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When it comes to joining two pieces of wood together to make a sturdy and durable joint, dovetail joints are a proven, time-tested solution, but making them can be difficult by hand.
Making the pin and tail cuts match exactly using hand tools is a challenge because of the angled cuts, but when they interlock just right, the joint works like a charm. Otherwise, the joint ends up loose or doesn’t fit together at all.
That’s why dovetail jigs were invented. We rounded up the best dovetail jigs on the market in 2018 and put them through their paces with our rigorous review process. We left no stone unturned in our quest to find the best of these specialty woodworking tools.
What Is a Dovetail Jig?
A dovetail jig is a jig that makes it easy for a woodworker to make an interlocking finger joint, which is also commonly called a dovetail joint. This type of joint is used to join two pieces of wood at a 90-degree angle when building boxes, drawers, and other rectangular wooden items.
The dovetail jig acts as a template for making exact cuts for the fingers that interlock to fit two wood boards together. A woodworker can simply use the dovetail jig as a guide with a router to make the cuts. This yields huge time savings compared to manually measuring cuts and using a mallet and chisel to accomplish the same joint design.
Let’s take a look at the ten that made the cut this year.
Are you looking for a dovetail jig that comes with all the templates and router bits you need to make any dovetail joint?
If so, Porter-Cable made the 4216 Super Jig with you in mind. The jig comes with three different templates that can be flipped over, making it possible to cut six styles of dovetail joints. That includes miniature dovetails for those small projects you might have.
You also get a set of router bits to support all those possible joint cuts and the template guides you’ll need to use a handheld router to cut the wood away. Porter-Cable’s 1-year service contract and 3-year limited warranty are another a good selling point. If you need replacement parts, Porter-Cable has you covered.
This is a great dovetail jig for a woodworker who works with a variety of different projects that can require any style dovetail joint. You get the versatility you need to feel confident that you can be creative and flexible with your box-building and furniture jobs, big or small.
What we liked:
You get three templates for making through, half-blind, slide, box, and miniature dovetail joints
Comes with a set of four router bits and matching template guides
Also includes locking nuts and wrench
What could be better:
Can take some time to learn to set it up correctly
Do you need a multi-purpose 12-in dovetail jig that can cut through, half-blind, and box joints?
Porter-Cable’s 4212 is a dovetail jig that doesn’t pull out all the stops in terms of versatility, but it has a good range of joint styles that it can support with the two templates that come with it. If you build cabinets, furniture, or boxes that need dovetail joints, the 4212 has what you need to do the job.
This jig comes with two templates that can be used to cut through, half-blind, rabbeted half-blind, and slide joints. It also comes with the router bits and template guide you’ll need to cut these joint types. You get the Porter-Cable service contract, money-back guarantee, and 3-year warranty to sweeten the deal.
The 4212 is a good jig kit for a typical woodworker who builds cabinetry or furniture. It doesn’t come with the miniature dovetail joint template, but you get the templates you’ll need for most woodworking jobs. It also comes with the same great Porter-Cable service and warranty.
Getting the right router that’s compatible with a dovetail bit, template guide, and collet adapter is as important as getting the right dovetail jig.
What we liked:
Comes with two templates that combine four different joint styles
Router bits and template guides needed for a handheld router are included
The kit comes with locking nuts, wrench, and instructions
Do you just need a dovetail jig that can cut half-blind and slide joints?
Porter-Cable’s 4210 is the most basic of their dovetail jigs that we reviewed, coming with one template that covers half-blind, slide, and rabbeted half-blind dovetail joints. This is enough for a woodworker who wants a jig for common joint styles that hide the pins and tails on the outside of the finished product.
The 4210 also includes a router bit and guide for a handheld router as well as locking nuts and a wrench. Porter-Cable service and warranty benefits are still the same great deal you get with their more versatile jigs.
This dovetail jig is a good option as a less expensive or entry-level woodworking jig. If you need the additional templates in the future, you can always buy them as accessories.
