Wood joinery is perhaps the most crucial concept in any woodworking project: how to join together different sections of wood, normally lumber or timber. And knowing how to make certain kinds of joints, including dovetail joints is just as important–which is why a guide to tools like jigs is so important.
Wood joinery, and knowing how to make the correct joints, is essential from small woodworking projects, like furniture, to the basic framework of homes. In fact, the quality of joinery in modern homes has come under recent scrutiny.
Tanya Wood, a lawyer, and expert in the construction points to increasing signs that the cladding and wood joinery in modern homes now last as little as fifteen years, compared with five decades for many older homes.
That could be for a few reasons. For one, in humid climates, insulation that isn’t properly cared for can cause rotting against the woodwork. Another possible issue is that the correct joints were not used, or one or two were used rather than considering what makes sense on an overarching structural basis.
When it comes to dovetail joints (and the dovetail jigs you need to make them), you won’t find them for projects as large as foundations, but you will find them essential to a number of other small projects that can make a difference in your home renovations.
But what are dovetail joints, do you really need dovetail jigs, and how do you select the best models?
This guide will tell you everything you need to know about dovetail jigs, from what they are to how to use them to how to find the best models possible.
First Off, What Are Wood Joints?
Wood joints are simply are the ways in which different pieces of wood are connected with one another. Often resources such as bindings, fasteners, and adhesives are used.
The best wood joints are optimized for the project in particular on a number of characteristics, including durability, strength, flexibility, and occasionally, cosmetic appearance. While different types of joints are used for different projects, the general concept is the same: conjoining disparate parts and strengthing the overall structure of whatever is being constructed.
You can find the importance of wood joints in nearly everything you encounter, from toy puzzle to the framework of homes and public buildings.
What Are The Different Types of Wood Joints?
While the focus of this article will be on dovetail joints, and of course, dovetail jigs here’s a little guide to the most common types of wood joints, so you understand the differences.
Fundamental to a few of these joints is a tenon and mortise. The tenon refers to the cube-shaped joint that fits into a rectangular mortise. Together, they form a right angle and provide a strong bond in general.
- Dovetail: Meant for smaller projects and designed to be strong and durable, dovetail joints are made with a trapezoid shape on both the tails and pins.
- Tongue and Groove: Grooves are made lengthwise with one groove that sticks out and fits seamlessly into an adjoining crevice; you’ll find this style most often for flooring.
- Butt Joint: A butt joint is as simple as you can get, and the most tenuous option, because two ends are simply glued or fastened together.
- Pocket Hole: A pocket hole is considered fairly strong and made by driving a screw through a hole in one piece and into the wood of another.
- Bridle Joint: A bridle joint is used often to construct legs, for example, on a chair or table. It conjoins a tenon with a mortise into a corner. The only difference between this kind of joint and a plain tenon and mortise is that there are more holes dispersed throughout.
- Biscuit Joint: This is simply a more reinforced version of a butt joint, though as the name implies, it has a rounded, normally oval shape.
- Finger Joint: A finger joint has a number of thing in common with a dovetail joint, but has interlocking pins along the edge which are straight, rather than angled.
- Rabbet Joint: Rabbet joint is a fairly simple joint. The end of one piece is cut, and pieces are connected in a step-like formation, seen most popularly in furnishings such as cabinets and panes.
- Lap Joint: Lap joints are among the most common types of joints used when working with wood, and are also fairly simple. Two pieces of wood are cut halfway width wise.
What Are Dovetail Joints Used For?
Dovetail joints are most commonly used for constructing or repairing drawers of all shapes and sizes. You can find them for other purposes, including the following:
- Wood buildings
- Timber frames
- Antique furnishings
- Wooden boxes
- Wooden frames
What Are The Advantages and Disadvantages of Dovetail Joints?
Dovetail joints are actually among the most commonly used joints in woodworking projects, both ambitious and simple. Like any type of joint used in woodworking, there are a few advantages and disadvantages to going with this option.
