bewildered by dovetail jigs

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Forum topic by AaronK posted 08-14-2009 03:22 AM 2681 views 0 times favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1506 posts in 3430 days

08-14-2009 03:22 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question

I’m sort of set on going the router jig route when it comes to dovetails. I dont think i’ll have a pressing need to do variable spacing a la Leigh, but i would like to have half-blind and through capabilities.

Having never used one before, I’m wondering what the differences are between the various jigs in the 100-200 $ range. There are the rockler/mcls/PC type that have the cam clamping setup and all that, and then there’s the stots/keller type systems that are stand alone templates.

Some reviews on this site and elsewhere say that the rockler is good to ok, but others say that adjustments are finicky. Meanwhile everyone seems to rave about the keller. What i dont get is, how can a “built up” sort of jig like the rockler be in any way more difficult that a flat template like the keller? furthermore, are the mlcs/PC better than the rockler in that respect?

I’m just not aquainted with the intricacies of the various systems, so any help and clarification would help a bunch!

22 replies so far

View ajosephg's profile


1880 posts in 3527 days

#1 posted 08-14-2009 03:35 AM

After much consideration and reviewing hundreds of posts on LJ’s I bought a PC4212 and later added a box joint template (which makes it a 4216) and have been well satisfied.

I’ve forgotten a lot of the details in my thought process but I seem to remember that several of the deciding points was that the PC templates are metal versus plastic and most of the LJ’s seemed to like the PC bettr than the Rockler.

-- Joe

View Geedubs's profile


143 posts in 3195 days

#2 posted 08-14-2009 03:51 AM

Thanks for asking the questions AaronK. I hope to get a dovetail jig myself in the next few months and will be very interested in the thoughts of others on this subject. Love the Lumberjocks platform for information sharing!

-- Todos los dias aprendemos algo nuevo.

View LesB's profile


1683 posts in 3409 days

#3 posted 08-14-2009 04:03 AM

Short of having a generous budget to a Leigh dovetail jig the Porter Cable is probably the best bet. If you expect to do lots of dovetails and other “fancier” joints look carefully at the features of the Leigh. I put it off for years until I could justify the expense and wish I had done it sooner.

-- Les B, Oregon

View rwyoung's profile


409 posts in 3438 days

#4 posted 08-14-2009 04:20 AM

The PC4212 is a pretty good option. You can do “skip spacing” with this jig which moves you a little by away from the machine cut look. Of course it is still machine cut but makes a nice change of pace.

At one point there was a rebate on the PC4212 but that may have expired. You might look into that. Also, check around and see if you can find a local woodworking guild/club. There is a good chance somebody there has one you can try out.

-- Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.

View TomHintz's profile


207 posts in 3364 days

#5 posted 08-14-2009 08:35 AM

You will find someone who has had problems with virtually any dovetail jig, often stemming from the initial setup or poor instructions that came with the jig. I have been sold on the Leigh jigs for a long time because of their overall quality, solid engineering and the best user guides in this or virtually any other business. (Note that some say Liegh is “complicated” because their user guide is so thick. Really, it is very complete with large illustrations that you can actually see easily. That all makes it bigger.)
I have reviews of a few Leigh and other jigs at the link below if that kind of info would be helpful to you.

-- Tom Hintz,

View CaptainSkully's profile


1590 posts in 3524 days

#6 posted 08-14-2009 09:08 AM

After doing a ton of research, I bought the Leigh Super 12” jig. I wanted to be able to make half-blind dovetails with a single pass, so they would have to fit together. This is standard on the drawers I’m trying to make. There are a lot of jigs, with plates. I bought a cheap one from one of the woodworking stores years ago and never got it to work (probably my fault).

I can tell you from the little experience I’ve had with my jig so far (I bought it right before “the accident”) that it works pretty well. I followed the thick booklet and watched the videos ad nauseum, but I made the scrap pieces, labeled them and followed the directions. Until my collet spun loose from the motor on my Hitachi M12V 3 1/3 HP router, I was making perfectly accurate, half-blind dovetails. It wasn’t until my father-in-law was helping me threadlock the collet back on that I took the pieces that I’d partially dovetailed and put them together. They fit perfectly.

Because my router weighs 11 pounds, I bought the accessory rest. It was a no-duh for me to avoid the tip & gouge method of dovetail jigging. I don’t care about dust collection or any of that other stuff. When I get done with my new mortising maching, I’m going to give the dovetail jig a run for it’s money. I know first hand that anything that’s powerful is not easy. Whether it’s AutoCAD, SketchUp or a dovetail jig, don’t expect miracles unless you’re willing to work for them.

