How To Use Dovetail Jig: The Complete Guide

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Do you know what a dovetail joint is?

A dovetail joint is  is basically a joinery method. It is very popular among carpenters. People mostly use it as a joining technique. The joints are very firm and well known for tensile strength.

Carpenters use dovetail in making jewelry boxes, drawers, file cabinets etc. Carpenters combine multiple pieces of board together by using this technique.

The history of dovetail joints can be tracked back to ancient Egyptian era. Some even link this technique to ancient Chinese emperors. In modern days, dovetail jigs are used to make dovetail joints.

What Is a Dovetail?

Did you ever want to know, how carpenters join several boards and make drawers or cabinets? Actually, carpenters join multiple pieces of woods with the help of pins and tails of trapezoidal form. The tails may look like the tails of fowl.

Pins are cut and joined at the end of one board. Tails are joined with another board.

The cuts need to be precise enough to fit the board. The pins fill in the gaps of tails and locks in. Thus, the joining gets completed.

In this way, multiple boards are interlocked with the help of edge tool. For a tight fit, wood glues are attached.

Marking the wood with measurements

Benefits of Dovetails in Woodworking

The major advantages with dovetail is that, it holds the furniture firmly. It does not need any mechanical fastener.

Carpenters make different types of dovetail joint. In a thorough dovetail, joints are visible both outwardly and internally.

In half blind dovetail, only the outside joints are invisible. But, the joints are visible from the side. However, no joints can be seen in a full blind dovetail joint.

Dovetail Jigs also may vary based on the material used, connection system or adjustments. Nevertheless, the techniques that are used to make dovetail joints are almost the same.

Many woodworkers think that, dovetail jigs are only for crafty workmen. We do acknowledge that, you need to be skillful to operate dovetail jigs. You may need to practice multiple times. But, it is not the sole domain of experienced crafty carpenters. With proper guideline, anybody can easily use the dovetail jigs.

How to Use a Dovetail Jig

Now, in this article, we will serve you with a very simple and detailed instruction on how to operate a dovetail jig.

Necessary Materials

So, first things first, we need a few couples of equipment ready at hand before we get to steps. Here you go;

  1. Dovetail Jig
  2. Wood Pieces (Boards) for drawers
  3. Scrap Pieces of Wood
  4. Pencil or Marker Pen
  5. Wood Glue
  6. Template Guide for Router
  7. Dovetail Router Bit

Setting It Up

Set up the dovetail jig in the correct way. Follow the user manual. There should not be any loose part.

Install the bushing in base plate and tighten it with screw. The bushing usually fits most of the router. If it does not fit, you should seek help from the bushing guide or from experts.

Picking Your Template

If you want to cut a half blind dovetail joint, you need to select the appropriate template. Select a router bit of ½ and 14°. Set the depth of cut. It should be 9/16 Remember, the depth is from the router base.

Cutting the wood

Getting Adjustments Done

The last thing you want is to damage your dovetail jig during routing process. There are holes in the front and back side of the jig. Use the holes to firmly attach the machine to a stable base or work table.

Make sure the pins and tails in your jig are of the same amount. The amount should be same at both front and back end. Set up the half inch dovetail template and tightly fit it in by adjusting the nuts.

Marking the Wood Pieces Properly

Set up the wooden boards for your drawer. The boards need to be square and flat. Mark each piece indicating front, back, top and bottom. Also mark the inner and outer side of each wood piece.

So, there won’t be any confusion or error during the process. Mark each corner of the board with number 1 through 4.

Suppose, there are 4 boards. Mark the first board’s right corner with number ‘1’.

Join the second board through this corner. So, the corner of the second board adjacent to the joint should also have the same number ‘1’ written on it. Write the number ‘2’ in the other corner of second board and follow the procedure for third and fourth board respectively.

In the end, fourth board’s furthest corner will be marked as number ‘4’ and it will join with the first board’s other corner, which will be marked as number ‘2’.

Running A Scrap Test

Initially, insert some scrap pieces of wood to test the jig. The scrap pieces should have the same thickness and width as your drawer boards have. After successfully cutting the test piece, install the original drawer stock.

Setting the Real Boards In

Install your stock board for drawers. The board should be at the center of the template. So, there will be same gap on each side. The end part should be at 90° angle with the front of the jig.

Make sure that the left side drawer is facing the front template inside out. Place the front side drawer inside up also. It should stay below the top side of the clamp.

Concurrently tighten up the clamp lock. The drawer front should be tight against the stop. Now, secure it with clamp lock.

Bringing It On

Set the router above the jig and start milling. Start from left side to the rightwards direction. Do not take up the router while milling the joint pieces. If you want to remove the router, turn the switch off first.

Crosschecking the result

Doing Crosscheck for Perfection

Now check if the cut of the joint is accurate or not. If the fitting of the joint is loowse, increase the depth of the cut. Conversely, reducing the depth is a good choice when your joint is too much tight.

When you see that the joints fit perfectly, your work is almost done. You can use chisel to join the wood pieces together. For a firm fit, you can then apply wood glue in the joint.


What Board Goes First in a Jig?

It’s recommended that you should have some backup boards when milling the rest of the parts. You should have an extra board in the jig that’s next to the part that receives the sockets. This will prevent any tear-out on the end of the pinboard.

The extra boards are also good for practice in case you make a mistake. So if you’re a beginner, you better take this into practice.

Can You Dovetail Plywood?

Using a dovetail to connect the plywood increases the chance of delaminating the plywood. Hence, it is not recommended to dovetail plywood especially when you’re testing the joint while dry fitting.

What is the Most Common Dovetail Angle?

For joining hardwoods, it’s generally recommended to lower the angles around 7 to 9 degrees. Higher angles at around 10 to 14 degrees are recommended for softwoods. When you angle a little higher around 14 to 18 degrees are great for half-blind dovetails.

What Are the Disadvantages of a Dovetail Joint?

Dovetail joints are rather hard to do at first. They’re hard to mark out and cut. If you don’t do an excellent job at it, you can end up with an easily broken joint. Therefore, it’s important you follow the instructions carefully.

What is the Weakest Wood Joint?

The butt joint is the weakest wood and needs some type of reinforcement to make it stronger. However, it is also the easiest and simplest joint to make.


Thus, by following these steps, you can cut a half blind dovetail joint. By doing some minor adjustments, you can cut other types of joints as well. Follow the user manual for minor adjustments.

Learning to do dovetail joint is a great skill for a woodworker. Aside from it not requiring any screws for the work, being good at it requires lot of patience and practice. By the time you are an expert of creating dovetail joint, it might be a good idea for a woodworking business.