If you’ve ever cut dovetails and box joinery with simple hand tools before, then I’m pretty sure you already know how difficult it is and why you need a dovetail jig for it.
A dovetail joint is a very common but difficult to make joinery professional woodworkers, furniture and cabinet makers use quite often for making crafty-looking furniture pieces like jewelry boxes, drawers, cabinets and even for larger projects like building log homes.
It’s not only strong but also attractive, making it a joint used not only for its strength but to also display good craftsmanship.
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Why Get A Dovetail Jig
Dovetail joints are cool-looking, strong and all, but there’re some caveats when making them without using a jig. Here’s why.
They’re Difficult to Make
The major disadvantage is that it’s very difficult, labor-intensive and time consuming when you make them with simple hand tools like hand saws, chisels and mallets.
Very Easy to Mess Up
Apart from being labor-intensive and time-consuming, there’s also a high chance of making mistakes when you use simple hand tools to make the joint. You could end up cutting the pins too small and chiselling the tails too large or spacious, and ending up with loosely fitting joints.
That’s why getting a jig for it is very important. It will allow you craft flawless joinery for your projects, without spending much of your time and energy, and without the errors that go with cutting it by hand.
No matter the type of dovetail joinery you want to make, whether half-blind, through, sliding or box joints, the jig will allow you use your router to cut your way through them with minimal effort and time.
What To Consider
There’re a few different options you can choose when it comes to these jigs. To choose the right one, you’re going to have to consider the following factors.
Ease of Use
Dovetails can be cut using simple hand tools like chisels and a mallet, but like I already mentioned earlier, the process can be very difficult and time-consuming. Making a mistake while cutting the joint is very likely to happen.
That’s why’re you’re getting the jig. The one you buy should be easy to use. If the one you get is not easy to use, then what’s the need? Ease of use is a major factor you should consider when making your choice.
The template should be easy to align and clamp to the work-piece while the work-piece remain in place throughout the cut, and the router bit depth should be easy to read, ensuring fast and quality results.
Good documentation is also necessary to allow you set up the jig easily and get the results you need.
Consider your craft and the size of boards that you’re going to be using for your projects before getting any particular jig.
One of the first specifications you should look for when making your choice is the width capacity. If you have a 12 inch dovetail jig and you want to cut tails and pins on two boards that are each 20 inches wide, then you have to cut one part of the boards, then remove the clamp and reposition the boards to cut the other parts.
The more you reposition the boards, the more chances that there’ll be errors in your final cut. So, try to get a jig with enough width capacity to accommodate your project, in order to reduce any chances of errors.
Most jigs for cutting dovetails usually come in 12 and 24 inch sizes.
Type of Template
The dovetail jig makes cutting the pins and tails of the joint easier because it makes use of an already-made steel or aluminum template, which you can route through with your router tool.
These templates are of two types. One’s a fixed template with no way to change the size or order of the tails and pins, while the second template is adjustable, allowing you to customize the guide fingers to produce variety of patterns that make the joint look more hand-made than crafted on a template.
The adjustable template is cool and more versatile, but as you should already guess, it’s more expensive than the fixed type. This is one feature you should also consider before making your choice.
Now with that out of the way, here is our list of the 5 best dovetail jigs we available today.
1. Porter-Cable 12 Inch Dovetail Jig 4210
If you’re thinking about owning a dovetail jig, Porter Cable makes some very good ones you can choose from.
They have about 3 models which include the 4210, the 4212 and the 4216 model. All three Porter Cable jigs are 12 inch wide, and thus will not accommodate projects larger than 12 inches.
This particular model is the 4210 model, and it includes the 4211 template that allows you to cut half-blind, rabbet half-blind and even sliding dovetails.
The machined aluminum template ensures maximum accuracy when using the jig.
Setting up the Porter-Cable 4210 is very easy as it features template alignment lines and router bit depth gauges, making it very easy to use.
The jig also features heavy-duty cam-type clamps with locking bars backed with sandpaper which helps secure wood pieces firmly to the jig.
Operating it is quite easy as there’re on-board instructions that provides clear guidance or how to make use of it.
Overall, this Porter-Cable 4210 is the ideal jig you need to cut any half blind and sliding dovetails not wider than 12 inches, especially when you’re working on boxes and cabinet drawers.
2. Leigh D4R Pro
If you’ve been using dovetail jigs for some time, then you probably must have heard about Leigh.