Any jig that comes with a fixed template will only do one thing. It may do that very well, but in the words of Alton Brown, it’s a “uni-tasker”. It also may be considerably easier to comprehend and use, but who’s to say…

I made a box-joint jig from scrap red oak and the jigs that do the same thing are ridiculously expensive. People that say they want a metal jig have never dug a brand new router bit into pot metal. I’d rather gouge a piece of plastic. At least then I’ve only ruined the jig and not the bit…

If you just cut a bunch of tails and pins on two oversided pieces, you an always trim them down to fit perfectly and have the edges match. I’m amazed that no one ever says this. I know it’s a slight waste of material, but it’s a great way for beginners to make dovetail joints without all of the accuracy to do it all in one shot.

I’m actually going to remake the drawers on my gentleman’s chest (which currently have lock-joints) so that they have half-blind dovetails.

-- You can't control the wind, but you can trim your sails

View Mikeyf56's profile


171 posts in 3187 days

#7 posted 08-14-2009 02:24 PM

Aaron, while it may be out of your budget, I think you may want to take a look at Akeda. The jig is truly plug and play, and no 100 page manuals to study or DVD’s to watch.

-- Powered by Smith & Wilson~~~

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3430 days

#8 posted 08-14-2009 04:01 PM

thanks all for your comments. unfortunately jigs like the leigh and akeda are out of the question… a new table saw or bandsaw would be coming in way before then!

i’m still holding out for more opinions though… so far no one has had a thing to saw about mlcs or keller. and i still dont get how the keller could be easier than mlcs/rockler. And if so, would it then be better to get the mlcs template (stand alone) since it’s the same principle as the keller?

View AaronK's profile


1506 posts in 3430 days

#9 posted 08-14-2009 04:06 PM

also, Tom, thanks for a very informative site. I found your site about a year ago and have read many of the articles, they were/still are very helpful in getting me started in this hobby.

View gizmodyne's profile


1776 posts in 4056 days

#10 posted 08-14-2009 04:24 PM

I initially bought the porter cable 12” and then realized that you can’t make half blind dovetails in 1/2” stock. I returned it for the Leigh 16”.

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View rwyoung's profile


409 posts in 3438 days

#11 posted 08-14-2009 06:00 PM

gizmodyne -

Not sure I understand your issues with the Porter Cable jig. I’ve used 1/2” material in the PC4212 without serious difficulty making 1/2-blind joints. However I did have to make several test cuts to get it adjusted. It would probably have been better to use the 4215 accessory (which I don’t have) to work with the thinner stock as there just wasn’t much material left on the socket board with the larger dovetail bit. Ultimately I didn’t end up using the 1/2” material for a drawer front, seemed too thin. It was good practice for setting up the jig though.

AaronK -

One thing I’m not sure people realize you can do with the Porter Cable 42xx templates is that you can remove them from the jig and use them much the same way that the MLCS and Keller jigs work. It does require building some clamping boards and a little bit of jig making. The upside is you are no longer limited to a 12” wide workpiece.

-- Don't sweat the petty things and don't pet the sweaty things.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4184 days

#12 posted 08-14-2009 11:27 PM

Very satisfied PC4212 customer here.

John (gizmodyne), like AaronK said, there is no problem making 1/2 blind dovetails in 1/2” stock with this jig. I’ve done it many times.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Richforever's profile


757 posts in 3686 days

#13 posted 08-15-2009 01:02 AM

Having used the Rockler, I’ve found the plastic offset pieces to be not so stable. Also, the setup can be pretty tricky; and screws that need to be adjusted are hard to get to. Seems like it was not so well designed as some of the other jigs. I’m now considering the Fast Joint system from MLCS.

-- Rich, Seattle, WA

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 3251 days

#14 posted 08-15-2009 03:00 AM

Aaron, I’ve been using the Porter Cable 7116 (24”) jig for years…..and years…...and years. lol. It’s been a great jig and I’ve never been sorry . I don’t know if PC still makes it, but I have the optional plate with the adjustable fingers. (great option). I’ve done 1/2” drawer boxes on mine, but changed bits and changed the depth of cut as specified. Set-up is critical, so I stay with 5/8” stock for all my drawers and designate one router strictly for dovetailing and never mess with the set-up. The saving of time in set up and adjustments is well worth the price of a seperate router. I use the PC 1 1/2 hp “D” handle router for dovetailing. I like the control I get with the handle. No matter what jig you get, it will take you a while to get comfortable with it and the set-up is really critical. Good luck and we look forward to those dovetail drawers in your future projects.

-- John @

View Bryon McGowan's profile

Bryon McGowan

39 posts in 3212 days

#15 posted 08-15-2009 03:09 AM

Some advice on a Porter-Cable 4212 12-Inch Deluxe Dovetail Jig PLEASE! copy and paste this title in the searsh box the pod cast is half way down the post is a great lesson on how to use the PC jig it is about an hour long. well worth the time I think that the orginal post was by brad

-- God is great beer is good and people are crazy

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