut dovetails and will
never use my jig after that experience.Plenty of info on the web on
how to go about handcutting dovetails.Test your skills on a scrap
piece and if you like it purchase a western or japanese saw and chisel
and some use a coping saw.Part a the fun of woodworking is to challege
ourselves and learn new skills in the process.
Two observations: I've seen a lot of dovetail jigs in used-wares
shops, because the owner didn't like 'em. And Frank Klausz has
a video out, "Dovetail a drawer" that makes hand-dovetails look
If you have a small back saw, a mallet and some chisels,
you can do it by hand. Practice on scraps, of course.
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