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Last updated: February 15, 2021
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If you’ve got a big woodworking project coming up, chances are that it’s going to require making a set of dovetail joints. These elegant joints are commonly used in furniture and cabinetry to hold pieces of wood together at right angles without intrusive hardware. While you could make these joints by hand, the process is time consuming and difficult to get right since the joints have to line up exactly with no play. This is where having the best dovetail jig can come in handy, since it makes it fast and simple to cut dovetail joints to the exact specifications you need.
In searching for the best dovetail jig on the market today, we considered several important features. The first was the dimensions of each jig, which determines the width of the joints you can cut. Second, we looked at the range of stock thicknesses each jig can accept, which limits the thickness of wood you can use in your projects. Finally, we looked at what kind of dovetail joints each jig can make, which is important for making furniture and other products with distinct styles.
We spent tens of hours looking through the plethora of dovetail jigs on the market today and reading through customer reviews to find the five best dovetail jigs for your next project. The table below highlights our picks. Continue reading for detailed reviews of each jig, complete with pros and cons. Our buying guide covers everything you need to know about dovetail jigs and how to identify the features you need when choosing a jig for your woodworking style. Finally, we sum up our three overall favorite jigs.
Users rave about this capable and burly dovetail jig from Porter-Cable, which offers versatile functionality for a wide variety of jigs at an extremely impressive price point. The jig is 12 inches wide, which users found to be the right width for the majority of woodworking projects. In addition, it boasts one of the widest thickness ranges of any jig we reviewed, second only to the model from Leigh. The vice on the wood is extremely strong once engaged, thanks in part to the sandpaper-backed locking bars on the body of the jig.
The jig is made entirely from machined steel with several durable plastic knobs, while the templates are machined from aluminum. This jig comes with three useful templates, including those for making half-blind, sliding, and through dovetails, as well as a third template for making miniature half-blind and through dovetails. The jig also comes with four router bits of different depths, which users appreciated, since it makes it simple to gauge the depth of the cut without having to make laborious measurements.
Users also appreciated how fast and easy it was to get started using this jig. The jig comes entirely pre-assembled and can be clamped or bolted directly to a workbench. The manual is also well-written and provides clear instructions for beginners and seasoned woodworkers alike to make a variety of dovetail joints with this jig.
Experienced woodworkers note that the jig lacks the extreme precision of more expensive jigs – like the model from Leigh – but that it works well with some fine-tuning of the base. However, even perfectionists admitted that the jig is good for almost any household cabinetry projects where miniscule details are not essential to the joints fitting properly.
Porter-Cable also provides a lengthy three-year warranty on this jig, which is especially impressive given its modest price.
This dovetail jig from vaunted hardware company Leigh comes in at a sky-high price, but users are quick to point out that it is easily one of the most versatile and well-constructed jigs on the market. Among jigs we reviewed, this model stands out for its large size – the jig is able to accommodate stocks up to 24 inches, which makes a huge difference for contractors and woodworkers who have large furniture projects in mind for the future. The jig also accepts wood pieces up to relatively large thicknesses of up to 1-1/4 inches.
Users love how easy and intuitive it is to use this jig. The cam-action clamps make it straightforward to apply the right amount of pressure to your wood before making cuts. The clamps are easy to adjust, or can even be used at a consistent tension across wood pieces if you need to get your cuts exactly right. The aluminum base is made from a single machined piece of metal, so there are fewer parts to break or warp over the life of the jig. Users report that the jig can produce double-blind dovetails that are nearly indistinguishable from handmade joints in a matter of minutes, with very little fuss.
The jig also comes with a wide array of accessories for making nearly every type of dovetail joint. Three carbide router tips are included – one each for half-blind, double-blind, and through dovetails – and users can switch between the three styles of dovetail simply by flipping over the finger assembly. The jig also comes with an instructional DVD in addition to the instruction manual.
Given the high cost of this jig, Leigh appropriately offers a 90-day money-back guarantee so you can return it if it doesn’t fit your workflow and a five-year warranty to provide peace of mind about the jig’s durability.
What we liked:
Large 24-inch width and 1-1/4-inch maximum thickness
Five-year warranty and 90-day money-back guarantee
This dovetail jig is designed for the woodworker who is fully committed to half-blind dovetail joints and wants them to be as precise as possible.
Rather than use interchangeable templates, the guide on this jig is constructed right into the steel base. This design improves the overall durability of the jig and makes it quite small compared to other jigs – it’s just 16 x 6 inches, so you can easily hide it in your workshop when you don’t need a jig set up. However, the design does limit versatility for those who want the ability to make through dovetails or double-blind joints. It also limits the thickness of stock that the jig can accept – it is limited to a range from ½ inches to ¾ inches. In addition, the jig has a minimum width of six inches and a maximum of 11-3/4 inches. All that in mind, you need to be sure of what you’ll be using this jig for before purchasing it.
