My Dovetail Jig Buying Journey #1: The first 25 Years.

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Blog entry by JustJoe posted 05-12-2013 03:16 PM 5136 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of My Dovetail Jig Buying Journey series Part 2: The Last 2 Weeks - Incra Arrives! »

I spent yesterday playing with my newest joinery jig – the Incra LS-Positioner Super System. Others have already reviewed the Incra and rated it 5-stars (and I agree with them 110%). So instead of a review I thought I’d tell you about the personal journey of 25 years it took to get to the Incra.

My dovetail obsession began in the 80’s when I was new to woodworking and hand skills were non-existent. I had plans for a small chest that required half-blind dovetails so I went and bought the only thing available locally – a Craftsman half-blind jig. It looked like this one but since it came from Sears it wasn’t neon-blue and it cost a lot more than $40.

I didn’t understand dovetails so I put the pins on the edge, not the end, of the board and as soon as the board shrank every pin popped off. They were on a sub-top and didn’t show so I could just as easily have used a lap joint, or sliding dovetail, or tenon/groove but the plans said dovetails so on I charged. When I was done, the jig bounced around the shop collecting dust while I moved on to trying through-dovetails. (It was the 90s, everybody was doing it.) I was still in uniform, so money was tight. There was no way I was going to afford something like the Leigh jig, so I got by making every shop-made jig to ever appear in a woodworking magazine – like this one where you cut the pins on the tablesaw and nibble away the tails on the bandsaw.

There were many variations on this theme, but this is the only one that really lasted and I still keep it around today. With a steady hand and a good bandsaw blade this cuts very clean dovetails.

But it wasn’t enough. I never built anything bigger than a blanket chest but I knew I needed the ability to make dovetails in a 6’ wide board. So I jumped at the chance to buy the Prazi ChestMate.

This jig does through dovetails one tail at a time. You make a simple storyboard of how you want to layout your dovetails, and then you use the Prazi to cut them one at a time. It’s a good idea and much more affordable than the fancier jigs but still I kept seeing those big full-page ads for the Leigh or the Porter Cable with the metal and the sliding and the shining and I knew that when I struck it rich I was going to buy one.

When I finally retired and set up shop I celebrated by getting the Leigh Super Jig.

They make them bigger, but by now I knew I wasn’t going to be dovetailing a 6’ wide board so I settled for the 18” version. It’s a very nice jig, although a bit high on the gizmosity scale. You can use different size dovetail bits but they have to match a certain angle for each size otherwise you will go crazy trying to get the tails and pins to fit snugly. I bought it from Rockler and when it came incomplete they refused to help me and made me call Leigh (in Canada, but toll-free) who were happy to send me the missing parts. The Leigh became my go-to jig for a couple of years until I wanted to make some rather small dovetailed boxes. It does small, but with the dovetail bit need to do the small it didn’t look right – the proportions are off. So I went in search of another jig.

I thought I’d found the answer in the Porter Cable.

As you can see in the pic, the PC jig now resides in the shed with the other misfit tools so it obviously wasn’t the answer. The Porter Cable jig is like the Leigh, except it doesn’t do variable spacing. I bought it because it advertised the ability to do mini dovetails – it even came with a special template called “mini-something.” Well it turns out that they were very optimistic with their specs, and their mini was my medium. I did a review of the Porter Cable here on LJ if you want to look it up and get the bigger story. In any case, there it is in the shed collecting dust.

About the same time I was getting frustrated with the PC jig, I saw an advertisement for this little jig.

The Route-R-Joint isn’t really a dovetail jig. It makes fancy shaped joinery like diamonds or circles or what they call keys. I bought the “Junior” edition because it was touted as being scaled down for small stuff. Well the idea was great, and the joints are excellent, but the engineer thought “scaling down” meant “chop it in half”. Everything is smaller, but for half the joints you still need to use thick stock – it’s not going to work in 1/2” or thinner. That’s the same design flaw as the Porter Cable. I’m hoping eventually someone will recognize the need for a true mini-dovetail jig and will make something like the Leigh jig that will work in 3/8” stock, even if it means buying a custom dovetail bit. In any case, the Route-R-Joint Jr. was small enough to just throw on a shelf in the workshop so I didn’t drag it out to the shed.

I then went back to the Leigh, and the tablesaw jig, and doing it by hand, for a few months until I saw some reviews and recommendations for the Incra.

I could just tell you I bought it, it works, life is good. But nothing is ever that simple for me. Buying the Incra Jig was a two-week ordeal that deserves it’s own page in the story so I’ll finish up with those details in part 2.

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3 comments so far

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2715 days

#1 posted 05-13-2013 12:56 AM

Great story Joe! Your patience and persistance paid off!. I’d love to have one of those but I don’t think I’m smart enough to operate it (much less assemble it).

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View JustJoe's profile


1554 posts in 2063 days

#2 posted 05-13-2013 01:31 AM

Thank you. I know the feeling – some of these jigs are so complicated only an engineer can use them. Every time I use the Leigh I have to pull out the manual and start at page one. The Incra comes with a giant oversized instruction book but each operation (box, half-blind dovetail, through dovetail, double dovetail etc.) only takes about 1 page of instructions. It’s so simple even I can do it: Center the workpiece, put the template ruler in the slot, make all the A cuts. Put the second piece of wood in, make all the B cuts. Glue. I watched all the videos online before it showed up, but that was just a waste of time because once I saw it in person it was pretty much plug and play.

-- This Ad Space For Sale! Your Ad Here! Reach a targeted audience! Affordable Rates, easy financing! Contact an ad represenative today at JustJoe's Advertising Consortium.

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2715 days

#3 posted 05-13-2013 01:50 AM

Thanks Joe. That gives me hope. Now I just need to start saving and hope I live long enough to get one!

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

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