Dovetails have long been associated with quality woodworking and quality furniture. Dovetails look great and add a unique detail that shows the craftsmanship of the woodworker. Traditionally, dovetails were cut by hand using a back saw and a chisel, and in some cases a coping saw top help cut out the unused pieces. If you are a dedicated hand tool craftsman and or are a commercial woodworker and you can take the time to practice hand cutting dovetails, it is possible to get some amazingly accurate and beautiful results. If you are a some-times, novice or infrequent woodworker, cutting hand dovetails is something you may do very seldom so getting nice cut dovetails is much harder to do, and that is why a number of companies have developed and sell, jigs that can help those "infrequent" woodworkers in making quality dovetails.
Many of the commercial dovetail jigs are similar in their designs and in the way they operate. In most cases they will use a router with a dovetail bit fitted to it, and often these bits are included with the jig. Another thing in common with most of the commercial jigs is that they will only make what are called 1/2 blind dovetails out of the box, if you want to make Through dovetails you may need to purchase additional pieces for your jig. To see pictures of the difference between Through and 1/2 blind dovetails, see pictures further in the article.
The main advantage with a 1/2 blind dovetail over a Through dovetail is that when you are making drawers for furniture, the front of the drawer can also be the front of the dovetail joint because from the front the joint is hidden. This is to the case with Through dovetails which for boxes, would need to have some sort of a cover plate or veneer made for the front of the drawer in order to hide the dovetail joint.
There are a few different dovetail joints, a couple of samples of which are below because they are the most common. There is also something called a Full blind dovetail, which distinguishes it'self from the 1/2 blind dovetail in that you can't actuall see the dovetail joint on either the front or the side view, and then of course there are some artistic type joints, not really dovetails in the true sense of the meaning, but those also are not covered in this article.
1/2 Blind Dovetail
One of the nice features with router made 1/2 blind dovetails is that once they are glued together, they are extremely strong. This is because the pins, as the fit into the tails as created by the router bit, there is lots of wood surface and because of the angle of cut, they hold together in very solid manner.
By a stroke of serendipidty I happen to own a CMT dovetail jig. It is well made, and the one I purchased, out of the box will only make 1/2 blind dovetails, but with the purchase of more templates, will also make Through dovetails as well as box joints. Sadly what the jig lacks are good quality instructions. The ones that came with the version I purchased were very poor, so recently I went to the CMT site to download a newer version. This was somewhat better but still lacks clarity. It is only after reading and re-reading and working with the jig do you really start to understand how it works.
In order to make dovetail joints you will need a router and an appropriate dovetail router bit. In most cases you will also need some sort of a collar system (sometiems called a guide bushing) for your router. The manufacture of your dovetail jig will either supply some or all of these items or at least tell you what exactly it is that you need to purchase additionaly.
In most cases it will take you some time to set up your new jig depending on the make and what thickness of wood you may be working with. These jigs can add to a level of frustration in the workshop so if you are in a rush to make drawers of dovetail boxes, you may want to take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the experience. Sometimes going slower is the fasters way of getting things done.
Attached is list of some of the commercial dovetail jigs available
Leigh Dovetail Jig
Copyright Colin Knecht