What we liked:
Covers the most common dovetail joints you might need to make
Includes the bit and template guide pieces you’ll need for your router
Porter-Cable’s service contract and warranty are a good deal
What could be better:
Porter-Cable’s jigs can be difficult to learn for beginners
Have a table router you’d like to make dovetail joints with?
Here’s a great little jig for table routers. The General Tools’s 861 Dovetailer 2 is a jig that can guide the pin and tail cuts for basic half-blind and through dovetail joints.
It comes with a 1/2-in router bit to make the angled cuts dovetail joints require. It’s designed to be clamped onto the end of each wood piece and then used as a guide. This makes it a small and light tool compared to handheld router jigs.
The Dovetailer 2 is an inexpensive and effective jig for cutting basic dovetail joints with a table router. Its design ensures that the cuts are precise and accurate compared to following marks on the wood pieces by hand.
What we liked:
Can be used to cut half-blind, box, and through dovetail joints with a table router
Comes with a 1/2-in router bit
Has control knobs and clamps integrated with the comb in a compact package
Looking for a jig that you can use on a table router or with a handheld router?
MLCS’s 6406 dovetail jig is designed to work with both a handheld router and a table router, making it more convenient for woodworkers who prefer one or the other of these cutting tools.
Its template can be used to cut through and half-blind dovetail joints, and it comes with a 1/2-in router bit. Its small and light construction makes it more portable than larger dovetail jigs and practical as a table router jig when flipped over.
The 6406 Dovetail Jig Set is an inexpensive tool that has the flexibility to be used upright with a handheld router or upside-down on a table router.
Weighing only 10 pounds makes it portable and easily carried from place to place or moved between workstations. If this kind of convenience is more important to you than being able to cut unusual joint styles, this jig could be a good choice.
What we liked:
Light and compact design allows it to function as a handheld and table router jig
Can be used to cut through and half-blind dovetail joints
Self-aligning design ensures that the pin and tail cuts will line up for a precise fit
Are you in need of an inexpensive dovetail jig that’s simple and works with handheld routers?
Woodstock’s D2796 might fit the bill. It’s lightweight for an overhead router jig, making it somewhat portable, and its template is suitable for basic half-blind dovetail joints.
The D2796’s simple design makes setup easier, though the price you pay for this is limited versatility. The jig is designed primarily for cutting joints for drawers, so if it fits your needs, it’s certainly an affordable solution.
The limited uses of a jig like Woodstock’s D2796 gives us pause since most woodworkers will need a jig that can be used for many different types of joints. However, the D2796 does what it’s designed to do well enough and at a reasonable price.
When dialing in a dovetail jig for the first time, be prepared to go through a trial-and-error process to find the right measurements that work with your setup.
What we liked:
Quick and easy setup for half-blind dovetail joints
Comes with a 1/2-in router bit and guide piece
Can handle stock up to 12 inches wide and 1-1/4 inches thick
What could be better:
Only has a template for half-blind dovetail joints
Here’s a dovetail jig designed for the most common joint cutting tasks:
If you typically work with stock that’s under 11 inches in width and from 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick when cutting half-blind or through joints, Rockler’s Complete Dovetail Jig is designed with you in mind.
Rockler, like other jig manufacturers, has opted to focus on a narrow set of joint cutting scenarios to make the setup of their jig simple. The Complete Dovetail Jig is somewhat ironically named, however, given that it only cuts a couple common dovetail joints.
If you don’t need to handle oversized wood pieces or cut unusual dovetail joints, then Rocker’s Complete Dovetail Jig may be a good choice. It’s fast and efficient to setup and use, having preset stop positions for the typical sizes of stock you’re likely to be cutting.
It is a bit expensive for a jig with such a narrow range of applications, though. Porter-Cable’s more versatile jigs are in the same price range.
What we liked:
Cutting typical half-blind and through dovetails is quick and easy
Preset stops are built in to handle typical thicknesses of stock
Clamping bars are designed with an abrasive surface that holds stock better
Need a dovetail jig that can handle boards up to 24 inches wide with an adjustable template?
