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Although they are usually tiny, screws can ruin the visual appeal of the furniture you produce in your workshop. Figuring out how to find the best dowel jigs will enable you to replace screws with dowels that hold two pieces of wood together while remaining invisible from the outside.
In order to insert a dowel into a material, you first need to make a hole that fits its size. That’s where dowel jigs come in, as these tools enable you to drill holes in several standard sizes, and allow you to use differently sized dowels.
Consequently, dowel jigs are a standard woodworking tool both professional and DIY carpenters use on nearly all projects. Our guide to finding the best dowel jigs will help you gather information about these tools and take you through some of the best models on the market.
Top 5 Best Dowel Jigs – Overview
|Best Overall: Milescraft 13110003||Steel||¼, 5/16, 3/8 inches||$$|
|Most Versatile: Grizzly G1874||Steel||¼, 5/16, 3/8, 7/16, ½ inches||$$|
|Best For Professionals: Eagle America 445-7600||Steel||¼, 5/16, 3/8 inches||$$$|
|Most Affordable: Wolfcraft 3751405||Aluminum||¼, 5/16, 3/8 inches||$$|
|Best for DIYers: Rockler Dowl-It 1000||Steel/Aluminum||¼, 5/16, 3/8, 7/16, ½ inches||$$|
What is a Dowel Jig?
The process of creating a table, a bookshelf, or a cabinet involves joining multiple pieces of wood using either screws or dowels. A dowel jig is a single-purpose tool that allows its users to drill perfectly aligned holes in the pieces of lumber they want to put together.
The material is inserted between the sides of the tool so that the central block that contains differently sized holes is directly above it. Once the material is in place, you can use the screw handle to tighten the jig and ensure that it isn’t going to move while you’re drilling.
A dowel jig features between two and five perpendicular holes that contain bushings and drill guides, while the center lines are located on the side of the block.
These tools are self-centering, which means that once you clamp them onto a material they will be correctly positioned for the drilling task you’re performing. Go through our guide to the 5 woodworking tools every workshop should have to learn more about the tools you can use to process wood.
The applications of dowel jigs
You can use dowel jigs to create holes at the face, end, or edge of a material, which enables you to make different types of joints. Hence, these tools make it easy to create horizontal and vertical T-joints, edge joints, L-joints and offset joints.
The process of making each of these joints is slightly different, as you will have to figure out the exact distance between holes for the type of joint you want to make.
Also, you should keep in mind that the minimum distance between holes should be at least ½-inch, while on most projects the holes will have to be at least 1-inch apart.
Although some carpenters make their dowels, buying dowels is advisable because it will ensure that each dowel is compatible with the holes you drill with your dowel jig. Check out our comparison of corded vs cordless drills if you’re unsure which tool you should use to make dowel holes.
The main components of dowel jigs
Dowel jigs are simple tools that contain just a few parts. However, their performance and durability depend on the quality of each part.
You should keep in mind that some models can leave markings on the material, and you’ll have to insert a protective layer between the material and the tool to avoid damaging the piece. So, let’s take a look at the components all dowel jigs have regardless of the model.
The tool’s body consists of two blocks that can be made of steel, aluminum, or plastic. Between these two side blocks, you can find a third block that goes above the material once you clamp the dowel jig.
The screw that connects the two side blocks features a handle, so to clamp the tool onto a material you just have to rotate its handle. Also, the maximum distance between two side blocks is limited on each model, and most models can’t fit on pieces that are wider than 6 inches.
Holes and bushing size
Each dowel jig contains holes that are located at the top of the middle block. Diameters of these holes vary between ¼-inch up to ½-inch. Dowel jigs come with bushings that are inserted into a hole in order to guide the drilling bit and ensure a high degree of accuracy.
When combined with stop collars bushings also enable you to adjust drilling height so that each hole you make is identical.
The screw handle
This component enables you to tighten a dowel jig and keep the material in place. Screw handles are usually small and turning them can be difficult. That’s why experienced carpenters use pipes and similar gadgets that enable them to tighten a dowel jig effortlessly.
Screw handles are usually made of steel or plastic depending on the model.
Most dowel jigs are self-centered, which means that holes that are already at the center of the block are going to fit at the center of the material as soon as you tighten the tool. Consequently, you won’t have to center the tool manually.
