A shop made fixture for making face frames with the JessEm 08350 doweling jig

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Blog entry by Rich posted 05-25-2017 10:58 PM 3248 reads 2 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

NOTE: The small face frame shown here is what I keep near the fixture for reference. It has notes, etc, written on it and is not intended to represent a finished face frame that would be used on a cabinet.

I was just going to post a few pictures of the fixture with the JessEm mounted in it, but since it’s not really intuitive how it’s used, I thought a story through pictures would help. This blog entry will basically be photos with captions that briefly describe what’s being shown.

Starting with a brief overview of the JessEm jig. It is unique in that it references from the face of the board, and can be set back from 1/4” to 3-1/2”. It indexes using a dowel pin in the mating piece that fits into the slot and aligns the jig for drilling the second board. It is also unique in that the fence can be moved without unclamping, allowing the creation of an array of pins for thicker boards. I don’t believe I’ve seen any other jig that does that. They have a good demonstration video on the JessEm web site.

While using the jig for gluing up panels is very straightforward and easy since the boards are clamped together during the operation, using it for something like a face frame is a study in frustration. Because it does not lie flat, it’s a bear to get the boards aligned, and because drilling is done from the other side, you have to turn the whole thing over with the pieces in place. It’s clumsy to say the least. I could easily do one of those infomercials where people struggle with their cheese grater or whatever, and are saved by the SuperGrater™. The difference is that my grunts and groans and cursing would be real and not dramatized.

Enter The Fixture for the Jig™.

A shot of the JessEm showing the fence with 220 grit sandpaper attached for a non-slip surface.

Top view showing the markings for the fence setting. It locks into 1/8” tracks for easy alignment. This is the side you drill from.

The underside of the jig. This is where the board is clamped to the fence. You can see the alignment tracks that the fence sits in. It was those four mounting holes that got me thinking about how to make this easier to use.

Here is the fixture I built for the JessEm. The frame is scrap alder and the side plates are 1/4” birch plywood that matches the 1/4” thickness of the JessEm plate so the boards lay flat. I don’t show it in a photo, but it has a “keel” that clamps into the vise so that it doesn’t move around. I should note that this is version 2 of the jig, and I used version 1 to do the doweling to build it.

Here it is with the lid up. You’ll see in later photos that you align the joint on the top, and open it for drilling. The little storage bins were an afterthought, which explains why they look like I did a crappy job on them (I did). They are just pieces of plywood glued to form walls so that parts can be stored without falling out when I stand it up for storage. Obviously if I had planned them ahead of time, they would be made out of bubinga and quilted maple with ebony accents.

Here it is with the JessEm mounted. The 1/4” side plates make the whole thing level, since the plate on the JessEm is 1/4” thick as well.

And a view of the underside. This is where you drill.

I can tell from checking preview mode that you won’t be able to read the scribbles on the boards. This is a miniature sample frame I did as a proof of design, and I often jot my notes right on the boards for future reference. What it demonstrates is that layout and marking are critical to getting this thing right. I could have used a stop block on the fence to eliminate some of that, but doing it that way would prevent drilling the stiles for the middle rails. What I do is lay out the frame the way I want it, number and mark each joint on both pieces so I know which goes with which. It’ll be clearer in later photos.

As promised, here you can see a joint marked. I number them (those scratches are a “1”) and mark them. Those marks are intended to mean something to me. Given that I have a slightly sick and twisted mind, you might not make much sense from them. What’s key is that the piece being drilled is always clamped with that marked face against the fence. It’s what makes the faces flush when it’s glued up.

Here you see another critical step which is to mark how the boards will fit. It’s important to drilling the stile piece so that the boards are flush at the joint.

This is showing how middle rails are marked. I get it aligned and use gauges and a double square to get the mark on the face that will be visible during setup in the jig. Again, there is a photo later that makes it clearer, so don’t worry about it now.

This shows my highly scientific method of marking the middle rail and stile for alignment later.

On the off chance that anyone has actually read this far, now comes the exciting part — drilling. All of the rail ends are drilled first. For narrow pieces like this, two dowels are used. If it were a wider piece, I’d go three or more. The JessEm makes it easy to drill multiple holes with one setup. The exact position of the board isn’t critical, since the holes in the stiles will be aligned to them by the operation of the JessEm.