Users did appreciate that this jig requires very little setup or fine-tuning out of the box to begin cutting precise dovetails. The clamps are easy to adjust, although some users did wish for the simple clamp lever found on larger jigs that makes it easier to exert pressure on the wood. However, the sliding clamp pads are useful when working with wood pieces of varying sizes since it allows customization of where the pressure is applied. The instruction manual for the jig can be somewhat difficult to interpret, although users report excellent customer service from Woodhaven whenever questions come up after purchasing.
The jig comes with a single carbide router bit, which can be adjusted in height using a few simple control knobs on the front of the jig to account for the thickness of your wood.
The jig comes with a 30-day money back guarantee and is backed for life by Woodhaven.
What’s included: a precision template for both dovetails and pins (unlimited width capacity), 2 router bits, carbide-tipped, industrial quality, a dovetail bit (7°) with guide bearing, a straight bit with guide bearing, a set of mounting screws
This extremely inexpensive dovetail jig from Keller is about as simple as dovetail jigs come. Compared to other jigs we reviewed, this one is essentially just a template for your router with little other frame around it. That means you’ll need a set of sturdy clamps to secure it to a workbench when using it, but with the right equipment you can get it relatively stable.
The advantage to this design is that the jig is not limited to a set width, even though the jig itself is only 15 inches in length. Instead, the jig can be moved down the length of any piece of wood, cutting additional pins as you go. The thickness is not as customizable, on the other hand, and is limited from 3/8-inch to ¾-inch pins. This design is also highly durable, since there are almost no parts to warp or break, and the comb is made from a laminate rather than a metal that could be easily damaged by your router.
Users loved the documentation on this dovetail jig, which is especially helpful given its different design compared to typical jigs. However, they note that you will need to cut your own wooden block to hold the jig in place and to sit under the piece of wood you are cutting for stability. The jig is not designed for high-throughput workshops or the extreme precision of a jig like the one from Leigh, but beginning woodworkers and hobbyists rave about how easy this jig makes it to get started with dovetail joints.
The jig comes with two templates, one for half-blind dovetails and one for through dovetails, as well as bits for each purpose and all of the attachments you’ll need to work with your router. Keller offers a short one-year warranty, although given the simple design, the warranty on this dovetail jig is somewhat unnecessary.
What we liked:
Simple, easy-to-use design with unlimited cutting width
This modestly priced dovetail jig from Rockler is perfect for small shops looking for a relatively straightforward jig for occasional projects. The jig is large enough to fit wood pieces up to 11 inches in width, but is relatively limited in the depth of cuts it can make from ½-inch to ¾-inch thickness.
While the jig is not as stable or precise as the similarly-sized Porter-Cable jig, what sets it apart for users is the unique dust collection system. Rockler developed a vacuum attachment, which comes with the jig, that fits onto the base of the template to allow you to quickly suck up dust produced by the router bit before it spreads all over the shop. Few other dovetail jigs have any mechanism for cleaning up dust, so this can be a major advantage in a small shop.
On the other hand, users needing precision had a major problem with the design of this dovetail jig. The depth stop bar, which controls how far into the wood the router bit will drill the dovetail pins, has to be moved out of the way each time you want to cut a new piece of wood. That means the depth has to be manually adjusted for each cut, which can dramatically limit the accuracy of dovetail joints on matching pieces of wood. In addition, users found the instructions on this jig somewhat hard to follow and many have resorted to following instructions on setup posted by other users.
The jig is capable of producing both half-blind and through dovetails, but cannot easily be used for double-blind dovetails – which may be limiting for beginning woodworkers as they advance. However, it does come with all of the accessories you’ll need in order to get working immediately, including router bits for both half-blind and through dovetails.
Rockler only provides a one-year warranty on the jig, although users did not report any issues with its durability.
What we liked:
Unique dust collection system
Comes will all necessary accessories
What could be better:
Poor design of stop bar
Hard to make double-blind dovetails
Things to Сonsider
Now that you’ve learned more about our five overall favorite dovetail jigs on the market today, how do you choose between them to find the jig that’s right for your woodworking projects? In our Buying Guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how dovetail jigs work and about the features that you need to consider when choosing a dovetail jig for your work.
What is a dovetail jig and how does it work?
A dovetail jig is a relatively simple device that holds your wood in place and provides a cutting template so you can make the precise, calculated, and repetitive cuts that a dovetail jig requires – and get it right every time.
The jig essentially works by sandwiching the piece of wood you’re working on between a metal template, with the dovetail joint shapes cut out according to the size you need, and the jig itself. With your piece of wood steady and the template in place, you can simply use a router with a dovetail bit to cut out the hollows required for the dovetail joint.
Thanks to the template, the pieces you cut out will be the same across the width of the wood you’re working with, as well as across the matching piece of wood that you plan to join it to.
Features to consider before buying a dovetail jig
When you’re choosing a dovetail jig for your woodworking projects, there are a number of features that you need to consider that will affect whether a specific jig will be suitable for the joints you want to make. In this section, we’ll explain some of the important features of dovetail jigs.
