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Dovetail Jig Basics

If you're new to dovetail jigs, you might find the following useful. If you're an old pro, click here to jump to the section below that will help you choose an AKEDA system.

Making Dovetail Joints - Basic Hints and Tips

All dovetail joints should begin and end with a half pin, and a dovetail joint with narrow pins and wider tails is generally regarded as the most attractive.

Half blind dovetails are generally used on the front corners of a drawer and through dovetails at the back. For optimum strength, the drawer side should be the tail piece in both cases.

Tear out is often blamed on the dovetail jig. This is not the case. Tear out is the fault of the operator failing to prevent it, and sometimes it's just the result of routing across the grain of wood species that have weak grain. To minimize tear out, always use a sharp router bit, climb cut where possible and safe to do so, and use backup boards to help prevent it. Consult your owner's manual.

Many router bases are not stiff, they are not dead flat and the guide bushing mount is out of alignment with the collet. We recommend a clear acrylic sub base for any dovetail jig. Not only does it provide a mount for the common Porter Cable style guide bushing, but also it will provide greater visibility. Plus, the better quality sub bases include a centering cone that allows you to accurately align the guide bushing with the collet. One of our dealers, The Jig Store carries a high quality model with an added feature.

Dovetail jigs cannot duplicate hand cut dovetails for the simple reason a dovetail bit slender enough to form the narrow pin sockets would break the first time you used it. Some dovetail jigs can be used to form narrow pins, but you will still have to cut the pin sockets by hand.

The Cardinal Rules For Forming Dovetail Joints

Half Blind Dovetails

Many woodworkers come to grief on their first half blind dovetails. There are three basic rules that apply to ALL half blind dovetail jigs. Follow these rules and you will stay out of trouble!

  • Both halves of the joint are made with the same dovetail bit. Your owner's manual will tell you which bit to use.
  • Use exactly the same depth of cut on both halves of your joint. Never adjust the depth of cut between forming the two joint halves.
  • Adjusting your joint fit is accomplished by making fine adjustments to the depth of cut. If your joint is too loose, increase the depth of cut. If your joint is too tight or it won't go together, decrease the depth of cut.

If you find you keep increasing the depth of cut until the router bit breaks through your drawer front (the pin piece), and your joint is still too loose, you're using the wrong router bit or guide bushing.

Through Dovetails

Through dovetails are formed quite differently. The depth of cut won't make any difference to your joint fit. Here are the rules:

  • Through dovetail pins are formed with a straight router bit using a guide with tapered fingers. Set the depth of cut of your straight bit to match the thickness of your mating tail piece.
  • Through dovetail tails are formed with a dovetail bit using a guide with parallel fingers. Set the depth of cut of your dovetail bit to match the thickness of your mating pin piece.
  • The fit of your joint is adjusted by moving the template fore and aft relative to your stock. Adjust the template towards you for a tighter joint and away from you for a looser joint. Some jigs use a guide bushing to adjust joint fit.

If you can afford two routers, you can speed things up by installing your straight bit in one and your dovetail bit in the other.

The Four Categories of Dovetail Jig

There are many types of dovetail jig available, so many in fact, that choosing the right jig can be a little bewildering. Each type of jig has its inherent advantages and disadvantages.

Dovetail jigs range in price from $69 for a base jig, to over $2,000 for a fully accessorized one. Remember, as a general rule, you get what you pay for. Don't expect a $69 dovetail jig to do what the more expensive jigs will do.

Also, don't expect a dovetail jig to do it all for you! Dovetail jigs demand very accurate work. You need to know how to use a router, how to properly install a router bit and how to adjust the depth of cut. You also need to understand the differences between forming through dovetails and half blind dovetails (see above).

It's difficult to write a comparison of dovetail jigs because they all have their differences. Better to compare within a category. Although some dovetail jigs, such as Prazi, Wolfcraft, Incra and Woodrat, don't fit well into any category, most will fit one of the following four:

Generation 1.  Stock Mounted Through Dovetail Templates

These dovetail templates are the most basic. They have no jig body, and no clamping system. Instead, they clamp directly to your stock to form a row of uniform equally spaced through dovetails. These templates are usually NC machined from aluminum or phenolic.

These templates come in pairs. One has a row of parallel fingers used with a dovetail bit to form the tails. The matching template has a row of tapered fingers used with a straight bit to form the pins. Usually these templates are joined back-to-back.

They offer the advantage of having no stock width limit. For example, an 18" template can be moved across a 32" wide board. The best known manufacturer of a high quality through dovetail template is the Keller.

Generation 2.  Bench Mounted Template Jigs

These are the most common type of dovetail jig. Typically, these jigs feature templates that mount to a jig body. The jig body has two clamping systems, one vertical and one horizontal.

