Dovetail Joints look cool and add an element of detail and elegance to wood projects like drawers, boxes, cabinetry and more. Traditionally they have been made by hand which is time-consuming for some woodworkers, therapeutic and rewarding for others and frustratingly difficult for many. Many, many years ago became somewhat efficient at making them, but when you don't practice periodically, you almost need to start all over again.
Watch it on Youtube: https://youtu.be/gaU3GeHJdqw
For those of us who only want to produce dovetails once every few years, re-learning and practicing to make them can make us turn to alternatives like ...
Box joints ... similar to dovetail joints but without the slight angle and the truth is, most people don't know the difference. For years ... I have said if you want to impress other woodworkers you make dovetail joints, if you want to impress everyone else, you can make box joints and they will be just as impressed. To illustrate this point a few weeks ago my wife and I attended an Antique Show and Sale. A couple of little items caught my eye ... 3 small very nicely made boxes. The label described them as "hand made dovetail joint corners" ... nope, they were box joint corners. Even an antique dealer did no know the difference. Of course, as soon as I picked one up he made a comment, to which I responded that they were very nice boxes, well priced but that they were box joint corners not dovetails ... and explained why. To his credit, he then acknowledged they are mislabeled and went about making new ones.
I have been flirting with trying one of these commercial versions of "through" dovetail jigs for some time. They are fairly well priced and there are a few of them on the market. In the end, I selected the Leigh Tools version because I know they are renowned for making a quality product, and yes it was a tiny bit more but it was what I felt more comfortable buying.
There are a variety of "THROUGH" dovetail jigs on the market including Keller Dovetail System, Peachtree Dovetail Jig, Milescraft, WoodRiver and probably some I haven't found. Be SURE when you purchase a jig that you get what you want because many of the jigs on the market are for "Half Blind" dovetails like the Porter Cable Jig and not "Through" dovetails like I am making here.
When I opened the box, it contained the Plastic Finger component, a Dovetail and a Straight bit, a Wood Router Collar and Wire Tool, a couple of oblong Side Stops and really nice, well laid out Manual ... which I did read and follow.
After making the wooden part and attaching it to the plastic fingers and also attaching the side stops, I was ready to start.
The manual suggested starting with the "Pins". Dovetail joints consist of Tails and Pins and many woodworkers get confused with which is which but I have a fail-safe way for everyone to always remember ... thanks to my long time friend Tim Fitzharris and just some of the many books he has published.
If you check out a bird book, like the one shown below, you will find that many birds have a tail that is splayed outward at the bottom. This is to help them steer when they are flying but for woodworkers, it's a perfect reference to always remember that the "Tails" of a dovetail joint are the same as bird tails ... splayed out.
Here is what the finished Pin side of my joint looked like after setting up and cutting.
It's important to set the router bit at the correct depth, they tell you in the book to mark a line on our board and adjust to that, which is a good fail-safe way, I chose to use my measuring bar and the depth gauge setting on my router.
After you cut the pins next it's time to cut the tails. Install the dovetail bit and set the height. Fasten your wood to the dovetail jig and cut the tails.
I know ... it sounds so easy here, but this process DOES TAKE TIME.
And here is what the finished Tails will look like if you follow instructions and alignment recommendations.
And after a time, you will get results that look something like this. Good quality, dovetail joints.
There are a few things to keep in mind with any of these jigs. First, find out what, if anything, they have for making sure your dovetail joint can be adjusted for looser or tighter Pins and Tails. You don't want a jig where the joints are to lose or to tight, these are very hard to adjust after they are cut.
ALWAYS make 2 passes with the router through the jig, one forward, then another back, they tell you this in the manual and it makes a difference. I almost always find that when I make the first pass, when I can back again, I can hear the bit cutting wood I missed on the first pass ... again, this is really hard to fix after the fact if you need to make adjustments.
Read the rating for a jig before you invest. I don't recommend or endorse any jig I have never used. This Leigh Jig worked fine and I would recommend it, others I haven't tried, regardless of price, I just don't know.
The whole process of making quality dovetail joints no matter what method you use is rewarding, sometimes frustrating but make it a fun learning experience because when you master a system that is repeatable, it's something you will go back to time and again.
Copyright Colin Knecht