- One of the strongest joints. The construction of dovetail joints makes it among the strongest and most durable options because there are multiple sources for reinforcement. A portion of the wood is covered with glue, but the pieces interlock in a way that is resistant against pulling. It’s designed to withstand friction and other wear that might break the bond.
- Multiple options. There are a variety of different kinds of dovetail joints, which means that it’s among the more versatile and tailored joints in woodworking.
- Difficult to make. Marking and cutting dovetail cuts by hand is known to be difficult, especially if you aren’t normally involved in many woodworking projects.
- Easy to mess up. If constructed incorrectly, the normally strong and durable joints will actually be quite weak and not able to hold up.
What are the different types of dovetail joints you can make with dovetail jigs?
Before we discuss how to find and select the best dovetail jigs, let’s quickly take a look at the different types of dovetail joints to guide you when you begin your next woodworking project.
This kind of dovetail joint is made by connecting two pieces of wood with finger-liked edges, which are externally visible.
Best for: corners on frames, boxes, and cabinets
A half-blind dovetail is a bit more aesthetically pleasing, in that the conjoining joints are hidden from external view. The ends of the wood piece are fitted into finger-like ends in front, so the conjoining is hidden.
Best for: cabinets with false fronts or cabinets you don’t want to see the joints on
Secret mitered dovetail
A secret mitered dovetail is also known as a blind dovetail and considered the strongest of all dovetail joint types. Even though it too does not show externally, it is stronger than a half-blind dovetail. It’s conjoined using the same interlocking technique, but at a forty-five-degree angle.
Best for: expensive cabinets and box frames. A simple mitered dovetail is used for frames.
Finally, a sliding dovetail is quite a bit different, in that it does not use interlocking fingers, but slides and connects two boards at right angles. While sliding it into position is easy enough, it’s important that they are properly fitted for a tight fit.
Best for: anyone not experienced in making dovetail joints, but not as strong as other options.
What Are Dovetail Joints Best For?
If you want a strong bond and don’t mind learning a little technique, dovetail joints offer the best in terms of durability when working with cabinets, but also picture frames, antiques, and wooden frames or boxes. Dovetail joints, in some cases, can even be used for decorative purposes.
Is There a Way to Make Creating Dovetail Joints Easier?
Yes. Dovetail jigs are the best way to achieve dovetail joints with consistent and quality results. Dovetail jigs are a guide essentially, to help you drill the holes you need to. They help you align the wood correctly to make the cuts you need. In fact, it’s close to impossible to achieve proper dovetail joints without a dovetail jig.
To use a dovetail jig, you essentially clamp down the pieces of wood, then insert a corresponding pin along the curve or corner. After that, you are able to cut any pins and sockets you require.
Can Dovetail Joints be Cut by Hand?
One thing that’s convenient about dovetail joints is that they can, in fact, be cut by hand. However, most find that it is much easier to make use of power tools. Table saws are commonly used for cutting pieces of wood, and any basic power drill will be enough if you need to make any holes.
For dovetail cuts, you’ll mostly want to make sure you have the best table saw possible to use with your dovetail jig.
How Do I Find The Best Dovetail Joint?
Now we’re ready to discuss how to find the best dovetail jigs. While there are many options, we’ll focus on several specific features so you can make the most informed decision possible.
We’ll be focusing on three major themes: capacity, diversity of layout, and easy use.
What kind of capacity should I look for?
Twelve inches is typical and will suit a variety of projects. However, some woodworking experts caution that a twelve-inch capacity will prove to limit should you want to use your dovetail joint for larger woodworking projects. In short, look for a dovetail joint that can accommodate up to twelve inches, minimal, but if you plan on using it for wider use (beyond cabinets, frames, and drawers), you may want to look for a dovetail jig with a larger capacity.
You also want to check depth capacity, or in other words, the size of the joints the jig can help you make. In order to determine what makes the most sense, you’ll have to check with the specifications of your project, but a general range is from ? of an inch to half an inch. The wider the range, the more versatile the dovetail joint is, and likely the more use you’ll get out of it.
