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If you're good at hand-cutting dovetailed drawers, when is it worth it to get a dovetail jig?

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Forum topic by barringerwoodworks posted 03-21-2014 11:36 PM 1140 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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barringerwoodworks

203 posts in 402 days


03-21-2014 11:36 PM

Topic tags/keywords: dovetail jig drawers

How much faster is a dovetail jig for drawers than cutting by hand? Does it only start to pay off when you have A LOT of drawers to cut? Like, say for a dresser with many drawers?

I’ve never used one. Seems like a whole lot of setup and I’m pretty fast cutting by hand. Any opinions?

-- Scott Barringer, Sacramento, CA https://barringerwoodworks.squarespace.com


14 replies so far

View Loren's profile

Loren

7739 posts in 2338 days


#1 posted 03-21-2014 11:39 PM

Hand cut ones look hand cut.

Jigs can be pretty fast but you won’t get the look, the
little variations in cutting angles and things like that which
show up in hand cut dovetail joints. It depends what
sort of effect you’re after.

If you’re fast at hand cutting and can produce pieces
for customers who appreciate the detail and will pay
for it, I’d say stick with it.

-- http://lawoodworking.com

View barringerwoodworks's profile

barringerwoodworks

203 posts in 402 days


#2 posted 03-21-2014 11:59 PM

Thanks Loren. I love the look of hand-cut joints and take a lot of pride in mine. But I’m also looking for ways to speed things up a bit. Plus, I’m thinking of doing a dresser soon that may have as many as 10-12 drawers.

-- Scott Barringer, Sacramento, CA https://barringerwoodworks.squarespace.com

View Loren's profile

Loren

7739 posts in 2338 days


#3 posted 03-22-2014 12:03 AM

You can band saw through dovetails. It’s not hard to do,
retains much of the hand cut look (without the angle
variances).

The router jigs that make the nicest looking dovetails start
getting spendy. There are inexpensive ones for half-blind
dovetails and the joints are strong, but aesthetically they
aren’t too elegant.

-- http://lawoodworking.com

View barringerwoodworks's profile

barringerwoodworks

203 posts in 402 days


#4 posted 03-22-2014 12:34 AM

Yeah, I think in the time since my last reply, I’ve basically talked myself out of it anyway.

I’ve seen people cut them on band saws and on table saws even, with jigs. I always think, “MAN! That seems so hard! Why don’t you just do it the old way?” I can’t help but feel that in the time it takes to set up the jig and the saw, maybe do a test cut or two, etc, I’d already have half a drawer cut, doing it by hand.

So maybe it’s not the place to look as far as saving time for me.

What REALLY takes forever is making breadboard ends on my tables! SHEESH!

It just all takes forever I guess.

-- Scott Barringer, Sacramento, CA https://barringerwoodworks.squarespace.com

View FellingStudio's profile

FellingStudio

50 posts in 373 days


#5 posted 03-22-2014 02:45 PM

About the only time that I would personally consider using a router jig would be for a large, uninteresting job … probably a kitchen … that I have no interest in tackling at the current time.

I say man up and cut the dovetails on those 10-12 drawers by hand. Shouldn’t really take that long anyway.

-- Jesse Felling - http://www.fellingstudio.com

View AlanBienlein's profile

AlanBienlein

142 posts in 1364 days


#6 posted 03-22-2014 03:02 PM

barringerwoodworks said I’ve seen people cut them on band saws and on table saws even, with jigs. I always think, “MAN! That seems so hard! Why don’t you just do it the old way?” I can’t help but feel that in the time it takes to set up the jig and the saw, maybe do a test cut or two, etc, I’d already have half a drawer cut, doing it by hand.

You just answered your question right there. For you only one or two drawers isn’t worth it to you but think just how much faster that jig will be for the 10 to 12 drawers you would be doing for that dresser. You might have half a drawer done while the other person is setting up the jig but he will quickly pass you up once it’s set up.

View woodchuckerNJ's profile

woodchuckerNJ

888 posts in 324 days


#7 posted 03-22-2014 03:37 PM

I hand cut all my drawers. But if I had to do a large number of drawers, I would setup a jig.
Jigs have the problem of being very finicky to set up. But One way to solve that is dedicate a router to that, so the bit height is set, or get the setup and make a test cut block… I like the dedicated router as it’s always ready to go.

As far as hand cut dovetails, I just like doing them, and they look great.

-- Jeff NJ

View bondogaposis's profile

bondogaposis

2601 posts in 1041 days


#8 posted 03-22-2014 10:52 PM

I think for large quantities of drawers it is the way to go. The most time consuming part of hand cutting dovetails is the layout. Jigs take take time to set up too but once it is set up you can cut all your drawers at once. Dovetails jigs cut both pins and tails at the same time, another time saving. For a few drawers it is probably a wash so you may as well go hand cut if you like the look, I do.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View LyallAndSons's profile

LyallAndSons

54 posts in 1287 days


#9 posted 03-28-2014 09:30 PM

Only you and your customers can answer that question, I find that most of my clients don’t actually know the difference but want to have them hand cut anyway. As long as they’re willing to write the check, I’d cut them with a chainsaw if that’s what they want! Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration! We keep a couple jigs set up and have dedicated routers only used for dovetails so set up time is always nill. In that case, you can blast thru one drawer or a dozen in no time. For furniture going into MY home, or if a customer is willing to pay the upcharge, we hand cut them. I prefer the look and enjoy doing them. On just about every kitchen we’ve done in several years, the drawers have all been machine cut.

-- Lyall & Sons Woodsmiths...Custom handcrafted woodwork since 1989

View Jeff Heath's profile

Jeff Heath

54 posts in 1759 days


#10 posted 03-28-2014 09:56 PM

Here’s the rule in my shop, as a furniture and cabinetmaker:

If it’s furniture, they get hand cut. If it’s kitchen or bathroom cabinetry, and I have 15 or more drawers (read alot), then break out the 24” omnijig, because it hardly matters that they are hand cut.

For any dresser, or one-off piece of furniture, you’ll be happy that you cut them by hand. You cannot duplicate the look of fine handcut dovetails with any jig.

-- Jeff Heath Heath Toolworks planes

View Rick M.'s profile (online now)

Rick M.

4148 posts in 1070 days


#11 posted 03-29-2014 08:14 PM

There have been quite a few races over the years between hand cutting and jig. The jig always wins with 3 or more drawers.

-- |Statistics show that 100% of people bitten by a snake were close to it.|

View NiteWalker's profile

NiteWalker

2710 posts in 1267 days


#12 posted 03-30-2014 01:31 AM

What Rick said.
Also, don’t think that by using a jig to cut them makes you any less of a skilled woodworker. You’re doing the same thing, just a different approach.

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

View Woodbum's profile

Woodbum

467 posts in 1755 days


#13 posted 03-31-2014 07:58 PM

as was said, jigs can be a pita to set up, but once dialed in, they work well and are fast. I guess if I would spend as much time practicing hand cuts as setting up jigs, I might be good enough to do hand cuts all of the time. I use a Leigh D4 or my trusty incra router table setup, depending on the size of the project.

-- Improvidus, Apto quod Victum-- Improvise, Adapt, Overcome

View WoodAndShop's profile

WoodAndShop

141 posts in 199 days


#14 posted 04-18-2014 11:21 PM

Back when I used power tools, it took me two days to figure out a dovetail jig. I can cut dovetails by hand much faster than with a router. But if you’re pounding out a ton of drawers for clients, then the jig would probably be worth the setup time.

-- Joshua Farnsworth - Free Traditional Hand Tool Woodworking Tutorials: http://WoodAndShop.com

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