Look no further than Leigh’s D4R-PRO. This jig gives you the ultimate level of control to setup the size and spacing of each pin and tail cut with movable comb fingers.
You can create irregular patterns to simulate the look of a handmade joint or design the joint as needed for special projects. The Leigh can also handle oversized wood stock up to 24 inches wide and a pin cut the thickness of 1-1/4 inches.
This dovetail jig’s template can switch between through or half-blind style joints by flipping it over. It comes with a 1/2-in router bit, a collet adapter, and a template guide bushing to setup your handheld router. It also comes with a comprehensive instruction manual to round out the package.
If you need its customization features and ability to handle any board stock up to 2 feet wide, this dovetail jig is the one you’re looking for. Just be prepared to pay a high price for these unique features.
What we liked:
Can cut through or half-blind dovetail joints
Handles oversized wood stock up to 24 inches wide
Gives you control over the size and pattern of pins and tails with moveable template fingers
What could be better:
This jig kit is several times more expensive than its competitors
Need to cut dovetail joinery into irregularly sized boards?
Leigh’s Super Jig is designed to allow you the freedom to design your own pattern of pin and tail cuts in terms of both size and spacing for a given dovetail joint.
This makes it possible, for example, to ensure that a half-pin and tail cut fits onto both edges of each board, regardless of the board’s measurements. The kit also comes with three different router bits for different cut depths and the other hardware you’ll need to set up the handheld router you’ll use.
Leigh delivers the same custom joint design capabilities with its 12-inch Super Jig as it does with its DR4-PRO, which makes it possible to join odd width boards and accommodate other special projects.
Be careful when installing a dovetail bit that it doesn’t rub against the guide at all.
If price is not an issue, we certainly recommend any woodworker looking for versatility to consider this excellent dovetail jig.
What we liked:
Cuts either through or half-blind dovetail joints
Adjustable comb fingers allow custom pin and tail patterns
Comes with 3 different router bits, collet adapter, and guide bushing for a handheld router
What could be better:
Costs significantly more than the nearest competitor
Looking for a sturdy dovetail jig to use with a table router?
Woodhaven’s 7660 dovetail jig is designed to work with table routers, having the template on the bottom surface. It’s large enough to mount wood stock nearly 12 inches wide.
The template is CNC-machined for precision measurements and made of a phenolic material that has the durability of aluminum, but costs less if you need to replace it.
You also get a carbide-tipped router bit to use with the jig and a bit height gauge to set it up with. This jig is designed for drawer work, so it comes capable of making half-blind dovetail joints but no other styles of dovetail joint.
Woodhaven’s 7660 router table dovetail jig is a practical solution when you need to cut wood stock to make drawer-style joints. It’s a little on the pricey side for the narrow applications it can be used for, but if you need a table router for this specific use, it certainly isn’t a bad choice.
What we liked:
A table router jig that can cut half-blind dovetail joints
CNC-machined phenolic template that’s made to last
Includes a 1/2-in carbide-tipped router bit
What could be better:
Limited to half-blind dovetail joint cuts
Why Do You Need a Dovetail Jig?
The dovetail joints are a tried-and-true method of joining wood boards at a 90 degree angle. They’ve become a standard way of creating these joints because of the strength created by the interlocking pins and tails that hold the boards together once they are assembled.
Creating the cuts in both board ends so they fit together exactly without a guide like a dovetail jig is time-consuming and wastes material when you make mistakes. Dovetail jigs allow you to set up a template for the size of the wood boards and the type of joint you’re making and then make the matching cuts in both boards at the same time while they are lined up.
Another consideration when deciding to use a dovetail jig for your woodworking project is how many times you make the same joint cuts. If you’re building a set of drawers, for example, that are exactly the same, a dovetail jig will save you time. After you’ve got it setup correctly, you can quickly make the cuts for all the drawers without taking measurements and marking them each time.
Choosing the Best Dovetail Jig – Buyer’s Guide
Whether it’s a first purchase for a new project or time for a new jig with more capabilities, there are a few common features to consider when shopping for a dovetail jig. When you realize you need a dovetail jig, it’s important to take stock of everything you’re likely to use it for.
