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The Best Dovetail Jigs for Router Table and Benchtop

With the best dovetail jig any woodworker can produce a joint that is both strong and adds to the character of the drawer. However, dovetails are intimidating to new woodworkers with layouts, router bits, angles and depth settings. Which makes a well designed jig a must for both beginners and professionals.

After building 1,000+ dovetail drawers (in over 100 kitchens), using many dovetail jigs, and researching the market the following are the best options on the market:

  • BEST SMALL SHOPS: Porter Cable 4216  is a decades old design that has been a woodworkers go-to for as long. Solid design, easy to use, cuts many styles and priced for any budget.
  • BEST ROUTER TABLE: Leigh RTJ4000  is from a top brand in dovetail jigs and is custom-made for router tables.
  • BUDGET CHOICE: General Tools 860  is simple to use, has the fewest moving parts of any jig and is value priced.
  • TOP OF LINE: Leigh D4R 24-inch  can cut just about any dovetail, best for wide drawers and boxes and has top brand reputation.

Lastly, all dovetail jigs require a high quality fixed base router and proper dust collection. And for drawers, don’t forget to match your custom work with top quality undermount soft close drawer slides.

Dovetail Jigs For Beginners to Pros

From a simple jig paired with a Japanese saw to high end dovetail jigs with dozens of angles and styles there is a dovetail jig for everyone.

But choosing where to start can be complex. 

Which makes understanding the types of dovetail jigs and their required skill level the first priority.

Best Dovetail Jig for Beginners

You might be surprised to find a dovetail jig for around $50. But that’s exactly what you get from General Tools (a popular woodworking brand) and this one piece jig.

With flexibility for both use on router tables and clamped to a bench this router will cut:

  • Half-blind dovetails
  • Through dovetails
  • Box joints
  • Boards of any width

And, for beginners, the simplicity of this device will let you start understanding the pattern of the pins and tails without the more complex dovetail jigs.

Best Dovetail Jig for Home Woodworkers

Porter cable dovetail jig

While the General Tools jig is simple, it has some limitations when it comes to complexity of dovetails and speed with wider boards.

Which is where the decades old design of the Porter Cable 4216 comes into play as a woodworkers favorite. With this advanced kit you’ll have the ability to cut:

  • Half-blind, rabbeted half-blind, sliding, through, and miniature dovetails
  • Box joints

While you won’t start out making all of the various joints, as woodworkers progress into finer furniture and boxes an advanced dovetail becomes appealing.

Best Dovetail Jig for Router Tables

Leigh router table dovetail jig

Surprisingly, a lot of woodworkers never think to use their router table for cutting dovetail pins and tails. 

But with a high quality jig like this model from Leigh its easy to cut a high volume of dovetails using the simplicity of your router table. 

The downside? Dust. Be sure to invest in dust collector accessories to capture all the material you’ll be removing.

Best Dovetail Jig for Professionals

Leigh tools dovetail jig

For woodworking professionals looking to buy at the top of the capability and price range then Leigh is where to look. 

With capability for cutting any style of dovetail, 24-inches of width for large drawers, and a variety of bits this kit will keep you busy for hours just imagining what to make with it.

Hand Cut Dovetail Jig

Hand cut dovetail jig

Dialing it back from routers and getting to the basics of how dovetails have been made for ages, you’ll end up with a simple jig for cutting dovetails.

Paired with a Japanese saw and marking gauge this simple jig will let you cut irregular dovetail patterns without the fuss of a router setup.

What is a Dovetail Joint?

A dovetail joint is defined by two pieces of wood that are interlocked through a “tail” and “pin” section that, when assembled, form an interlocking joint. And, as no surprise, given the strength of this joint it stands with the mortise and tenon as one of the oldest joints in woodworking.

Here’s what makes this joint superior:

  • Dovetails offer high tensile strength as the mated surfaces are interlocked together over a large surface area and resist separation
  • And, with a greater glue surface area, have more wood contact and strength
  • Lastly, dovetails don’t “flex” as the wood is locked. In fact it is more common the surrounding wood will fail first which makes them durable for centuries of use.

Types of Dovetail Joints

Types of Dovetail Joints

Before taking a look at what the best dovetail jig is for your projects, it is best to understand what types of dovetail joints there are:

  • Through dovetails are a joint style where both ends of the wood are visible once assembled. Since the exposed ends are usually desired to be seen, they are used less in drawers and more in boxes and furniture.
  • Half-blind dovetails are used when the face of one board conceals a dovetail joint behind it. These style of dovetail joint is most popular in drawers.
  • Secret mitered dovetails, as the name implies, take the wood construction to the next level by completely hiding the dovetails once assembled. These are mostly used by professionals and high end woodworkers.
  • Sliding dovetails are the easiest to produce and are simply an angled slot that holds an equally cut wood end. 