These tools also have center lines that enable you to align them with the piece you want to drill.
How to use a dowel jig
You don’t need a lot of woodworking experience to start using a dowel jig, since creating a dowel hole with a dowel jig is an intuitive process.
Simply mark the locations on the material where holes should be positioned, then use dowel jig’s center lines to align the tool and the material. Tighten the screw handle to lock the material in place, insert a bushing into a matching hole and start drilling.
You should bear in mind that creating different types of joints might require you to take few additional steps.
Choosing the right bits
Avoid using aggressive bits that drill through wood quickly because the stop collar may not be able to prevent it from reaching too deep into a material. Standard drill bits will enable you to control how deep each hole is going to be and they reduce the chances of damaging the material to the minimum.
Optionally, you can make dowel holes with brad point drill bits that are designed to bore clean holes without wandering. Go through our cobalt vs titanium drill bit comparison to learn more about the differences between these two types of drill bits.
The advantages of dowel jigs
It only takes a few moments of your time to align the material with the tool and tighten the screw handle to keep the material in place. Each dowel jig model features center lines that allow you to position the material above the hole through which you’re going to drill.
Compatible with all standard dowel sizes
The diameter of each hole a dowel jig contains matches the common dowel sizes. Consequently, fitting a dowel into a hole you created shouldn’t be a difficult task.
Users can create different types of joints
Dowel jigs allow their users to drill as many holes in the face or the edge of a material and create the type of joint that best fits the project they’re working on. However, you will have to measure the distance between holes on your own, since this tool doesn’t offer a way to do that.
The disadvantages of dowel jigs
Turing the screw handle can be difficult
For each joint, you want to make you’ll have to create two or more holes, so you’ll have to move the dowel jig often. Tightening and loosening the screw handle can get tiring and for that reason experienced carpenters choose to install round knobs on the screw handle.
Factors worth considering when choosing a dowel jig
Most dowel jigs come with the same set of features, and they have similar performance capabilities. Several factors may affect the tool’s quality and its suitability for the task you’d like to use it for. Let’s take a look at the features you should be looking for while searching for a new dowel jig.
Dowel jigs are usually made of plastic, aluminum, or steel. Plastic models are flimsy and they break down easily, so you should opt for a model that has aluminum or steel parts if you need a dowel jig you won’t have to replace it very often.
The level of accuracy
Accuracy can become a huge problem if the bushings are too loose or if they are too large for the holes on the dowel jig. Besides, a bushing can get stuck while you’re drilling and damage the drilling bit, the material, and the dowel jig.
That’s why you should look for models that come with matching bushings that enable you to drill dowel holes with a high degree of accuracy.
Material size compatibility
The maximum distance between the sides of a dowel jig determines how wide the materials you’re working with can be. Some models can accept materials that are 6 inches wide, but most models can’t hold materials wider than three inches.
Even though you can purchase these tools for less than $20, you should avoid using cheap dowel jigs because they don’t last very long. Getting a model that costs between $50 and $100 won’t burn a hole in your budget, and it will provide you with more precision while drilling dowel holes.
Top 5 Best Dowel Jigs
Milescraft 13110003 – The best overall dowel jig
Drilling dowel holes with the Milescraft 133110003 dowel jig is a simple task that won’t take too much of your time. The tool features three holes that have ¼-inch, 5/16, and 3/8-inch diameters so that you can create holes on the surface, edge, or corners of a material.
Also, the steel bushings enable you to create up to six holes with a single setup, while the screw handle is easy to operate so that you can switch between pieces quickly. The tool’s body is made of steel and it has an anti-corrosion coating that prolongs the tool’s life.
- Sturdy construction
- Suitable for different types of joints
- The tool maintains a firm grip on the material
- Reasonably priced
- Centering the material takes some practice
- The tool might leave marks on the material
Grizzly G1874 – The most versatile dowel jig
Unlike most dowel jig models on the market, the Grizzly G1874 features five holes with diameters that range from ¼-inch to ½-inch. Consequently, the Grizzly G1874 is one of the most versatile dowel jigs you can get as it enables you to create any connection you want.
The maximum width of a material this tool can hold is limited to two inches, while the tool also enables you to create two identical parallel holes without having to change the setup.
Moreover, this Grizzly’s model ships with six bushings made of hardened steel, but bushings for 7/16-inch and ½-inch holes must be purchased separately.