How large will most of the wood boards be? What’s the largest board you can expect to work with? What kinds of dovetail joints will you be making?
Getting the dovetail jig with all the features you’ll need will help you avoid the need to shop for another one.
What size dovetail jig will you need?
This is probably the first question to ask, as it will narrow down your choices. A 12-in wide dovetail jig can cover most joint work, but if you know you’ll want to join boards wider than that, you’ll want to get a jig that can accommodate them. It’ll save time if you can use it for all your joint work, instead of being forced to cut the oversized joints manually without a template.
What kinds of dovetail joints will you be making?
There are several types of joint that dovetail jigs can be used to make, but not all jigs are designed to make all of them. Some are designed for only the most common types of dovetail joints like the half-blind and through joints. Be sure to read the jig’s specifications to see if it will be useful for the dovetail joints you want to use for your projects.
Does the dovetail jig come with all the accessories you’ll need?
Many dovetail jigs will include a set of accessories you’ll need to use the jig with power tools like a handheld router.
How Does a Dovetail Jig Work?
A dovetail jig is a tool for making the matching cuts in two boards so that one has pins and the other tails that will interlock and hold a 90-degree joint tightly. It consists of a base, a comb, top and front clamps, and set pins that work together to set up both boards for the dovetail joint cut.
The two boards are fitted flush with each other at the angle of the joint. The horizontal board is held in place by the top clamp, and the vertical board is held by the front clamp. They are lined up flush with each other with set pins on either side of each board. Once they are set up at the correct depth, you’re ready to cut the pins and tails using the comb as a template.
What about a dovetail jig made for a band saw?
Band saws have a special problem of making the angled cuts needed for a dovetail joint. Unlike a router that can be fitted with bits to cut different shapes from wood, a band saw is used to cut lines through wood. The solution for making dovetail joints with a band saw usually involves building a wooden jig that will hold the boards at the angles needed.
Because band saws are fixed machines with cutting tables, it’s usually not possible to set up both boards like you can do with a router jig. Many woodworkers who use band saws to cut dovetail joints construct their own jigs out of plywood or wood blocks to speed up the process.
Instructions on How to Use a Dovetail Jig
Most of the difficulty in using a dovetail jig is involved with setting it up, so first, we’ll do a quick walkthrough on setting up a basic through dovetail joint cut. We’ll be covering the use of a dovetail jig designed to be used with a handheld router.
If you want to use a dovetail jig with a band saw, there are good instructions you can find on woodworking websites for making a jig and using it.
So, how do you set up a dovetail jig?
There’s a couple ways to go about it, but here’s a process that you can use to learn to setup a dovetail jig. Before you begin to dial in your dovetail jig for a job, make sure all of the guides and clamps are loosened so you won’t have trouble inserting your wood pieces.
Insert a horizontal wood block under the comb and the vertical piece between the front clamp and the base of the jig. Adjust the two pieces until their edges are flush.
Tighten down the front rod’s adjuster until you feel it hit the vertical wood piece, then loosen it a half-turn. Do the same for the top rod, tightening it onto the horizontal piece and backing it off a half-turn when it hits it. Once the rods are set, lock them into place with the clamp handles.
Next, line up the comb so that its edge is 5/32-in back from the edge of the vertical piece. Check it with a gauge and tighten down the adjuster for the comb. Do this for both sides of the comb to make sure it’s parallel.
Set the stop pins that sit on either side of the horizontal and vertical wood pieces. For many jigs, it’s best to set the horizontal piece so that the inside edge is only half away beyond one of the comb’s fingers. The vertical piece should be offset from the horizontal piece so that its outside edge is halfway beyond a comb finger. Tighten the stops down once you have them set.
How do you make the cuts?
This is the easy part of using a dovetail jig. Setup your router with a dovetail joint bit and template guide. Then simply remove the wood that is exposed under the comb to create the pins and tails. It may be helpful to mark the wood pieces so you don’t get them mixed up if you are cutting more than one pair of boards at a time.
