Dovetail Jig

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Project by Jim posted 04-30-2009 03:39 AM 15329 views 12 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch

My dovetail jig is FINALLY done.
This is a dovetail jig I found the plans for in an old ShopNotes magazine (#43). This is made from mostly white oak, MDF, and some aluminum. It’s pretty easily made, but time consuming due to the necessity of accuracy for tight joints. Overall if you have to buy all the materials and lumber, it could run you up to about $90. But that’s cheap compared to the $180 for the cheapest full-dovetail jig, and those are not adjustable like this is. It was also a very valuable learning experience with my router and table saw and setting up jigs to make adjustments during the construction process much easier.

If you look closely, you can see that I haven’t finished the “Large” templates. I used my router to cut the grooves instead of my table saw like the plan suggests (I don’t have a dado blade). So it was a simple pass on the router table for the smaller ones but I didn’t cut out the inside of the large ones yet.

The spacing and cuts of the templates got to be very tricky at the end, that’s what took so long to finish the jig. This is the first cut I had when I used foam board for a shim (What I thought was meant by posterboard).

And this was the cut after I used a slimmer shim (the cardboard from a cheap caliper set I had laying around).

All in all, it was a fun project, and I can’t wait till I start cranking out some boxes with it. Although I’m happy with the results, it did take it’s toll. In the final cuts of the project, while using the table saw, I had a small accident that resulted in losing half a finger…

...sorry. Couldn’t help myself!

-- -- Jim - Kokomo, Indiana

18 comments so far

View matt garcia's profile

matt garcia

1897 posts in 3700 days

#1 posted 04-30-2009 03:52 AM

That’s AWESOME!!!

-- Matt Garcia Wannabe Period Furniture Maker, Houston TX

View Richforever's profile


757 posts in 3748 days

#2 posted 04-30-2009 04:00 AM

Very nice work! Thanks for sharing.

-- Rich, Seattle, WA

View a1Jim's profile


117126 posts in 3605 days

#3 posted 04-30-2009 04:03 AM

Hey Jim thats really great,you did such a good job because you have such cool 1st name well done


-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Napaman's profile


5526 posts in 4105 days

#4 posted 04-30-2009 04:51 AM

very cool./..

-- Matt--Proud LJ since 2007

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18291 posts in 3704 days

#5 posted 04-30-2009 05:55 AM

Seems like you could have cut an awful lot of dovetails by hand in the time it took to build the jig :-)) Congrats on getting it done!! Looks good.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View interpim's profile


1170 posts in 3486 days

#6 posted 04-30-2009 06:19 AM

Looks good, how do you think those fingers will hold up?

-- San Diego, CA

View PurpLev's profile


8536 posts in 3676 days

#7 posted 04-30-2009 06:52 AM

nicely done! one of the coolest jigs!

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Jim's profile


150 posts in 3350 days

#8 posted 04-30-2009 12:02 PM

Topamax, yea… I thought about that lol. My first attempt at hand cut ones though resulted in split wood and a chisel through my palm. To my chagrin I just happened to figure out the cause halfway through this project. I wasn’t using the right kind of mallet! gr. Oh well lol.

As for the fingers interpim, I think they’ll hold up well. The quarter sawn white oak was very durable, I tried to select the straightest grain I could find, and in the end it was still about 8 times cheaper than the phenolic (especially for all the waste I made trying to get to the proper gaps on fronts and backs of the fingers). Worse comes to worse, I’ll buy more quarter sawn and make more fingers, or maybe maple. Or I’ll break down and try to get some phenolic. Only time will tell.

-- -- Jim - Kokomo, Indiana

View TedM's profile


2002 posts in 3761 days

#9 posted 04-30-2009 12:04 PM

Too cool!

-- I'm a wood magician... I can turn fine lumber into firewood before your very eyes! - Please visit and sign up for my project updates!

View Dennis Zongker's profile

Dennis Zongker

2745 posts in 3620 days

#10 posted 04-30-2009 02:54 PM

Great Job! Welcome to LumberJocks.

-- Dennis Zongker

View cabinetmaster's profile


10874 posts in 3586 days

#11 posted 05-01-2009 03:25 AM

Super job. Looks nice. I’ve started collecting the materials for mine. Hopefully get everything together soon and start and make my own.

-- Jerry--A man can never have enough tools or clamps

View jim1953's profile


2735 posts in 3870 days

#12 posted 05-01-2009 03:44 AM

Great Lookin jig

-- Jim, Kentucky

View Jim's profile


150 posts in 3350 days

#13 posted 05-01-2009 03:56 AM

Well unfortunately I tested it out further today (only tried on tail and pin set last night due to the time of night) and when I tried 3 sets I had problems. I’m not sure yet where the problem lies because I’m using a new router, new brass bushings (the bushing collar actually cracked before I got a chance to cut into the wood), could be poor quality lumber (red oak from a box store I had laying around), and it could be my bits are dull. So… back to testing and more testing. Yay.

-- -- Jim - Kokomo, Indiana

View PurpLev's profile


8536 posts in 3676 days

#14 posted 05-01-2009 04:11 AM

I’m curious what problems you were running into? new router and new brass bushing are a good start – but unless they are centered and tuned, can be sometimes useless. another thing could be the jig alignment and your spacers/backer boards?

what exactly is the problem you’re experiencing?

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Jim's profile


150 posts in 3350 days

#15 posted 05-01-2009 04:25 AM

Well like I mentioned, I made 3 tails and pins. The first of the 3 fits fine, the 2nd’s a little off, and the 3rd didn’t fit at all. Knowing it was gonna be scrapped I decided to see if I could force it together and get an idea of how drastic the problem was. So I got the dead-blow out and started trying to tap it into place. I ended up getting all 3 pins into the tail, and removing the rest of the piece from the pins in the process lol. I’m thinking about getting more quarter-sawn oak and redoing the fingers for a thicker bushing. I noticed the old router with the same bearings (I bought 2 sets so I didn’t have to swap out bits constantly one just one router) has a chunk missing from the bushing about the same spot as the new bushing is cracked. I think with a bigger bushing there won’t be so much heat generated as the close fitting ones caused. Plus I didn’t quite care for how the plans said to basically cut the angle on the fingers, check to see if it’s even close fitting, and if not shave a bit more, recheck, etc etc etc. I have a feeling like either the fingers have come out crooked from the table saw somehow, or I just messed up all together on the shape. The plans show a squared off end to them, where mine are very pointed.

Also, I noticed I was having problems where the bits just weren’t biting into the wood even with moderate pressure behind the router. I know oak is prone to burning with router cuts, but this time the bit wouldn’t even budge, it just sat on the edge of the surface and burned a small groove instead of cutting a straight bit notch. The bit’s aren’t high performance by any means, but the dovetail has only made 2 cuts in white oak so I wouldn’t think it would be THAT dull yet. Maybe I should just try again at hand cut joints for the Mother’s Day boxes so I can take some time away from this and try again fresh and not feel rushed.

-- -- Jim - Kokomo, Indiana

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