What is a Dovetail Jig & How Do They Work? [2023 Guide]

The dovetail jig is one of the most common and well-known pieces of equipment used in woodworking around the world.

It’s crucial for creating high-quality woodwork. However, before we explore the benefits of using the dovetail jig, it’s first important to understand dovetail joints.

What is a dovetail joint?

A dovetail joint is an extremely popular woodworking joinery technique used to combine pieces of wood to create finished products such as chairs, tables, cabinets, and other furniture.

The method is commonly used to join sides of woods that you would see in drawers, for example. Rumored to have been used by the Egyptians centuries ago, the dovetail joint continues to be an essential technique in creating high-quality wood fixtures.

Are there different types of dovetail joints?

Though one can spend years learning the ins and outs of woodworking, here are a few crucial dovetail joints and how they are used.

Half-blinded dovetail – This type of dovetail is used when the designer of the work does not wish to see the wood grain from the outside. For example, on a wooden drawer, the outside typically looks smooth because it is joined using a half blinded dovetail.

Through dovetail – Conversely, this type of joint allows the end grain of the wood to be visible on the finished product. Though sometimes covered up once assembled to improve appearance, the through dovetail is often considered a signature woodworking technique.

Secret mitered dovetail – Commonly used on large cabinets, this joint offers the cabinet a strong foundation while hiding the joining from the public eye.

Secret double-lapped dovetail – This is similar to the secret mitered dovetail, except a tiny sliver of wood grain shows on a finished project.

Siding dovetail – This type of dovetail joins two pieces of wood at right angles and is commonly used for joining drawer fronts to sides and shelves to cabinets.

Now that we’ve briefly explored the history and importance of dovetail joints, let’s take a look at the actually dovetail jig.

How do dovetail jigs work?

Carving wood to create such an intricate joint is tricky – imagine trying to hand-carve the pieces for a jigsaw puzzle.

A dovetail jig is a tool that make the joining process both quick and easy. Using a dovetail jig effectively involves three pieces: a template, a router, and the bits you’re going to join.

First, you lay the template on the piece of wood on which you want to create the joint. Using the cutting edge of the router, you follow the template like a stencil to make small, precise cuts in the edge of the wood. These cuts will look a bit like a row of teeth, though the exact shape of the “teeth” depends on which type of joint you’re making.

You repeat this process on another piece of wood that you want to join to the first, again using the template to cut a row of teeth. If you’ve used the template correctly, the “teeth” on this second piece of wood will interlock tightly with the “teeth” on the first piece when they’re joined at a right angle. All that’s left to do now is press the pieces together to create the joint.

What should I look for in a dovetail jig?

The best dovetail jigs are the ones that offer the most box joint options so that you have a variety to choose from.

Though some dovetail jigs are more complex than others, what ultimately matters is whether you are able to successfully use it for your specific needs.

If you’re just getting your start as a woodworker, a simple dovetail jig is a good choice to start; you can always buy a more complex machine with more features later on down the line.

The dovetail jig allows you to create tails and pins that would be too complex to create perfectly by hand, giving virtually anyone the power to create high-quality, stunning wooden furniture or fixtures.

Ultimately, how you combine pieces of wood plays a significant role in the look of your final piece, and it’s important to ensure you have the best tools available to produce a sturdy and attractive joint.

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