- The tool’s body is made of steel
- Features five different drilling holes
- The centering process is automatic
- Compact and lightweight design
- Turing the screw handle can be difficult
- Can’t hold material wider than 2 inches
Eagle America 445-7600 – The best dowel jig for professional carpenters
The ability to adjust to differently shaped materials is one of the greatest advantages the Eagle America 445-7600 dowel jig has to offer. The tool lets you drill holes in materials that are ½-inch or 6 inches wide and it features holes with diameters that vary from ¼-inch to ½-inch.
If you opt for this dowel jig, you will also get ¼-inch, 5/16-inch, and 3/8-inch bushings as well as 7/16-inch and ½-inch fixed holes that don’t require bushings. The centering process takes place automatically, as you just need to clamp the tool onto the material and the holes will already be aligned.
- Suitable for all pieces of wood thinner than 6 inches
- Great for the edge, butt, or miter joints
- A high degree of accuracy
- Quick and simple assembly
- The screw handle is uncomfortable
- More expensive than models with similar features
wolfcraft 3751405 – The most affordable dowel jig
In case you’re searching for an inexpensive dowel jig, you should take a closer look at the wolfcraft 3751405. This tool enables you to work with materials that are between ½-inch and 1-1/4-inches wide, and drill holes that have 1/4-inch 5/16-inch or 3/8-inch diameters.
The tool comes with hardened steel bushings designed to fit its holes and 60 dowel pins you can use to create all common types of joints. The body is made of aluminum, but it is still sturdy enough to withstand years of heavy-duty usage.
The fact that the manufacturer offers a 5-year warranty for this product speaks volumes about its quality.
- The tool ships with 3 depth stops
- Bushings provide additional precision
- Long warranty period
- Can’t hold materials wider than 1-1/4-inches
- Doesn’t have 7/16 or ½-inch holes
Rockler Dowl-It 1000 – The best dowel jig for DIY projects
Produced by one of the most famous manufacturers of carpentry tools, the Rockler Dowl-It 1000 is a reliable choice for all aspiring DIY carpenters. You can use this tool to create dowel holes that can be as narrow as 3/16-inch or as wide as 1/2-inch.
However, the tool can’t hold pieces that are thicker than 2-inches, which somewhat limits its range of applications. Rockler Dowl-It is a self-centering dowel jig and you can just tighten it to start drilling a hole.
The center block is made of steel, which makes it both durable and highly resistant to damages that can occur during daily use.
- Dowel jig is made of aluminum and steel
- Broad hole diameter range
- Great for all types of dowel joints
- Self-centering properties
- Not suitable for irregularly shaped materials
- A stop collar must be purchased separately
Frequently asked questions about dowel jigs
Answer: The only way to limit the depth of a dowel hole you’re making is to install a stop collar onto a drilling bit since dowel jigs don’t have features that would limit the depth at which you’re drilling.
Answer: The durability of dowel jigs varies from model to model, so if the tool is made of plastic it won’t last longer than a few months, while models made of steel and aluminum can last for years.
Answer: Dowel jigs that have two or three bushing holes have a limited range of applications, which is the reason why it is better to opt for a model that has five or six bushing holes.
Answer: Yes, it can, especially if you tighten it too much. That’s why you should either add a protective layer between the material and the tool or be cautious when clamping the tool.
Our verdict: How to know which dowel jig is the best?
Dowels offer a simple but elegant way to join multiple pieces of wood, but drilling holes in which these fasteners can fit is a delicate process that requires utmost precision.
Dowel jigs enable you to go through this process smoothly, by providing you with a set of preset holes and bushings that guide the drilling bit. Instead of asking yourself which dowel jig is the best, you should rather be searching for the model that is best suited for the types of connections you want to make.
We recommend getting the Grizzly G1874 dowel jig because it lets you drill holes in different sizes and it allows you to work with pieces that can up to 6-inches wide. On the other hand, the wolfcraft 3751405 is one of the most affordable dowel jigs on the market, which makes it a great choice for novice carpenters.
We hope that this guide to finding the best dowel jigs has supplied you with the information you needed to pick the tool that fits all your needs. Which of the best dowel jigs are you going to choose? Leave a comment and let us know or continue reading our guide to the best drill jigs.