If you have seen dovetails cut by hand with a Japanese saw you’ll know there are dozens of permutations on through dovetails.

Alternatives to a Dovetail Joint

So if skill, time or budget aren’t lining up to use a dovetail jig what are your options?

Well, there are a few alternatives to a dovetail jig including:

  • Pocket hole jigs are the most popular alternative and use screws and are low cost (drill, screws, starter jigs)
  • Biscuit joints can be used to secure the joint.
  • Domino joiners (Festool) are a hidden joint option but at a high cost.  

Dovetail vs. Pocket Hole Joints

With the rapid rise of pocket hole jigs as a wood joinery method there’s a bit of a debate over which is best for casual woodworking. 

First, while a pocket hole jig is FASTER it does not produce as strong of a joint as a dovetail. If that is your top criteria then keep moving ahead.

But, if strength isn’t your top consideration you can consider:

  • Pocket hole joints require less skill, tools and reduce risk of wasted material. But, at the loss of joint strength and durability.
  • Dovetail joints, however, take more skill, higher cost jigs and a decent router to produce a joint. 

Dovetail Joint vs. Box Joint

Box Joint vs Dovetail Joint

Chances are you’ve seen wood drawers made from table saw jigs that produce a dovetail-like joint.

And, without investing in a router and dovetail jig it’s possible to use your table saw and a proper jig setup to produce box joints.

But, the tradeoffs are:

  • Box joints are only through joints, so you’ll see the ends of both boards
  • And, a table-saw based solution requires a high quality dado blade that won’t rip the end grain (a major risk)
  • Lastly, box joints are stronger than a pocket hole jig but require more time to build

Related Article: Best Pocket Hole Jigs

Choosing the Best Dovetail Jig for Your Projects

With every skill level, budget and project type there is potentially a different dovetail jig needed.

So which is best for you? Well, in this section we’ll take a look at jigs based on types of dovetail joints, popularity for home woodworkers and of course overall product quality and durability.

Porter Cable Dovetail Jigs

As you probably know, many tool manufacturers have a few specialty tools they make that can go unchallenged for decades.

And when it comes to dovetail jigs Porter Cable has been a leader for decades. In fact, back in the 90’s I learned dovetail joinery in a cabinet shop using essentially the same jig on the market today.

Porter cable dovetail jig

Overview

This one jig contains all of the templates you’ll need to create half-blind, rabbeted half-blind, sliding, through, and miniature dovetails. Plus, you can even create box joints. If you’re not sure of your woodworking plans and have the budget this tool will let you grow into it.

Key Features

  • Made from machined aluminum for durability and accuracy
  • Manufactured by Porter Cable
  • Includes three template guides (4211, 4213, 4215)
  • Fits standard 1-3/16″ router bases

Bottom LIne

If you’re upgrading from a smaller jig this the best midrange dovetail jig on the market.  However, there are a few different bundles and packages to consider:

LEIGH Dovetail Jigs

For the best dovetail jig for serious woodworkers and professionals the Leigh models have a few features you won’t find in other jigs:

  • Variable spacing for custom width dovetails
  • Support for box joints (aka finger)
  • Simple, obtuse and acute angle joints
  • And more…

The Leigh jigs come in four adjustable models including the D4R Pro and the the Super 12, Super 18 and Super 24.

Leigh D4R 24-Inch

Leigh D4R Pro dovetail jig

Overview

If you’ve been around woodworking you’ll know that Leigh Tools is a premium brand in jigs for both dovetails and mortising. 

And if you are eying an upgrade to your current jig the Super series offers up a variety of dovetails you can’t make with a standard fixed-width jig. However, and keep reading, the D4R Pro offers up a few more advanced features.

Key Features

  • Creates variably spaced through and half-blind dovetails, sliding, box, inlaid, end-on-end and many other styles of dovetails.
  • Variable joint spacing for custom looks
  • Needle pins
  • Obtuse joints
  • Mortise and tenon joints (with optional attachment)
  • Infinitely adjustable spacing width
  • 1-1/2″ maximum board thickness
  • 1/8″ minimum thickness
  • Durable aluminum construction

Pros

Cons

Leigh Super 24-Inch

Leigh 24-inch dovetail jig

Overview

The Leigh “Super” series of dovetails offers almost all of the premium D4R series capability. But, rather than force you into the premium size this lineup offers up both a 12″ and 18″ width that allows for the features at a more budget friendly price. 