How to Use a Dovetail Jig
What Are a Dovetail Jig’s Parts
A dovetail jig is comprised of several different components that combine to become a mechanism for cutting dovetail joints. Below is a list of the basic parts that woodworkers should familiarize themselves with.
Base: The base is the bottom plate that you slide your wood pieces over top of when setting up the jig.
Comb: Also called the template, this metal piece has grooves that you use as a guide when cutting the dovetail pins and tails, so the two wood pieces will fit exactly.
Clamp Bars: A dovetail jig has top and front clamp bars that are set to hold the wood pieces firmly in place while you make your cuts with a router. The clamp bars are designed to be set to the specific height of the wood you’re cutting.
Stop Pins: The stop pins on a dovetail jig are used as guides to hold your wood in the correct position under the comb. There are usually stops set on each side of a wood piece and also a stop to set the depth of the cuts.
Dovetail Jig Accessories
What else might be needed to use a dovetail jig, you ask?
There’s a number of accessories that will be needed or helpful when using a jig with a router. Here’s a list of some of them:
Router shank bits: Specially shaped bits are used to cut dovetail joints, so look for a jig that includes them if you don’t have any of your own.
Collet adapters: You may need these to fit the router bits onto the router you have if they don’t match the router’s collet size.
Guide bushing: These fit onto your router’s baseplate to guide it along the template.
Instructions and reference guides: It’s always helpful to get documentation on using the dovetail jig, especially if you’re new to making these joints.
Dovetail jig stand: Stands are used to support a dovetail jig and create a workstation. They can be standalone tables, boxes that sit on a workbench, or an extension that you can attach to a machine’s table.
What are the Benefits of Using a Dovetail Jig?
The benefits of using a jig to make dovetail joints can be summarized like this.
A dovetail jig improves the efficiency of creating dovetail joints by eliminating the scrap caused by mistakes made when manually marking cuts with hand tools.
A jig allows you to setup and cut both wood pieces that will be joined at the same time, resulting in joints more likely to match and mate together tightly.
Using a template also gets rid of the random variation in the pin and tail cuts that happens with manual work, which saves you the time it would take to rework joints that don’t quite fit.
What Types of Dovetail Joints Are There?
Dovetail joints have been used by woodworkers to create wooden joints for boxes, cabinets, and furniture for centuries. Over the years, a number of variations of the dovetail joint have been developed.
Here’s a few of them:
Through dovetail: This is the simplest dovetail joint. The pins and tails can be seen on both outside surfaces of the wood pieces that are joined.
Half-blind dovetail: This joint doesn’t cut the tails all the way through so that the joint isn’t visible on one outside surface on one side of the joint.
Full-blind dovetail: This joint doesn’t cut the pins or the tails all the way through, creating a joint that isn’t visible on either of the outside surfaces of the joint.
Sliding dovetail: This joint is used to slide the edge of one piece of wood into the side of another piece by cutting a slide bracket.
What Types of Dovetail Jigs Are Available
There are three basic types of dovetail jigs depending on the cutting tools used.
Table router jigs
These jigs are designed with the comb beneath the jig’s base. The wood piece is mounted horizontally over the comb and vertically above it. You then take the jig to a table router set up with a template guide to remove the exposed wood.
Handheld router jigs
Jigs designed for handheld routers have the comb on top of the jig. The wood pieces are places horizontally and vertically below it, so a woodworker can remove the exposed wood from above.
Band saw jigs
Band saws are not the most efficient way to cut dovetail joints, but some woodworkers build their own jigs to make the angled cuts more efficiently. These vary depending on whether the band saw is a table saw or an overhead saw.
Sizes of Dovetail Jigs
What size jig should you buy?
That’s a good question to answer before you consider other features because it determines what you can do with the dovetail jig. The size of a dovetail jig describes how wide its comb is. There are two things to consider:
What’s the widest wood board you’ll need to cut with the jig?