Leigh specializes in making joinery jigs, and the D4R Pro 24 (24 inch capacity) is kind of their premium jig for cutting joinery.
In fact, if you visit this page, Leigh calls it “The best dovetail jig in the world”, and it’s pretty hard to dispute considering how good this thing is.
The design of this jig is quite similar but also very different from the other template models you might have come across, because does not make use of a fixed template that restricts the shape or the type of joint that can be made with it.
It instead makes use of an adjustable template that allows you to make equally or variably spaced through and half-blind dovetails and box or finger joints you’ll never attempt with a template.
Although, you can attach an optional template to it which will allow you to make even more unique joinery styles as you carry out your projects.
Of all the jigs you’ll come across as of now, there’s none capable of producing the range of joinery that this D4R Pro can produce.
Setting up and operating the Leigh D4R Pro is nothing but easy. Once you know the pattern you want, just position the guide fingers to your desired pattern, and after setting and clamping the boards in place, just guide your router around the guide finger to cut out the pattern you want.
At first, the Leigh D4R Pro might seem complicated to use, but as soon as you go through the well-illustrated user guide that comes with it, and with some practice, you’ll quickly get a hang of it.
All in all, the Leigh D4R Pro is the most versatile of all the jigs listed here on this article.
3. Keller Dovetail System 135-1500
Whether you’re a beginner woodworker, a hobbyist or a veteran in the trade, the Keller dovetail system is one tool I’ve found that is very easy to learn and master.
This particular model is a 15 inch precision-milled jig/template that allows you to cut different types of dovetails and box joints on stocks from 1/8 to ¾ inches in thickness.
Although it’s a 15 inch template, when you master how to use it, you’ll be able to cut tails and pins on different lengths and widths of wood.
It allows you to cut classic, acute, obtuse, variable-spaced, compound-angled and even curved dovetails, including box and knuckle joints without any difficulty.
You can definitely buy and use any other jig no matter your level of expertise as long as you have the right tools. But if I’m a beginner woodworker and I want an affordable jig that’s easy to master, this Keller system is probably the first one I’ll go for.
When you buy the Keller system, the kit comes with a phenolic guide, a straight bit, a standard dovetail bit, ball-bearing template guides, and last but not the least, fully illustrated instructions to help you use it effectively.
4. Porter-Cable 4216 Super Jig
This Porter-Cable dovetail jig 4216 comes with a mini template kit that includes template 4211, template 4213 and template 4215, all 12 inches wide.
When you pair the jig with the aluminium templates that come with it, you can cut half-blind, rabbeted half-blind, sliding, through, miniature through dovetails and box joints.
Just like the Porter-Cable 4210, this 4216 model also features template alignment lines and depth gauges that allows you to quickly set up the template and the jig.
The router bit depth gauges is a very useful feature that allows quick and accurate depth settings without taking measurements.
When you get this Porter-Cable 4216, you get a jig with a durable, single-piece steel design that ensures long term durability because, apart from the machined aluminum templates, you don’t have to assemble or disassemble its components.
It accommodates stock from ¼ inches to 1-1/8 inches in thickness, with a 12 inch maximum width. It features heavy-duty cam-type clamps with sandpaper-backed locking bars that ensures a firm grip of your stock as you cut through with your router.
All in all, you should get this Porter-Cable 4216 if you have furniture or cabinet making projects that involves cutting of this type of joinery especially if your stock wood is not wider than 12 inches.
It’s a highly accurate and durable jig you can use for all your furniture and cabinet making projects.
5. CMT300 Universal Dovetail Jig
If you’re talking about the best dovetail jigs, this CMT300 Universal jig definitely makes the list.
This CMT300 is one easy solution to the complexity of making these joints. Setting it up and using it is very easy.
All you have to do is clamp your stock, aligning it with the edges against the factory-set stops, set your router bit depth, and get to work with your router.
With it, you can work on stocks from 7/16 inch to 1 inch thickness, and you can cut different types of dovetails with it.
There are a few templates you can use with it that will allow you to cut half-blind, through dovetails and box joints, but the standard template that comes with it when you purchase it allows you to cut only ½ inch half blind joints.
It also comes equipped with a template guide, a CMT carbide tipped bit and complete instructions to help get you up to speed with it.
Overall, this CMT300 jig is one that will surely make the work of cutting dovetails and box joints in the workshop way easier than using Japanese saws, chisels and mallets.