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Spend money on a dovetail jig or learn to do them by hand?

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Forum topic by JohnnyBoy1981 posted 07-28-2017 11:58 PM 18005 views 1 time favorited 187 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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JohnnyBoy1981

184 posts in 188 days


07-28-2017 11:58 PM

Topic tags/keywords: dovetail jig porter cable

I want to build a few small keepsake boxes and music boxes with decorative joinery. I doubt I’ll ever build a bunch of drawers or what have you. I was looking at the Porter Cable jigs vs. trying to learn how to do them by hand. I’d also like to do box joints as well, and I’ve built a few cheap jigs for my router table to try and make that work. I’ve had poor to middling results so far.

Is it worth it to buy the Porter Cable jig for this kind of use? I already own a PC 690LR router and template/guide bits.

Price aside, I feel like I’m cheating by not learning to do this by hand.

Thoughts?


187 replies so far

View ki7hy's profile

ki7hy

2403 posts in 490 days


#1 posted 07-29-2017 12:02 AM

I would think if they are “keepsake” for your family or close friends they might mean more to do it by hand?

I think it’s worth learning and they are fun to do. That’s just me though. I’m a hybrid woodworker though and enjoy hand tool use more than power tool use but don’t have time for al hand tools.

Each to their own though, I don’t judge either way.

View Loren's profile

Loren

9281 posts in 3398 days


#2 posted 07-29-2017 12:10 AM

If you have a band saw you can use that.
It’s the easiest way for a beginner to make
dovetails that look hand cut, imo. A couple
of simple jigs and a 1/8” blade for cutting
out the waste are all that are required.

Cutting them by hand is less difficult than
you might think, but it does require practice
and some skill with sharpening chisels to
make clean-looking joints.

View Holbs's profile

Holbs

1678 posts in 1780 days


#3 posted 07-29-2017 12:13 AM

I have not yet bought any dovetail jig for my router, nor the magnetic saw blade alignment tool that helps with cutting dovetails. I’ve done about 50 by hand and although not perfect for any project, I could see the progression of getting better. Why no jig? Personal preference. For I know when the time comes (soon) to make hand tool cabinet or some project with class, I want blood sweat & tears to go into the project including cursing & dignity so will go hand tools for dovetails.

-- The Carpenter Bee is derived from the Ancient Greek word wood-cutter

View waho6o9's profile

waho6o9

7954 posts in 2327 days


#4 posted 07-29-2017 12:20 AM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgG_SufjiJw

Frank Klaus starts around the 19 minute mark and gives an excellent demonstration on making

dovetails by hand.

Enjoy the journey!

View Rich's profile

Rich

1507 posts in 340 days


#5 posted 07-29-2017 12:49 AM

+1 on anything you can learn from Frank Klausz.

I think you definitely should learn to cut them by hand. It’s a fundamental skill that every woodworker should have, and will teach you a great deal about using marking and cutting tools.

Just as I use power tools for other things in my shop, I use a jig for everyday cutting of dovetails. I bought a Leigh D4 about 15 or 20 years ago and it’s a great jig. As far as the less expensive fixed jigs go, unless you’re doing drawer boxes that are at even height increments, they aren’t very useful, since you can’t adjust the fingers for proper pin and tail alignment, nor can you do any sort of decorative spacing patterns.

So, if the question is to learn to do them by hand or buy an inexpensive fixed jig, I say do it by hand for sure.

-- No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

View bondogaposis's profile

bondogaposis

4366 posts in 2102 days


#6 posted 07-29-2017 01:24 AM

Setting up a jig for a small amount of dovetails will take longer than cutting them by hand. A dovetail jig is only efficient if you have a large quantity to do. Learn to cut them by hand, it is satisfying and rewarding.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View TheFridge's profile

TheFridge

7692 posts in 1237 days


#7 posted 07-29-2017 01:39 AM

Ditto.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View onoitsmatt's profile

onoitsmatt

338 posts in 927 days


#8 posted 07-29-2017 01:57 AM

Someone on a similar thread here on LJs suggested taking 2 boards. Cut tails in one, pins in the other. Fit the joint. Admire your mediocrity.

Then the next day, cut those off about an inch below the joint. Cut new pins and tails. Repeat each day for a week to ten days. Note how much better your last dovetails are than your first.

Be sure to use hardwoods and sharp chisels. Soft woods will ruin your desire to hard cut dovetails. Dull chisels might too.

-- Matt - Phoenix, AZ

View JohnnyBoy1981's profile

JohnnyBoy1981

184 posts in 188 days


#9 posted 07-29-2017 01:58 AM

Thanks for all the responses. Something inside me felt like getting a jig wasn’t the way for me to go to be satisfied with the results, even if they aren’t magazine-cover perfect looking. I’ll need to scrounge up some scrap and get to practicing.

Curious: are dovetail and box joints viable on plywood? I have a bunch of 3/4” plywood scrap laying about that might make for good practice pieces.

Thanks!

View Rich's profile

Rich

1507 posts in 340 days


#10 posted 07-29-2017 02:10 AM



Curious: are dovetail and box joints viable on plywood? I have a bunch of 3/4” plywood scrap laying about that might make for good practice pieces.

Thanks!

- JohnnyBoy1981

I do dovetails in plywood on a jig for shop furniture all the time. It wouldn’t be easy by hand though because of the chip-out. Same thing with box joints. Like Matt said, use some hardwood. Even something inexpensive like poplar or alder would work.

-- No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.

View AlaskaGuy's profile

AlaskaGuy

3201 posts in 2060 days


#11 posted 07-29-2017 02:10 AM

Personal preference says plywood dovetails look like do do to me. I don’t like seeing the layers.

-- Alaskan's for Global warming!

View TheFridge's profile

TheFridge

7692 posts in 1237 days


#12 posted 07-29-2017 02:15 AM

Box joints definitely viable. William Ng has a video about making a simple jig for box joints.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View Desert_Woodworker's profile

Desert_Woodworker

970 posts in 965 days


#13 posted 07-29-2017 02:16 AM

Read the post above by Mat “Be sure to use hardwoods and sharp chisels. Soft woods will ruin your desire to hard cut dovetails. Dull chisels might too.”
I say- I have cut them by “hand” saw (traditional), Leigh dovetail jig and the CNC. A fine hand cut dovetail, will shine on your craftsmanship or it will look like “dog do-do”.

-- Desert_Woodworker

View AlaskaGuy's profile

AlaskaGuy

3201 posts in 2060 days


#14 posted 07-29-2017 02:16 AM



Setting up a jig for a small amount of dovetails will take longer than cutting them by hand. A dovetail jig is only efficient if you have a large quantity to do. Learn to cut them by hand, it is satisfying and rewarding.

- bondogaposis

I agree with you 110%......but time to a lot of hobbyist means nothing.

-- Alaskan's for Global warming!

View Loren's profile

Loren

9281 posts in 3398 days


#15 posted 07-29-2017 02:20 AM

I cut plenty of practice dovetails in pine
while I was learning. They got to be pretty
clean. One has to be extra careful when
chiseling the end grain in pine though
so it’s not really a time saver.

I still have some of those pine shop boxes
I made, plywood bottoms nailed on. Hardwood
is probably better for practicing if you have
it on hand. Cutting plywood with hand
saws will dull them due to the hard glue in it.

showing 1 through 15 of 187 replies

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