The vertical clamping position is used for through dovetail pins and through dovetail tails, half blind tail pieces, and sometimes box joints. The horizontal clamp is used only for half blind pin pieces.

These templates are similar to the stock mounted templates. They feature a row of parallel or tapered fingers machined from aluminum or phenolic. The cheaper models feature an injection molded plastic or stamped sheet metal template.

The disadvantage of templates is that your pins and tails are all the same size and uniformly spaced. They have a machine-made look that most woodworkers do not find attractive. You will also have to make your stock match the incremental pitch of the template.

Porter Cable, Festool, Rockler, Jet, Woodstock, Woodhaven, and many other manufacturers offer a bench mounted template jig. They range in price from $69 to several hundred dollars. Check with your local dealer.

Generation 3.  Variable Guide Finger Jigs

The third generation of dovetail jigs was invented by the founder of Leigh Industries. They replaced the fixed pitch template with a row of moveable guide fingers.

This is truly an improvement over the template jigs because it allows you to get closer to the look of hand cut dovetails by forming narrower pins and wider tails, it allows you to vary the spacing, and it also allows you to work with any width of stock, up to the capacity of the jig.

The Katie Jig is manufactured by Hampton House , which only has a vertical clamping system for forming through dovetails. Leigh Industries and Porter Cable manufacture variable pitch jigs called "combination" dovetail jigs with a horizontal clamping system for forming half blind dovetails as well as through dovetails.

But with these two jigs, versatility comes at a price. While they will perform a variety of tasks, they are quite complex. They require a lot of adjustments, settings and test cuts, so they have a steep learning curve. And if you use a combination dovetail jig infrequently, you may have to relearn it every time you pull it off the shelf.

Generation 4.  The AKEDA Dovetail Jig

The AKEDA jig uses a hand held router to form variable pitch through and half blind dovetails the same way as all the other dovetail jigs. So what's the difference?

Think of it this way. A Model "T" gets you from A to B, but so does a Ferrari. The analogy is not far off. The AKEDA jig gets you there a lot faster, with far fewer failures and less frustration, and it's a lot more fun to drive! What's more, it has two transmissions, four gears, even a windshield, and comes standard with automatic parallel parking!

And when you're between projects, because the AKEDA jig is shipped fully assembled, it stores back on the shelf in the original carton.

The AKEDA jig was designed from the ground up with you the operator in mind. It's more intuitive and more versatile.

 

How to Choose an AKEDA System

Jigs

AKEDA Model DC16 Drawer Construction Jig™ (P/N 1600) has a 1” x 16” capacity, and AKEDA Model BC24 Blanket Chest Jig™ (P/N 2400) has a 1” x 24” capacity. For all other specifications, see the Specifications download.

Model DC16 is ideal for any kind of drawer less than 16” deep, and Model BC24 is suited to wider boards up to 24”.

You get a fully assembled jig body with integral front and rear guide rails for full router support, and a clear viewing window. Also included are the clamp knob, jig mounting hardware, a .438” precision guide bushing, a pair of adjustable stops for positioning drawer fronts, and a User Manual.

Plus, you get 7° through dovetail pin guides, half blind pin guides and universal tail guides. The DC16 includes 10 of each guide finger, and the BC24 includes 15 of each. There are no router bits included with the jig.

Variable Layout Through Dovetails

You will need a minimum two router bits – a dovetail bit to form the tails, and an AKEDA .315” (8mm) straight bit (P/N 3880) to form the pins. The .315” straight bit works in conjunction with all the dovetail bits. It will form through dovetail pins from 1/4” (6.35mm) deep up to 1” (25.4mm) deep.

Here are the choices of dovetail bits:

  • 3/4” deep dovetails (19mm) (P/N 3807)
    Select the AKEDA 3/4” x 7° bit to make through dovetails anywhere from 3/4" down to 1/4” deep. These match the 7° guide fingers included with the jig. For the other dovetail bits you will need matching angled guide fingers.
  • 5/8” deep dovetails (16mm) (P/N 3809)
    Select the AKEDA 5/8” x 9° bit to make through dovetails anywhere from 5/8" down to 1/4” deep
  • 1/2” deep dovetails (12.5mm) (P/N 3811)
    Select the AKEDA 1/2” x 11° bit to make through dovetails anywhere from 1/2" down to 1/4” deep
  • 3/8” deep dovetails (9.5mm) (P/N 3814)
    Select the AKEDA 3/8” x 14° bit to make through dovetails anywhere from 3/8" down to 1/4” deep
  • 1/4” deep dovetails (6.5mm) (P/N 3820)
    Select the AKEDA 1/4” x 20° bit to make through dovetails 1/4” deep

To form the through dovetail pins, you also need one .315” x 1” long straight bit (P/N 3880). All AKEDA bits are 8mm shank, so you may also need a collet reducer (P/N 3447).