The lid is lifted, and the index pin hole is drilled. Obviously the bit would be chucked in a drill for this step, but it got in the way of the photo.

...And the second hole adjacent to it.

A pin is inserted in the hole closest to the marked edge.

This is where the JessEm really shines. That pin goes in the alignment slot on the jig, and by aligning the boards even, it is guaranteed that the hole in the stile will be perfectly aligned (unless you screw it up — it can happen). Also note that the marked face of the rail that’s used for alignment is facing out. It just works that way. The marked face of the stile is against the fence and that’s the part we’re drilling.

Here you can see the pin in the indexing slot, and the hole is drilled into the edge of the stile. Also, note the missing drill. It goes much quicker if you use one.

...And the adjacent hole is drilled into the stile. Yes, it’s on the opposite side from the earlier photo of drilling the rail end. It’s just how it works, and it’s easy to see when you are looking at the whole thing.

Here is a middle rail, drilled and an indexing pin is inserted closest to the scientifically marked edge.

And here is the setup for drilling the stiles for the middle rail. Note the advanced marking system in use here to ensure proper alignment. I purposely left a gap so the line would be more visible in the photo.

And here is a completely superfluous shot of the underside before drilling the stile.

Anyway, it’s a useful jig. Some of the issues are that long pieces need support, and the rail, when used to align for drilling the stile goes back flat when opened, so it’s necessary to clear off the bench. Also, because you do the drilling with the lid up, the interior gets filled with wood chips, requiring an occasional shot with an air gun.

It could also be used for aprons and stretchers on a table, and the JessEm’s ability to move the fence would allow them to be set back from the face of the leg for a nice reveal. I’m not sure I’m going to go that far with it. I’d much rather do a M&T joint for things like that. But for quick and easy face frames, it does the job.

As a reward for making it this far, click here for some adorable kitten memes (just kidding, it’s a blank page)

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

7 comments so far

View caboxmaker's profile


280 posts in 990 days

#1 posted 02-18-2018 06:17 AM

Jim, I see three things here.
1. The jig is a nice bit of engineering and woodwork.
2. Most probably don’t understand what you have here.
3. I can do the same thing with my dowelmax.
It is interesting to note that both the dowelmax and jessem come from Canada.

View Rich's profile


5132 posts in 1191 days

#2 posted 02-18-2018 06:21 AM

Jim, I see three things here.

- caboxmaker

My name is Rich.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

View caboxmaker's profile


280 posts in 990 days

#3 posted 02-18-2018 06:28 AM

Sorry Rich, I had Jim Jakosh on my mind.

View Rich's profile


5132 posts in 1191 days

#4 posted 02-18-2018 06:33 AM

Sorry Rich, I had Jim Jakosh on my mind.

- caboxmaker

Jim’s wife isn’t going to like that.

Seriously though, you said:

3. I can do the same thing with my dowelmax.

I’m intrigued. We should have a JessEm/DowelMax throw down. I was under the impression that the JessEm was the only jig that could shift the head without unclamping it in order to make an array of dowels.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

View NormG's profile


6497 posts in 3606 days

#5 posted 04-28-2019 10:30 PM

Very good advise

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View Paul S.'s profile

Paul S.

5 posts in 118 days

#6 posted 09-22-2019 10:30 PM

Rich – I’m new to LumberJocks and this is my first comment so pardon how clumsy this probably sounds. I’ve poured over the pictures of how the fixture is constructed so I can try to make one for a project I’m building for my daughter. They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, so you should feel very flattered…ok, enough of the b.s. Is there any way of getting more detailed info or plans on putting one of these together? When I bought the Jig I thought that it would pretty much do whatever I needed to do but it wasn’t till I started to work on the 1×2 face frame that I realized it had limitations. Then I ran across your blog. Don’t know if you can help but it was worth a shot. I guess this turned out to be more of a request than a comment so I’ll make a comment. Nice work!
Thanks. Paul S.

-- I cut that board three times and it's still too short.

View Rich's profile


5132 posts in 1191 days

#7 posted 09-23-2019 01:14 AM

Hi Paul. I sent you a PM about this.

-- Half of what we read or hear about finishing is right. We just don’t know which half! — Bob Flexner

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