Key Features

  • Creates variably spaced through and half-blind dovetails, sliding, box, inlaid, end-on-end and many other styles of dovetails.
  • Variable joint spacing for custom looks
  • Needle pins
  • Infinitely adjustable spacing width
  • 1″ maximum board thickness
  • 1/8″ minimum thickness

Models Available

Depending on your projects you’ll find three Super Series jigs:

  • Super 12-inch will work for almost all cabinet and most furniture projects
  • 18-inch adds 6-inches for constructing furniture or boxes
  • Super 24-inch is in the largest capacity dovetail jig category on the market (there are other 24-inch brands) but offers up the Leigh adjustable options others don’t. 

Pros

Cons

Leigh Super Series

Leigh 24-inch dovetail jig

Overview

The Leigh “Super” series of dovetails offers almost all of the premium D4R series capability. But, rather than force you into the premium size this lineup offers up both a 12″ and 18″ width that allows for the features at a more budget friendly price. 

Key Features

  • Creates variably spaced through and half-blind dovetails, sliding, box, inlaid, end-on-end and many other styles of dovetails.
  • Variable joint spacing for custom looks
  • Needle pins
  • Infinitely adjustable spacing width
  • 1″ maximum board thickness
  • 1/8″ minimum thickness

Models Available

Depending on your projects you’ll find three Super Series jigs:

  • Super 12-inch will work for almost all cabinet and most furniture projects
  • Super 18-inch adds 6-inches for constructing furniture or boxes
  • Super 24-inch is in the largest capacity dovetail jig category on the market (there are other 24-inch brands) but offers up the Leigh adjustable options others don’t. 

Pros

Cons

How to Use a Dovetail JIg

Through Dovetail Joint Drawer

Making dovetails is a rewarding process. But, as with any fine woodworking process, it is time consuming. 

Which makes the first step in using a dovetail jig PATIENCE. 

Tips to Using a Dovetail Jig

When you’re first unboxing that new dovetail jig you’ll want to read the instructions. I know, it’s not something you  want to do, but with these style of jigs the permutations of router bits, templates and guides is confusing.

With that in mind, consider some of the following as you start your first test drawer or box:

  • Test on scrap wood first
  • Make sure you’re turning the router off while it’s on the jig to avoid damaging to jig parts (I’ve done this!)
  • Label your drawer parts using the 1-2-3-4 system so you know where the finished pieces connect
  • Pay attention to sides versus fronts, especially on four corner dovetails
  • Lastly, I always make an anti-chip cut across the face of the wood to prevent splintering. This is as simple as making a 1/16″ deep cut across the length of the board.

Picking the Right Router

As a jig, your experience will only be as good as the router you pair with it. 

While inexpensive routers can cost less than the jig itself, for a top quality experience I use a brand-name lightweight router.

With that in mind, look for:

  • Routers with dial-in height adjustment for ultra-fine adjustment
  • High quality bearings to lower vibration
  • Lightweight to avoid fatigue over 15-20 drawers or more

Safety Considerations

As you know, routers are dangerous as they have an exposed bit that is known to “bite” the user.

But there are other considerations, including:

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best dovetail jig to buy?

Choosing a dovetail jig is a balance between your budget, your current projects and future projects. While a hand cut dovetail jig may work for small projects, a larger project will require a router and dovetail jig with guides to allow for fast cutting.

How do you make a handmade dovetail?

The easiest way to hand-make a dovetail joint is by using a crosscut or Japanese saw in combination with a hand dovetail jig. While slower and not as precise as a router-based jig, for small projects on a budget these style of dovetails are both a challenge and satisfying to build.

What is the most common dovetail angle?

While the most common dovetail angle bit is 7-degrees, they range up to 17-degrees. Angles will vary based on the material strength of the wood as well as the type of dovetail joint. Lower angles can be used for hardwoods as the material strength will prevent deflection of the wood. However, softer woods like pine will require a steeper angle.

Summary

The best dovetail jig for your projects will come down to your skill and budget. If your new to the game, or you’ve made hundreds of drawers and want to keep making the same half-blind dovetails, then a standard jig will do.

However, if you’re looking at upgrading to open up your options then a jig like the Leigh will give you endless options.

 

Last update on 2022-05-20 at 01:13 / Images from Amazon

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