Length, and why it matters
One of the first things you need to consider when choosing a dovetail jig is its overall length. This is an essential measurement because it determines the width of the dovetail joints you can make with the jig. In effect, the jig length places an upper limit on the width of wood pieces that you can join together.
For most small furniture and cabinetry, jigs of 12 inches or less are standard. However, if you are working on making large cabinetry rather than small pieces, you may be better off with a larger 24-inch jig like the model from Leigh. You can always use less than the full width of the jig, so it is best to opt for the longest jig that you reasonably expect to use.
The capacity of wood a dovetail jig can handle
The capacity of the wood that a dovetail jig can handle isn’t determined only by the length of the jig – which sets an upper bound on the width of the wood that you can use – but also by its thickness range. Because of the vice style of dovetail jigs, they are limited to working with certain thicknesses of wood, typically ranging from roughly 1/4-inch to ¾-inch thicknesses. If you know you likely will work with thicker sections of wood, it is important to opt for a jig that can handle these stocks. For example, the Porter-Cable jig can handle wood up to 1-1/8-inch thick and the Leigh jig can handle wood up to 1-1/4-inch thick.
A dovetail jig is a major investment in your woodworking toolbox and you’ll be putting significant pressure on it every time you use it, not to mention brushing it with a router. A bent or damaged jig is no good, since the measurements of the dovetail cutouts will no longer be as precise as you need them to be. For those reasons, getting a jig that is constructed from high-quality materials and will stand up to abuse is very important for durability.
Fully steel dovetail jigs, like those from Porter-Cable and Leigh, will last the longest, although they also tend to be heavier and more expensive. Wooden jigs like the model from Keller have the shortest life, although this does not mean they are less accurate when you first purchase them and may last for years if you use your jig only infrequently.
All dovetail jigs require a router to actually make the dovetail cuts against the template. Importantly, you’ll also need a dovetail bit to fit into your router, and the shape of this bit will depend on the style of dovetail joint that you are planning to make. All of the jigs that we reviewed come with several router bits to get you started, but you will eventually need to replace these bits as they are worn down or supplement them with bits for different joint styles.
What comes with the purchase
Dovetail jigs typically come with several accessories, most notably dovetail router bits to get you started cutting joints with the jig. Be sure that the jig you choose comes with the appropriate bit for the style of dovetail you want to make, or else plan to purchase the right bit after-market. Jigs also come with one or more templates of varying widths to make larger or smaller dovetail joints – the Porter Cable jig, for example, comes with three different template sizes.
Also, expect to receive a guide bushing to connect your router to your jig – typically, these bushings are designed to fit the majority of modern routers.
Since a dovetail jig is a significant investment, having a warranty can be important to provide peace of mind when making a purchase. Warranties vary from as little as a one-year warranty for the Keller and Rockler jigs to a 5-year warranty for the Leigh jig.
How to use a dovetail jig?
Using a dovetail jig is relatively straightforward. Line up the piece of wood you want to cut, front facing up, to the jig template with approximately 1/16-inch overhang. Secure the wood in the jig vice, then attach your router with a dovetail bit to the template guide. Make your cuts, then repeat for the second piece of wood with the bottom side facing up.
What kind of joints can you make with a dovetail jig?
A dovetail jig is designed to make dovetail joints, of which there is a variety. The most common type of dovetail joint is the single-lap dovetail, in which the joint is only visible on one of the pieces of wood since the cuts do not go all the way through on the second piece. Jigs can also be used to make double-lap and secret dovetails, both of which make it difficult to detect the presence of the joint at first glance.
Note that while some routers come with multiple interchangeable templates for making multiple types of dovetails, others, like the Woodhaven jig, have a single fixed template that allows for only one type of dovetail joint.
The router you use with your dovetail jig will need to be compatible with the guide bushing provided with your jig. While most guides are nearly universal, it is important to make sure that your router will be compatible before choosing a jig.
You could use dovetail joints to connect multiple short boards, but the joint would not hold as well as other options. Instead, dovetail joints are typically used to join wood at 90-degree angles, such as is commonly found in cabinetry.
Yes, although you will likely need to purchase a metric dovetail bit to match your jig, since the bits that these jigs come with will not fit your router collet.
Our overall favorite dovetail jigs on the market today are the Porter-Cable 4216, the Leigh D4R-Pro, and the Woodhaven 7660. The Leigh jig is extremely expensive compared to the other jigs we reviewed, but users invariably point out that it is also the single best jig you can find if you need extremely precise dovetail joints that mimic handmade joints. Plus, the 24-inch width is a major advantage for professional users. The Woodhaven jig is incredibly easy to use and features a unique set of sliding clamps that makes it easy to get the pressure right when working with delicate wood pieces. We feel the Porter-Cable jig is the overall best dovetail jig you can buy given its combination of moderate price and versatility – this is a jig that beginners and experts alike can use for any dovetails that don’t need manual precision. Plus, users appreciated the three-year warranty and easy setup of this jig.