What does the diversity of layout mean?
When we’re discussing the diversity of layout with respect to dovetail joints, we’re referring to the ability to set your own layout essentially. Rather than one preset layout, some dovetail jigs allow you to customize the layout to your own liking and needs. There are even some crossover jigs that allow you to easily transition to other common types of joint layouts entirely, though this is less common. Some of the best dovetail jigs include up to nine or even more different layouts, which will extend the use of your dovetail jig.
How do I know if the dovetail jig will improve accuracy?
Or in other words, how much can you rely on the dovetail jig to help you correctly align your wood and prevent slipping? There are three critical factors here: the clamp, ability to adjust, and adjustment stops. The best way to tell how steady the wood is held is to look into customer reviews.
- Some of the best clamps, both for dovetail jigs and independently, feature a lighter design that makes it easy to clench onto the material and includes an easy to adjust bar. Mini clamps, in addition to the larger clasping units, allow you to make smaller, finer adjustments.
- Rubber pads on the ends protect wood pieces from becoming damaged or splintered.
- Some clamps feature a quick-release trigger that not only makes them easier to adjust but can also help reduce the risk for mistakes
- Some, but not all, dovetail joints also provide initial guides and templates for practice use. If you are new to using dovetail jigs or new to woodworking in general, then it’s not a bad idea to see if the product comes with something along those lines.
- Some dovetail jigs will also clamp directly to your workbench, which further improves stability.
- Router bit depth gauges allow you to make incremental adjustments, all without taking any measurements yourself.
What do I need to look for when it comes to adjustment stops?
Adjustment stops, as we mentioned, are important for helping you align your material. Side stops are useful for guiding your allignment. They are used to correct any mistakes in both the end and front pieces (tails and pins).
How large should it be?
We’ve already mentioned capacity as one of the most important factors to consider when shopping for dovetail jigs, but overall size also plays a factor in how easy it is to use.
- If you have space, larger jigs are easier to use in general. Smaller jigs can be more difficult to adjust, as well as easier to make mistakes with.
- Larger jigs are also suited to a wider range of projects. If you buy a small jig, then you’ll be limited on what you can use it for.
Why should I not go for the cheapest version possible?
With many tools used for home improvement projects, there’s always a risk of buying the least expensive model. Often, the cheapest models do not even include everything you require. To that end, make sure the jig includes all of the components you need, and go for a medium to high-end jig for the best value possible.
Should I be worried about materials?
When it comes to materials, you want to look for something durable. Aluminum is a favorite, and steel would also work. A one-piece steel construction tends to be fairly steady and stable.
What about service or warranties?
If you’re worried about the reliability or durability of a jig, you can also check to see if it comes with a warranty. Most often, warranties are available for one or three years, and some dovetail jigs even come with a limited year service option.
Some of The Best Dovetail Jigs
Let’s look at some of the best dovetail jigs you can purchase:
- Leigh Super 12″ Dovetail Jig: This dovetail jog is a good overall value, with a capacity of up to twelve inches of material, three router bits, and easy to adjust fingers for improved accuracy and easy use. The solid aluminum construction includes templates capable of making seven different types of dovetail joints and comes with a how-to-use guide and is overall easy to use, especially for smaller-scale projects, such as drawers and cabinets.
- PORTER-CABLE 4212 12-Inch Deluxe Dovetail Jig: Another well-constructed dovetail jig with a number of useful features, this dovetail jig for five different types of dovetail joints, and includes router but gauges for improved accuracy and easy use. It features a single-piece aluminum design which can be clamped in place to a workbench and also features firm grip bars for the clamps.
- PORTER-CABLE 4216 Super Jig – Dovetail jig (4215 With Mini Template Kit): Another great option, this dovetail jig includes templates for up to seven dovetail joints, and even adds a mini template kite for increased versatility. Router bit gauges require no measurement, while the aluminum body is suited for long terms use. Not to mention, this model is also a bit more affordable, coming in under two hundred dollars.