One was a solution to the other

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Review by jamsomito posted 05-12-2018 07:40 PM 2071 views 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
One was a solution to the other One was a solution to the other One was a solution to the other Click the pictures to enlarge them

Decided I’d try some dowel joinery for the first time and ended up with this jig. Budget was tight and I figured all I really needed was something to keep my drill bit perpendicular to the board if my marking was careful and precise, so I picked up this dowel jig and the drill stop set to go with it. All-in I paid $20 on Amazon, plus dowel pins. It was cheap. Below is my experience with the device and my solutions to its shortcomings along the way. Skip to the bottom for a summary.

—Jointmate Experience—

The “fence” on the unit is a novel feature. It works ok. If you really wrench down the screws to hold it in place, it won’t move on you over a long drilling session with this jig. However, I found that my workpiece would move on me when the drill bit would bite the wood when starting the hole. You really need to clamp this to your workpiece to get precise hole location, but I found that on my pieces, it just wasn’t possible, or too cumbersome to be repeatable. It does have a bit of plastic that helps you center your hole in the same axis the fence does, but there is no indicator to center in the opposite axis – I found I had to eyeball the center of the hole to an X I drew on my workpiece. I could get it close, but not close enough for every joint to be precise. Another gripe I had was the bushing was a little too big for my 3/8” drill bit, so I could move it a couple degrees in either direction resulting in angled dowels (+/- 5 degrees doesn’t seem precise to me). Combine the slightly off-square holes with a slightly off-center location from the bite of the bit moving slightly, and you get quite a bit of slop in your holes. Well, a 3/8” dowel fits snug in a 3/8” hole, so not slop, just misaligned holes. Here’s an example of the variation.

Eyeballing left-right centering of hole

Left hole too far right because drill bit caught and moved hole

Check out the variation on my pieces

At this point I needed a new plan. No big deal, I thought, I’ll just mark each and every joint because every one is now unique, and I’ll get some dowel centers to mark the locations of the mating holes. This added a huge amount of work and necessary organization, but I made a jig and remained diligent and I got them all marked ok.


Jig I came up with.

Some of the holes were so far off on my pieces that I couldn’t even put both centers in.

But, just a tappy-tap with the dowel centers and the mating holes were marked.

After the mating holes were marked with the dowel centers, I drilled out the mating holes with the Jointmate to keep my bit square to the workpiece. Got it assembled, and all I could do was laugh. Here’s my end table.


—Drill Block experience—

Having lost any trust in the dowel jig, I added another thing to the tools list for this project. I went and bought a true brad-point bit and to go along with it the Drill Block jig also by Milescraft for about another $10. I liked this jig much better. The bushings still had a little slop in them, but not nearly as much. They also didn’t seem to wear as fast as the Jointmate’s did. The block felt heavier, like a thicker plastic, and it had rubber feet so you could hand-hold it in place by squeezing instead of needing a clamp. I really like this little drill block. It even has a hollowed-out base that gives chips and shavings a place to pile up so you don’t need to pull the bit out of the hole to discharge the waste mid-drill, and it has a 45 degree notch so you can drill holes in corners if need be (obviously I didn’t use this feature).

This jig worked way, way, way better. Here’s my 2nd shelf out of 3 for the project. Very happy with this.

In the end, I was able to massage the bad holes in the first piece and get it mostly ok. Drilled some holes a bit bigger, and forced it into place with the clamps during glue-up. Still a bit of a twist in it, but it’s much better.

And all-in-all, even despite some joints necessitating bigger holes, every joint came out really solid, and I feel like I could park my car on these things.

In conclusion, I give the Jointmate about a 2 out of 5 stars. It kind of did it’s job, and the joints after glue-up were very strong. However, it lacks a way to center it on one axis, and it was not at all easy to use on small pieces (ends of rails/stiles, stretchers, etc). It moves unless you clamp it, which is cumbersome or impossible in some cases. A true brad-point bit would help but not totally solve it’s problems. It would probably work better at centering a whole shelf where you can clamp two panels together as shown in the marketing material, but my piece wasn’t designed that way. The plastic is good quality, but the Drill Block seemed of higher quality and more dense. The fence has the potential to move unless you crank down on the holding screws. The bushings were loose around my drill bits making holes slightly askew. I ended up needing to buy some supplemental accessories to really get my joints to work, but they still needed adjustments and were never great from this jig. I wasn’t able to use the self centering feature, but it won’t work on thick pieces, and it’s thickness range is even more limited for the non-center hole (1/4 and 5/16 holes). I had high hopes, but ultimately the product didn’t really work well.

I give the Drill Block 5 stars though. It did exactly it’s job and was easy to use. The rubber feet are nice, allowing you to get by with hand-holding it instead of clamping. The space for chips to collect was great so you don’t need to manually remove waste while drilling. The option to do 45 degree holes on edges was cool, but I didn’t use that feature. The bushings were tighter (but not actually tight) on my drill bits, making for more truely square holes. I like this jig.

Any questions, feel free to ask!

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551 posts in 1225 days

3 comments so far

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1165 posts in 3616 days

#1 posted 05-18-2018 09:39 AM

Thanks for the detailed review.
I have that dowel jig and hate it, haven’t used it in years after extreme frustration with it. I now make a custom dowel jig for each dowellng job (basically a piece of scrap with a couple holes, sometimes a fence glued on).

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

View jamsomito's profile


551 posts in 1225 days

#2 posted 05-18-2018 12:40 PM

Sure. I looked for a review here before I bought it and didn’t see any, so I figured at worst it would be terrible and I could help other “budget”-seekers seek alternatives.

I thought about making my own jig, but I don’t have a drill press to make reliably perpendicular holes. I almost cut a rabbet in a piece on the table saw and used that as a guide for my handheld drill to make a drilling jig for dowels, but I just didn’t trust it to be good enough. Turns out, it would have probably worked the same or better. Oh well, live and learn!

View jamsomito's profile


551 posts in 1225 days

#3 posted 05-18-2018 12:45 PM

The thing that really gets me on this jig is they put a big ol’ handle on the thing, making you think you can hand hold it. It really needs to be clamped, and the handle gets in the way of that. The fence is kind of small to get a clamp on too.

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