Tool Review: Through-Dovetail Jigs under $350
Through dovetails make a strong and beautiful joint, but who has the time to cut them by hand? We tested 10 router-assisted jigs and found winners in three price ranges.
Few things say more about the quality of a project than through-dovetail joinery. Attractive looks aside, the joint's interlocking pins and tails have proven their strength and reliability in joining boards end to end for more than 5,000 years. Some woodworkers get misty-eyed when they romanticize about cutting dovetails with hand tools, but you can use a router and a commercial jig to do the job in a fraction of the time—and typically with more precision and airtight fit.
Dovetail jigs have a reputation for being overpriced and overcomplicated, but is that a fair characterization? To find out we rounded up 10 jigs capable of producing through dovetails, with prices ranging from $50 to $330. Some jigs require buying accessory equipment to make this joint, thus inflating their base prices. After running each jig through rigorous testing and letting the dust settle, here's what we found.
Although the 10 jigs we tested achieve the same end result—tight-fitting through-dovetail joints—these work-savers certainly don't look the same. You use routers to cut the pins and tails by following templates, but that's where the similarities end. Six of the jigs must be mounted or clamped to a benchtop or workstand. You lock in a workpiece with the jig's built-in clamping system, then run the router on top of the jig.
The other four jigs consist of templates mounted to either a wood block or plate, with the workpiece clamped to the jig. Most of this style can be used in a vise or on a benchtop for handheld routing; or you can use all four upside down on a router table.
Most of the tested jigs use a one-piece template to space dovetails equally along the width of the workpiece. But two allow you to arrange the template guide fingers to create custom spacing. This same feature also lets you set up perfect half-pins on each end of the joint and then space the pins between them equally. One-piece templates offer no variability unless you skip some slots when routing, or reposition the jig after cutting.
Learn the results of our testing of the CMT300, Craftsman 25455, Hartville GFK1800, Katie Jig KJ12000002, Keller 1500, Leigh D1600, MLCS 8712, Porter-Cable 4212, Rockler 23882, and Woodline WL-RJT when you pick up the March 2007 issue of WOOD magazine and turn to page 77.