The width of the jig determines the widest piece of wood you can cut. If you’ll be cutting wood boards wider than 12 inches, you’ll need a jig that’s 18 or 24 inches wide. Get a jig that’s big enough for the widest board you’re likely to work with.
How many smaller boards do you want to cut at a time?
Another consideration is that a wider jig will let you load multiple sets of smaller 10 inch boards and cut them simultaneously. If you build multiples of the same project or a project has many identical joints, consider a bigger jig to save time. Some jigs are designed for this, and some are not, so check a jig’s specifications to see what its capacity will be.
Top Dovetail Jig Brands
Check these brands first: Porter Cable, Akeda, Bosch, Grizzly, Dewalt. These companies offer excellent quality and good customer support.
Dovetail jigs are not inherently dangerous, but there are a few general safety tips to follow when using jigs and power tools.
Wear safety glasses to protect against stray debris that may fly.
Wear hearing protection if your power tool instructions require it.
Take care when making cuts with a router on a large, top-heavy dovetail jig that isn’t mounted to a work surface.
Avoid using a plunge router because of the possibility of accidentally releasing the plunge lock. This will cause the bit to rise up and contact the bushing, damaging the router bit, bushing, and finger assembly.
Wait for the bit to stop spinning before you pull the router up from the jig.
Weight and Portability
Dovetail jigs vary widely in their size and weight, ranging from under a pound for specialty jigs made for small joint work and over 20 pounds for large jigs. Generally speaking, though, dovetail jigs are fairly portable.
You can take them from place to place to do on-site woodworking as long as you have a sturdy surface to work on, or you can have one or two in a woodworking shop that can be moved from workstation to workstation.
Dovetail jigs are fairly standard tools with the same mechanism. However, design is a consideration when choosing one jig over another.
How convenient are the clamps and knobs to handle?
Another thing to consider is how versatile a jig is for making the different types of dovetail joint. Does it come with several combs for different joint styles?
Warranties for dovetail jigs usually cover defective parts or workmanship for one or more years after the date of purchase. If a jig part breaks from normal use during the warranty period, you can be spared the cost of buying a replacement part.
Pay attention to the length of warranties when choosing between two jigs that are roughly equal. A longer warranty can be a selling point. The longer you own a tool, the more likely it is break.
A dovetail joint is a traditional way to join two pieces of wood at a 90-degree angle. Because a dovetail joint uses angled, interlocking pins and tails, the strength of the joint is superior to many other techniques. In the past, a dovetail joint was the hallmark of a skilled woodworker because of the precision needed to make the joint fit together right was difficult to achieve using hand tools and manual measurements.
Furniture-makers and carpenters often use dovetail joints when they build cabinetry and other furniture that requires square joints like bookcases, coffee tables, and boxes. Any joint that needs to be solid fitting at a 90-degree angle can use one of the dovetail joints to accomplish this.
So, which of these contenders is the best dovetail jig of 2018?
It’s difficult to pin the blue ribbon on just one of these excellent competitors for the top spot as the best jig for making dovetail joints. One reason for this is that they aren’t all apples or oranges. While they all are used to produce a similar product, they are meant to be used with different cutting tools. If we were to be completely fair, we’d make two categories: jigs for use with handheld routers and jigs that are used with table routers.
Another issue is the jig that’s best for you, the woodworking buyer, depends on what your needs happen to be. You may want a dovetail jig that can handle nearly any size wood stock, or you might be more concerned with having the versatility to make any style of a dovetail joint.
You might also make custom joinery that requires a template with moveable fingers to accommodate odd board sizes.
Who was the winner of this year’s review in our opinion?
In our opinion, when we consider which of these dovetail jigs would be best for the average woodworker, Porter-Cable’s 4216 Super Jig beats out the competition, all things being equal. For a reasonable price, you get a set of templates for a half-dozen different dovetail joint styles.
It can handle boards up to 12 inches wide and can set up two sets of smaller boards. You also get a great service package and warranty from Porter-Cable. When we factored in versatility, price, and dependability, the Super Jig edged out the competition and Amazon customers who have reviewed the Super Jig agree.