Variable Layout Half Blind Dovetails

AKEDA’s dovetail bits are dual purpose – the same ones you use to form through dovetails also form half blind dovetails. However, whereas they can be used at any depth on through dovetails, they only work at a fixed depth for half blind dovetails.

Therefore, which dovetail bit you choose depends on how far you want the dovetail to penetrate your drawer front, when viewed from the side.

There are five to choose from:

  • 1” thick drawer fronts (25mm) (P/N 3807)
    Select the AKEDA 3/4” x 7° bit to form 3/4" fixed depth dovetails
  • 7/8” thick drawer fronts (22mm) (P/N 3809)
    Select the AKEDA 5/8” x 9° bit to form 5/8" fixed depth dovetails only
  • 3/4” thick drawer fronts (19mm) (P/N 3811)
    Select the AKEDA 1/2” x 11° bit to form 1/2" fixed depth dovetails only
  • 5/8” thick drawer fronts (16mm) (P/N 3814)
    Select the AKEDA 3/8” x 14° bit to form 3/8" fixed depth dovetails only
  • 1/2” thick drawer fronts (12.5mm) (P/N 3820)
    Select the AKEDA 1/4” x 20° bit to form 1/4" fixed depth dovetails only

Like all half blind dovetail jigs, you must always use the correct depth bit. For example, the 1/2” x 11° bit must always be set to cut 1/2” deep. You cannot use, say, the 3/4” x 7° bit and raise it to cut a 1/2" deep dovetail. The joint will not fit.

Variable Layout Box Joints

All you need to form box joints is the AKEDA .350” (8.9mm) box joint bit (P/N 3858). The jig includes everything else you need. You may need oversize (P/N 3521) and undersize (P/N 3522) guide bushings to adjust the fit of the joint.

The AKEDA Kits

7pce. Bit Set › (P/N 3400) 

AKEDA’s 7pce. Bit Set is a plastic storage case containing all five dovetail bits, the .315” Straight Bit, and the .350” Box Joint Bit. All router bits are 1/4" shank.

7pce. Bit Set › (P/N 3800) 

Aa above, except all router bits are 8mm shank, so you may need an 8mm collet adaptor (P/N 3447).

Dust Collection Kit › (P/N 3100) 

AKEDA’s passive Dust Collection Kit includes the nozzle that snaps into the jig, a flexible seal for closing off the open part of the plenum in the front of the jig, and two adaptors (1-1/2” and 2-1/2”) for connecting to your shop vacuum hose.

12pce. A-Kit › (P/N 3500) 

AKEDA’s 12pce. starter A-Kit contains the complete dust collection kit (see above), and the complete 1/4" shank bit set (also see above). It also includes two guide bushings - a .442” (.004 oversize for joints that are too loose) and .434” (for joints that are too tight) - and a power cord wand.

64pce. C-Kit › (P/N 3300) 

AKEDA’s 64 pce. C-Kit contains all the accessories - everything you’ll ever need to get the most out of your jig.

The AKEDA 64 pce. C-Kit includes all the router bits (see 7pce. Bit Set above), the additional 9°, 11°, 14° and 20° angled pin guides (the 7° pin guides are included with the jig), the complete Dust Collection Kit (see Dust Collector above), a power cord wand, tail guide spacer extrusion (which you cut up and snap in between tail guides to prevent mistakes), two 1/2” to 8mm collet reducers, and three precision thin-wall guide bushings – the standard .438” (7/16”), .442” (.004 oversize for joints that are too loose) and .434” (for joints that are too tight).

Your Router

Your router must have a minimum 6” dia. (150mm) router base to span the guide rails. Some routers with a “D” base may not.  If you are using 8mm shank bits, you will need AKEDA’s 1/2” to 8mm collet reducer. It’s available as an accessory (P/N 3447), and it’s also included in the AKEDA 64 pce. C-KIT.

A heavy, powerful router is better. Mass absorbs vibration and dampens hand motion.

The router must also accept a Porter Cable style guide bushing. If not, you will need an adaptor, usually available from the router manufacturer, or better still, a router sub base. It will provide a stiffer, flatter base and greater visibility. A high quality one is available from thejigstore.com.

Always use AKEDA 7/16” thin wall precision guide bushings. They're accurate to +/- .001”, the barrel is the correct length for the AKEDA jig, and it provides clearance for AKEDA’s .350” Box Joint bit.

More ...

AKEDA’s jigs are capable of a lot more than through dovetails, half blind dovetails and box joints, but the seven basic bits are all you need – you don’t need any extra bits.

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